Vertigo Trade Post: Global Frequency & Joe The Barbarian

global frequency Global Frequency (Wildstorm/Vertigo/DC)
Written by Warren Ellis, drawn by Garry Leach, Glenn Fabry, Liam Sharp, Roy Allan Martinez, Jon J. Muth, David Lloyd, Simon Bisley, Chris Sprouse, Karl Story, Lee Bermejo, Tomm Coker, Jason Pearson & Gene Ha
Collects Global Frequency #1-12

I don’t often read Warren Ellis comics. Aside from Planetary and his Stormwatch-intoAuthority stuff, I just haven’t been able to plug into his work and enjoyed myself on a regular basis. In my mind he’s similar to a writer like Garth Ennis where he really likes to work within a certain type of story with a group of familiar characters. With Ennis, the broad idea seems to be crazy people overcoming their craziness to defeat far more evil people, most often with copious amounts of violence. Meanwhile, Ellis seems to feature people who might be evil doing good things for reasons we don’t quite know or understand, often (in my experience) because they think they know better than other people. There’s a cynicism and negativity to a lot of his characters that I can’t always get into.

Even so, I’m always interested in proving my pre-conceived notions wrong (well, almost always, there’s a writer or two and a small group of artists who I don’t spend my time on anymore) and decided to give Global Frequency a read. Though the cover of the collection claims this as a Vertigo series, it was originally published by WildStorm. Each of the dozen issues features a story written by Ellis with a different artist focuses on a case handled by Global Frequency, a citizen-run organization that consists of a network of experts who can help out in various kinds of crises. When you’re in the club, you get a special phone (basically a smart phone by today’s standards) and can get called up and expected to serve either in the field or by supplying information at the ring of a cell.

While I like the one-off nature of the series, I was left wanting by most of these stories. Sure, it’s cool to see people who are really good at their jobs solving mysteries and saving people, but it didn’t feel like there was much else to grab onto. Though it was more well-constructed, it had kind of a procedural feeling which is a kind of story I’m growing less and less in like with.

That’s not to say these are bad stories. In fact, there’s some incredibly creative stuff going on in here. I still don’t fully understand the one about the town that seemed to experience the same hallucination all at the same time, but I dug it. There’s definitely enough interesting details, impressive action scenes and varying degrees of artistic genius in here which I enjoyed, but I like a little more personal stuff in there. To be fair, Ellis was working with 22 pages per issue with new characters in each issue. It’s not like the characters are flat, you’re just left with more of what they can do than who they are or why they do what they do.

While reading, I remember thinking that this would make a really great television series. A few days later I was looking up a particular actress for something over on Spinoff only to discover that it had a pilot a few years back. Sounds kinda like it could have been a precursor for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had it gone to series.

joe the barbarian Joe The Barbarian (Vertigo/DC)
Written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Sean Murphy
Collects Joe The Barbarian #1-6

On the other hand, I was completely able to latch onto Grant Morrison and Sean Murphy’s Joe The Barbarian. As you might expect from a Morrison comic, the concept isn’t super simple to explain. A kid named Joe who has low blood sugar is in his three story house alone when he starts experiencing both this world and another more fantastical one populated with his pet rat, talking versions of his action figures, all kinds of interesting characters and even a few analogs for people in his real life. Joe walks in both worlds, trying to reach his goals simultaneously (getting some soda in the real world and helping defeat King Death in the other). As he goes we learn more about Joe as he learns more about himself as he interacts with the fantasy characters around him and grows as a hero.

Story-wise, this one hits a lot of the same buttons for me as something like The Goonies or The Return Of King Doug. It’s about a young man finding his heroic side when faced with mountains of adversity. I think that’s the type of tale I’ll always be able to get behind, especially when there are so many extra elements wrapped around the basic package.

Speaking of which, a huge aspect of my enjoyment of this book comes thanks to Murphy’s artwork. He’s got a style that seems loose and yet doesn’t lose definition. Everything from the normal house setting to the flying manta rays feel cut from the same cloth even when two different realities are shown within panels or pages of each other. Plus, he and Morrison filled this world with so many familiar faces and characters who show up in the other world looking like action figures, something I absolutely love. You’ve got actual Superman, Batman, Robin and Lobo hanging out with characters that look an awful lot like Transformers, G.I. Joes, U.S.S. Enterprise personnel and plenty of other guys who might remember from your childhood toybox. Mind you, those aren’t the main characters of the book, those are just background folks who show up in huge action scenes, each one of which is wallpaper and poster-worthy in my opinion.

