Heroes Never Rust #23 by Sean Ironman
What If the Fantastic Four Were Jerks?
What responsibility does a superhero have to help the world?
Sure, they help out, save lives, protect people, but when does that responsibility stop? Does it stop?
In a previous post, I wrote about the comic series Astro City. The first issue covers a day in the life of Samaritan, basically Superman. He spends all day every day helping people. The only respite he has is when he flies free in his dreams.
In another post, I wrote about the Fantastic Four. I surmised they are superheroes who may go on to save more lives than any other because of the advancements they make in science. But what if they didn’t share that knowledge with the rest of humanity?
That’s one of many things going on in the comic series Planetary. Written by Warren Ellis with art by John Cassaday (and I know I usually don’t credit colorists, but Laura Martin really deserves some attention. John Cassaday’s best work is with Laura Martin on colors. Martin also graduated from UCF, which I didn’t know until writing this post). I’ve wanted to write about Planetary since the blog was created, but the series offers so much that it seems a shame to focus on just one aspect (It will show up again, most likely).
Planetary focuses on the field team of an organization called Planetary. The self-described “Archaeologists of the Impossible,” the organization attempts to explore the secret history of the planet. The field team consists of Elijah Snow, Jakita Wagner, The Drummer, and the mysterious Fourth Man. Jakita is super strong and super fast. The Drummer can manipulate information streams, like electronics. The Fourth Man is a mystery and I’ll leave it as that. Elijah Snow, the main character, was born on January 1, 1900 and has control over temperature. The series begins with Snow joining the team. Think of the field team like Mulder and Scully on the X-Files, except they don’t work for the government and what they find is explained.
Planetary deals with versions of Tarzan, Godzilla, Sherlock Holmes, Doc Savage, and many superheroes, such as Thor and Green Lantern. In the beginning, each issue is relatively self-contained. As the series progresses, the focus becomes The Four, basically versions of the Fantastic Four. I don’t want to ruin details about The Four—the series is built upon mystery after mystery. But the basic principle is that The Four are evil because they only care about themselves. They have the technology and capability of saving millions of lives on Earth, but since gaining their powers, they have become only interested in themselves. Actually, since we don’t spend too much time on them before they have their powers, they seemed to always be jerks. Elijah Snow has a beef with them about their actions and the series in the later half focuses on his mission to destroy The Four.
When I think about this series, I don’t think of it as a superhero comic, even though it contains superheroes. It focuses on a neat angle, that over the last twenty years, many comics have tried, which is what’s going on with the world when there’s superheroes around. While trying to discover the secret history of the world, the field team gets a unique view of superheroes, typically the aftermath, which is so rarely covered in other comic series. The team has their own powers, but they only use them on their mission to discover the past. They aren’t out there in the streets trying to save people. Which, now that I think of it, might make them hypocrites. Snow hates The Four for not doing everything they are capable of in helping humanity, but he doesn’t seem to be doing that either. I guess by trying to take down The Four and giving the world their technology he is helping, but definitely not like a superhero.
This brings me back to expanding the definition or just coming up with a definition of a superhero. Snow can walk away. He’s found in a bar in the middle of nowhere in the first issue. He can live out his life in peace, but he chooses to go into the field with Planetary. The information they find can help the world. Our past is important for our future.
The series ramps up the imagination factor with all the pseudo-science Warren Ellis has built a career on. The art is beautiful. The characters are fascinating, each one of them. But it all comes back to the concept of superheroes. They’re expected to be selfless. They’re expected to be the Samaritan, to do everything that is within their power to help the world.
Sean Ironman is an MFA candidate at the University of Central Florida, where he also serves as Managing Editor of The Florida Review and as President of the Graduate Writers’ Association. His art has appeared online at River Teeth. His writing can be read in Breakers: An Anthology of Comics and Redivider.