Thursday, May 7, 2015

31 Days of Comics: Day 7 – Your Comfort Comic

ROB'S NOTE: May has become the go-to month of the Comic’s Industry (even though National Superhero Day is late April, but whatever… Congress… pshaw).  It is when Marvel drops their big movie of the year.  May also sees the annual Free Comic Book Day celebration take place on the first Saturday of the Month, so I hope you all got to check that out.  May also has 31 days of the month so what better way to celebrate the wonderful world of sequential art with the 31 Days of Comics?
Seth Hahne, who runs the blog GoodOkBad, has put together the 31 Days of Comics challenge.  A daily challenge in which you are given a category and you have to fill it with a comic that you think fits it the best.  You’re all on the internet, I shouldn’t have to explain it to you.  For the rest of the month I will be taking this challenge.  It is my hope it encourages others to make and share their own lists either in the comments here or on their own websites.  The sharing not only might turn comic fans on to works they have yet to sample but maybe catch the eye of a few non-comic fans and highlight the diversity of the form. 

Our prompt for Day 6 is “Your Comfort Comic”

Written by Warren Ellis
Pencils by John Cassaday
Colors by Laura Martin

When we think of comfort food, we think of something familiar to us.  We think of something that transports us back in time to a place where we felt safe and loved, often our childhood.  For many, including myself, no food does this better than Mac ‘n’ Cheese.  However, as an alleged adult, I don’t always crave the dish that with the nuclear orange glow that my mom would serve up a couple of times a week.  I look for the same comfort but in a slightly more “adult” package.  A different take and twist on my childhood, reconstituted for the tastes I have acquired over time.

Planetary is the “Truffle Mac ‘n’ Cheese with Lobster” for comic books.

Writer Warren Ellis described the basic concept of Planetary as taking something old and making it new again.  Set in the burgeoning Wildstorm universe Ellis was able to reconstitute a hundred years of superhero history and frame it in new perspectives, without losing the majesty and awe that you had as a young child picking up your first Superman or Fantastic Four.  Framed around a group of “mystery-archeologists” who work for an organization called The Planetary, dedicated to detailing these wonders of the world, almost every sci-fi, mystical, and super hero genre gets a once over by Ellis.  Pulp heroes, the JLA, Fantastic Four, the giant monster movies of the 1950s, and even Hong Kong horror movies all get the once over.  You can’t help but look back upon your first encounters with the various genres and relive the feelings you had.

While scheduling problems came from both Warren Ellis’ own health and the amount of time it took John Cassaday to pencil the book each issue was beautiful.  If Ellis’ goal was to restore the sense of awe and wonder in an aging and more cynical comic book reader he couldn’t have found a better artist to work with.  Cassaday’s splash pages, usually depicting the scale or majesty of whatever new discovery made by the team, are breathtaking and trigger a nostalgia that is all too familiar to long time comics’ fans.

Planetary is the rare book that reads almost as well in singles and trade format, another reason it is a comfort comic for me.  When I started reading there was not trade market.  If you wanted older issues you became your own “mystery archeologist” and traveled from shop to shop or convention to convention with a list of things you had never seen and only heard about.  While there are overarching story lines throughout the run (“Who is the mysterious fourth man who finances Planetary?”) each individual issue tells a complete story about the genre or archetype it is exploring.  Based on your love and exposure to each archetype some issues will hit or miss more than others, my Dad was never a big comic guy but remembered some of the old pulp heroes from novels and radio shows so he dug the issue about that, but Ellis takes care in expressing a genuine love for each one.

What makes Planetary a comfort book beyond others for me is that it firmly sets up a conflict between two opposing world views.  The Planetary team, made up of Elijah Snow, Jakita Walker, and the Drummer represent the forces of optimism, hope, and wonder.  They see the world as strange and different, but want to celebrate and bask in it.  For them there is joy in discovery, especially when those discoveries can be somehow used to make the world a better place.  In contrast to them stand “The Four” (answering the question of what would happen if Mark Millar created the Fantastic Four).  The Four sees the wonders of the world as things to possess and control.  By hoarding this secret knowledge it places them above humanity, where they believe they belong.  Obviously this can be read in a number of ways but I prefer to see it as representing different ways in which comic books can be seen.  They are either wondrous adventures to be given to friends to be read and re-read until the staples fall out, or they are to be locked away inside your long boxes, properly bagged and boarded with the fear that exposure to others will somehow diminish their value.  Thankfully the good guys win.

And in case you didn’t know who the good guys are, you can borrow my copies of Planetary anytime you want.

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