Mild Mannered Reviews - JLA Comics

Planetary/JLA: Terra Occulta

Planetary/JLA: Terra Occulta

Scheduled to arrive in stores: September 11, 2002

Cover date: November 2002

Writer: Warren Ellis
Penciller: Jerry Ordway
Inker: David Baron

Reviewed by: Michael Bailey (GarrickMcNider@aol.com)



In Central Park Diana Prince sits on a bench writing to her mother of Man's World. After finishing her musings she heads to Grand Central Station to use Planetary Portals to take a first-class portal to Gotham City. She enters a glowing wall and is instantly transported to Gotham where she makes her way through the station and into the city.

Diana arrives at a Wayne Enterprises party where Doctor Julius Erdel is explaining his theory on the Time Track Loop. While discussing her business with several gentlemen, Bruce Wayne interrupts Diana's conversation, annoying the men. Wayne invites her back to his place and Diana agrees telling him that she always wanted to see stately Wayne Manor.

After arriving at Wayne Manor Alfred, Bruce's butler informs him that all of the security systems are in place and nothing inside the grounds can be seen or heard. Diana and Bruce make their way further into Wayne Manor and discuss Wayne's problems with Diana using the Portal. Diana asks when Clark would be arriving. Alfred reports that the surveillance satellites would be in conjunction in three minutes. Diana is puzzled before Bruce explains that he planned his party to coincide with an occasional phenomenon where there is a six-minute period where there is no surveillance between Gotham and Metropolis.

A few minutes later Bruce and Diana are on the balcony when Clark arrives, floating above them. After some small talk Bruce leads them to the cave under the manor telling them that there is good news and bad news. Clark asks what the news is and Bruce replies that he thinks that they killed Clark's parents. Bruce explains that the great technological leap that occurred is definitely sourced in the reverse engineering of the craft that brought Clark to Earth. Bruce's considerable detective work dug up the fact that Clark's parents were not killed in a natural disaster as previously thought but was in fact both shot in the head. Bruce adds that he suspects that they are watching Clark even as they watch Diana waiting to see if they'll find out and what they would do if they did.

Clark becomes angry but asks what the good news was. Bruce replies that he had broken into the Planetary system and discovered the destruction of Diana's people. Not only that, he soon found that other people with special abilities had been captured and studied in addition to items of power being found and used to advance the technology. Finally, Bruce shows them video of the four people that were behind the Planetary system. Two were familiar to Clark and Diana. Jakita Wagner and Ambrose Chase, the enforcers for the system. In addition there is The Drummer, who controls the Internet and who flows through every communication on the planet. Finally there is the shadowy Elijah Snow, who runs the system, who is over a century old and has been stealing technology since he was nineteen and killing since he was twenty.

After his explanation Bruce asks if Diana and Clark would join with him to bring these murderers to justice. They agree and the trio head to Dr. Erdel's laboratory. Dr. Erdel is working in the field of time physics, which Bruce has funded in an effort to combat Ambrose Chase's localized physics distortion field. When they reach the lab they discover that Erdel has created a time loop where physics is bent double inside the loop and light cuts a channel into the future and comes screaming back. Bruce goes on to explain that if a person were to step into the field at the start point and take three steps forward and then step out of the field they would be transported one year into the future. If a person were to step back in and walk back they would return to the present.

Bruce tells Clark and Diana that he doesn't like the look of the light and that it was too bright meaning that Erdel was using too much power. Clark uses his x-ray vision and informs his colleagues that half of the power in Gotham had just gone out leading Bruce to assume that Erdel was tapping into the city's power grid.

While Snow, Wagner and Chase watch from their base on the moon Bruce tries to get Erdel to shut down the machine. Before he can do so a green creature appears before them. Diana orders Erdel to send the creature, who she thinks is an alien who was visiting Earth in the past, back where he came from. She goes on to say that the atmosphere of the present was killing the creature since it came from seventy-five million years ago. Erdel is unsure if he can do so. Clark uses his x-ray vision on the creature and says that he thought the creature was changing shape of its lungs to compensate for the difference.

Before anything more could be done Bruce shouts that they have incoming. Suddenly Ambrose Chase steps out of a transport field. Clark quickly scans Chase and finds his transport generator. Moving with hyper speed Kent uses his heat vision to burn a hole in Chase's coat, which causes the generator to fall to the ground. This doesn't keep Chase from squeezing local time and pulling out his guns. Clark leaps at Chase and crushes the gunman's hands. Chase howls and focuses his powers on Kent. With all of his might Kent manages to push Chase into the time loop and normal time is restored. Bruce throws a bat shaped shuriken at the device controlling the loop and it violently shuts down. Diana discovers that Erdel had been killed in the gunfire.

