Shiny Shelf

Planetary/JLA: Terra Occulta

By Mark Clapham on 24 November 2002

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

This comic couldn’t be more of a period piece if the characters dressed in doublet and hose and called each other ‘nuncle’, what with writer Warren Ellis being so firmly locked in the late nineties, the period when he had his creative heyday. I’ve read this story before… hell, Warren Ellis has written it before. Check out issue 10 of the regular Planetary series for another variation on the ‘JLA crushed by a cruel conspiratorial world order’ story, published a full two years ago. Like Alan Moore, Ellis adapts and re-adapts the classic superhero myths in his work. Unlike Moore, Ellis fails to find many new angles on the material as he goes over it, adopting a very straightforward form of cynicism as the lens through which he looks at these characters.

The difference from this book and the aforementioned Planetary issue, or his violent JLA clones The Authority, is that Ellis is working with the real deal – Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince. By forcing Ellis to work within the strictures of the Elseworlds format – where characters can have different personal histories, but must have the same moral structures and characters as their mainstream continuity incarnations – DC have squeezed the best version of this story out of him, one which provides a more entertaining story and provides some light among the cynicism. However, there’s no requirement for Ellis to apply the same strictures to his own creations, so the Planetary team are here portrayed as outright villains, ruling over the world behind the cover of an omnipresent corporation.

There are some neat touches in the story. The world is well envisioned, with the Planetary Corporation having taken full advantage of the miracles that litter the DCU, creating speed-force powered messengers and using Ray Palmer’s research to create Atom robots for miniature medical work. With Smallville and Birds of Prey on our televisions, there’s also something timely about the dressed down portrayal of our three heroes. Diana wears Amazonian combat gear, while Bruce wears black stealth armour and, rather wonderfully, Clark Kent wears blue jeans with a red overcoat and trainers. As I said, very Smallville. The script is functional, but the concept of DC heroes being experimented upon was old in the Elseworlds books from day one – remember the dead Superman in the lab in the very first Elseworld, Batman: Holy Terror?

I have no such reservations about the artwork from Jerry Ordway, which boasts vivid but delicate colours from David Baron. Presented in the prestige format with its lovely paper stock, this is a book which really looks great, shaving a few years off the time in hell Ordway will be serving for producing that US Agent mini-series. After his fill-ins on Tom Strong, Ordway might even escape the grinding torment within a couple of centuries.

This is a good book, but not the spectacular one we might have hoped for. It’s the best work in a while from both Ellis and the Elseworlds line, and as the first Wildstorm Elseworlds it’s a solid enough debut.

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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named

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