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‘Batman/Planetary: Night on Earth’ Celebrates the Batmen of Many Eras

‘Batman/Planetary: Night on Earth’ Celebrates the Batmen of Many Eras

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Batman/Planetary: Night on Earth
Written by Warren Ellis
Artwork by John Cassaday
Published by DC/Wildstorm Comics

In the pantheon of unarguably great comics, Warren Ellis’ Planetary holds a permanent seat, being both devilishly clever in its premise and magnificent in its execution. For some 27 issues Ellis, along with artist John Cassaday (with occasional help) opened the chest cavity of 20th century genre fiction, performing the most reverent, respectful and gleeful autopsy known in either fiction or reality. Pulp adventure crimebusters, comic book superheroes, kung-fu cinema, Kaiju Eiga, and more came under Ellis’ knife, both tied together in one beautiful circulatory system and carefully extracted and brought gleaming like new into the light of day. There was also one issue with Batman in it, and it kicked a lot of arse.

The crossover took place in Batman/Planetary: Night on Earth, a one-shot released in August of 2003, which saw the Planetary team head to Gotham City in search of John Black, a fugitive with the ability to open portals between dimension. But this is the Gotham of the Wildstorm comics universe, a place bereft of costumed crimefighters, though still a haven of crime, Gothic architecture and shady alleys. When the team find and confront Black, he panics and sends them careening across various alternate versions of Gotham, bringing the Planetary crew face to face with different versions of the Caped Crusader from numerous different eras and media.

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First and foremost, Night on Earth is a celebration (or perhaps a roast) of the Batmen of many times, with appearances by the Silver Age version, Adam West’s chubby crimebuster, Frank Miller’s hulking psychotic, and even the very first Batman, the one who carried a gun and had more trouble concealing the fact that he was crazier than a sack of ferrets than later incarnations. In the same way that Planetary is all about exhuming the still-fresh remains of 20th Century pop culture, Night on Earth merrily unearths some of the iterations of everyone’s favorite bat-themed crimefighter we’d be happier to forget, and holds them up to the light of day in a way that makes it impossible to ignore just how silly things got some times.

But rather than 48 pages of pure bat-mockery, Night on Earth manages to strike a balance between the satirical and the reverent. As one closes in on the final pages, the manic tempo of Night on Earth suddenly comes to a halt in a beautiful finale, and what previously felt like the roast of Batman’s often sordid history gives way to a fantastic reminder of why we all love Batman in the first place, as he brings Black back from the brink while the Planetary team can only look on. Because while the Caped Crusader has also been a joke, a psychopath and a brute, the reason he’s endured so long is because he is, above all else, a hero. And sometimes the purest expression of heroism is a few wise words in aid of someone who’s lost their way, and needs the world to make sense again.

And sometimes it takes a man dressed like a bat to do that. Funny old world, isn’t it?