Bruce tells them that despite all that had been lost they have gained something in the form of a Planetary Portal Generator. The three step through and find themselves at the Planetary watchtower on the moon. Diana barely has time to ask which way they should head before a voice booms over a load speaker, welcoming them to the Watchtower. Shields appear around Kent and separate the three heroes.

The voice tells Clark, Bruce and Diana that it would like to demonstrate something. It goes on to explain the reasons why Clark Kent has the powers he did. He continues to say that Clark did have a weakness inherent in the way his powers work and that if he was exposed to a weaker gravity or left bereft of his air supply it might be possible to kill him. All the while the voice is explaining this Bruce and Diana watch helplessly as Clark is released into space.

After Clark is left to die the voice introduces itself as Elijah Snow and tells Bruce and Diana if they tell him where Chase was they would be "let go" as easily as Kent. If they refused their bodies would be, in Snow's words, very hard to look at. Diana and Bruce run deeper into the Watchtower in an effort to escape.

Diana comes upon the bodies of several Green Lanterns and Jade, which are being held in tubes. Before she can examine them further Wagner appears and taunts Diana verbally. She reveals that she was the one that destroyed Paradise Island because she didn't want Diana to try and teach the world their brand of peace. She also tells her that she wasn't going to allow Diana to try and change the world anymore and that it was time for the Amazon to die. Diana mentally activates her bracelets and her clothes change to a white uniform and various styles of swords hover around her.

While the two women engage in combat Bruce runs through the Watchtower on his way to face Snow, while Snow asks Bruce what he intends to do once Bruce finds him. Bruce counters that he knows who Snow is and that twenty years before Bruce's parent allied themselves with like-minded individuals and discovered that certain treatments and technologies were being withheld. The group saw even then how Snow and his allies were changing the world. The group was going to form a League of Justice to oppose this but Snow killed them before they could do so.

Bruce, after donning a bat shaped mask, finally faces Snow, who not only admits that he killed Bruce's parents but made Bruce watch. He goes on to explain that he is over one hundred years old and that the gathering the secrets and holding them close has been his grand enterprise. He continues to explain that normal people would not be able to appreciate it and they would waste it like they wasted everything. He tells Bruce that he is not good enough to come along and that it was time to die.

Diana and Wagner continue their battle. After evading Wagner's sword Diana punches her opponent and tries to press forward. Wagner counters by throwing her sword, which punctures Diana shoulder. Bruce, meanwhile, walks through the snow that Snow had conjured informing Snow that he had spent twenty years training for this fight and that he had found a way around Snow's temperature manipulation ability. Bruce tells Snow that if Snow is going to kill him that he is going to have to do it with his bare hands. Snow draws two pistols and begins to fire at Bruce.

Wagner continues to pound Diana and smashes through her sword defenses. Finally Wagner thrusts her sword into Diana's stomach. Back in Snow's office Bruce evades Snow's gunfire and takes out two batarangs and throws them at Snow. They catch Snow in the chest and Bruce rushes the older man and knocks him to the ground.

Snow informs Bruce that if he is ever to be safe that he is going to have to kill him. Snow taunts Bruce saying that he has been watching Bruce for twenty years and that he knows that Bruce doesn't kill. Suddenly a sword is thrust into Snow's skull, killing him. Bruce watches as Diana tells the dead Snow that she is capable of killing him. Bruce and Diana look at each other for a moment before Diana tells Bruce that they have won themselves a world and wonders what they are going to do with it.

In space, Clark Kent's body floats in orbit around the moon, his glasses floating deeper into space.

4Story - 4: Before I dig into to the meat of the review I wanted to do a little showing off first. I did a little research online and found out (in a round about way) what "Terra Occulta" means. This is not a hard and fast definition, but I thought you would all find it somewhat interesting. Terra, as I found, means earth, ground, land, country, or soil. Occulta had no direct match on the site I used for research, but it had a few other words like occulta and those words all meant secret or hidden. So if we are to put it together the sub-title of this comic means something like hidden or secret country or land, which makes sense when you think about since the main thrust of this story was a shadow government. Just thought you would like to know.

So where should I begin with this comic? I have to admit when I first agreed to review this book I thought I would despise it. This stems from my prejudices against books like "Planetary" and "Authority." It's not that I think these books shouldn't be published or anything such as that. A creator and publisher have the write to produce whatever kind of book they feel like. My main problem with these books is that the main thrust behind them is to satirize super-hero conventions without using the actual characters and teams involved. It's a way for the writer to put their own spins on the characters of old and attempting to show the emperor has no clothes. This may not be the writer's intention, but it's how I, as a reader, take it.

This could just me being sensitive about the characters I have come to enjoy, but I promise this isn't me going all fanboy on you. It's just I feel the deconstructing of super-heroes has been done to death and any attempt to further the concept seems kind of unnecessary. I mean Steve Gerber did it back in the '70s with his work on "The Defenders" and "Howard the Duck" and in the '80s Alan Moore and Frank Miller stripped the hero down with their seminal "Watchmen" and "Dark Knight Returns" respectively. To do the same type of thing now feels redundant.

Again I could be wrong. "Authority" and "Planetary" could be Warren Ellis telling us how much he hates super-heroes and how silly they are. Who knows? I just never cared for either book.

Which is why I was surprised that I enjoyed this comic so much. I have to admit that the story was well constructed; the dialogue dead on and it had solid characterization. I had serious doubts that you could fit the Justice League with "Planetary" since they covered certain members within the series itself. Having this be an Elseworlds story helps it as well since there is absolutely no way you could fit the two series' continuities together without a brain hemorrhage.

The reworking of the Batman origin to fit into the "Planetary" world was a nice touch. It may seem clichd since other Batman Elseworlds tie the origin in weird ways, but here it really worked. In addition the origins of the other heroes being tweaked to fit in the "brave new world" worked as well. Barrett Allen's genes being used to create a courier service. Raymond Palmer's being killed and his research used to further medical science. The ring of unknown origin being found in Siberia (thought you have to assume that some Green Lanterns were created with the decoration in the Watchtower). The best was the reworking of Dr, Erdel drawing what is most likely the Martian Manhunter. Over all it was a fanboy's dream inside a fanboy's nightmare.

However Warren Ellis really gelled the two differing concepts well and I had very few problems with the story. One of those problems though, was the length of the story. Too much happens too soon. They crammed a three to four issue mini-series into a single Prestige Format book. On one hand this could be looked at as old fashioned since most stories used to be crammed with action and plot within a single issue, and to a certain extent I am glad that they didn't stretch this out to a mini-series since at $5.95 a mini-series could end up being a bit pricey. On the other hand there was so much going on here that the story could have benefited with a second issue. Though from what I understand this book took some time to get out in the first place so I guess fans have to take what they can get.

Another problem tied with the first one is that because of the tight plot you never really get a sense of how bad living in this world is. Sure we get the feeling that it is a bad world ruled by evil people, but outside of the artwork that you could draw atmosphere from and the characterization of Bruce Wayne you don't get a lot about the world in general. A minor problem, to be sure, but something worth mentioning.

My final problem is more of a personal one and makes me feel like a complete fanboy. The treatment of Superman in this story was less than spectacular. Sure he has that fight with Chase, but over all he was pretty much a useless character in this story. It could be just me but it seemed like Clark was added almost off-handedly and was only used to fill out the JLA portion of the title.

Other than that I really enjoyed the book. It had very less is more writing, but it worked because the book would have suffered from being overly wordy. It took me by surprise but I really need to give this book a 4 on the shield scale.

4Art - 4: I have a slight confession to make. When I was eleven years old and first started collecting the Superman titles I really hated Jerry Ordway's artwork. I wondered why Superman had a Jay Leno chin and preferred the sleek style of John Byrne. As time went on my artistic tastes matured and while I still enjoy John Byrne's artwork I have become a very big fan of Jerry Ordway's as well. I have a feeling if the defunct "Power of Shazam" series had Ordway's artwork from the beginning it would have done much better.

Ordway doesn't disappoint here. His pencils have real power and his redesign of the Big Gun's costumes was very sweet. Batman's was very well done, though I really didn't care for Wonder Woman's. His Clark Kent was very cool and the use of the trench coat as a cape was a nice touch. Also I really liked the little touches such as the Martian Manhunter, the Green Lantern Corps under glass and the fact that Cyborg is in Snow's office. The storytelling was very sound and the detail in the backgrounds was especially good. As noted above without the backgrounds the story would lose much of its power.

My favorite piece of artwork was Clark's arrival at Wayne Manor. Diana looking skyward and almost dropping her coffee. Bruce with an expression of impatience and annoyance. Clark, hovering above, his red coat almost flapping in the wind. The only other page that comes close to the power of this one was the destruction of Paradise Island.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the coloring in the book. I rarely do this but as good as Ordway's artwork was David Baron's coloring made the book feel different than a "JLA" story and put it more into the "Planetary" style. It was dark and moody and helped the artwork immeasurably.

5Cover Art - 5: A mirror cover and a darn good one at that. Even if I wasn't reviewing this book I would have wanted to pick it up based solely on this cover. It screams that while these characters may be based on the JLA this isn't a Justice League story. The only odd thing is the positioning of Clark and Bruce. From this cover you wouldn't guess that Bruce Wayne is the driving force behind the story with how he is seated staring pensively at the ground. The Batman reflection is a little weak, but that's mostly due to my own preference on the size of the bat on Batman's chest.

Also it was really good to see Ordway draw Superman again.


Mild Mannered Reviews

2002

Note: Month dates are from the issue covers, not the actual date when the comic went on sale.

January 2002

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