Even though I clearly enjoyed one of these books more than the other and will be keeping one in my collection while passing the other on to someone else, I love that both of these kinds of comics exist. Neither are what you’d expect form corporate superhero comics even though both Ellis and Morrison do plenty of that as well. These are stories these creators had a burning desire to tell and made happen. I give them both a lot of credit for that. Sure, it’s easier when you’re both pretty huge names in the industry, but it would be just as easy to forget about creator owned stuff and keep working within the corporate superhero system. Kudos, gents.

Halloween Scene: Batman Comics

2008-10-05
3:49:45 pm

A year or two ago the folks at Wizard decided to do a story of the 25 scariest moments in comics. I kind of had a problem with this because I’ve never really been scared by a comic, I’m not sure if it has to do with the format or what, but it’s never happened. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t read some generally creepy stories in comic book form. Recently I’ve read some pretty cool Batman-related stories that had a good horror elements. For the ongoing series’ I’m probably still an issue or two behind, so take that into account, but here we go.

BATMAN: GOTHAM AFTER MIDNIGHT

This is a 12-issue series written by Steve Niles and drawn by Kelley Jones. I’m not a big fan of Niles, so Jones was the big draw for me here. His art on Batman around Knightfall was the first time I realized that artists had different styles. No one draws a more over-the-top, creepy Batman then him in my book. And that’s basically what this book is, crazy and over the top. #3 was the last one I read in which the creepy zombie-looking villain convinces Clayface that, if he actually consumes people, he can grow to giant size. It’s a pretty cool concept that I haven’t seen done before but really makes sense. There are all kinds of over-the-top moments in the first three issues (Jones’ Batcave looks like a smelting factory, Batman’s building a giant robot suit just in case). Some people find it ridiculous, but to me that’s part of the fun.

JOKER’S ASYLUM

A little while ago DC put out these one-shots under the Joker’s Asylum banner showcasing Batman’s biggest villains, probably to tie into the movie because they came out so far ahead of Halloween. I read all of them, but I particularly liked the Scarecrow and Penguin issues.

Scarecrow was written by Joe Harris and drawn by super awesome fantastic artist Juan Doe. With Joker taking on the Crypt Keeper role in all these books, we get presented with a slasher-like tale of a young, nerdy girl getting invited to the popular girl’s sleepover with nefarious intent. It turns out that the girl’s shrink is actually the Scarecrow, who convinces the nerdy girl to go to the party. While she’s there, Scarecrow hunts down the teenagers and poisons them with his fear toxin. It’s probably the best slasher-movie-in-comic-form story I’ve ever read and it’s all done concisely in one issue. And boy oh boy is Juan Doe’s art fantastic. It’s a kind of angular cartoony style that still captures the eeriness of the scene. He also does some really cool little things like taking the old Joker face from his early appearances and using them as decorations on the Joker’s pajamas in the opening scene. Harris also sets up a possible future villain in the form of Lindsay, the nerdy girl. And one last thing, bonus points to Harris for referencing Mean Girls and Heathers (Heather’s the mean girl and Lindsay is the nerdy girl, after Lohan I assume). Well done all around.

The other Joker’s Asylum story I really dug is the Jason Aaron written and Jason Pearson drawn Penguin one-shot. It’s more of an EC revenge tale than a horror story, but it offers probably the best representation of the Penguin I’ve ever seen. If you think that he’s too ridiculous of a character to be a good villain in the next Batman movie, just read this issue and you’ll see what I mean. Instead of being an active threat to people we find that Penguin is much more behind-the-scenes in how his revenge plays out. There’s also a fun nod to one of the most over-done elements in Batman comics that I loved. Penguin’s day dreaming about his new lady friend while Batman’s beating up on his bodyguards. When he’s done Batman says “Just remember that I’ll be watching” to which Penguin responds “Yes, yes…see you next week.” As anyone who’s been reading Batman comics for a while, Penguin currently owns the Ice Berg Lounge where he’s considered a legitimate business man, but Batman still routinely comes there, knocks his guys around and tell Penguin he’s watching him. It’s gotten old fast for us Batman fans and this was, to me at least, a way of poking a little fun at that.

SIMON DARK VOL. 1 TPB

Like I said above, I’m not a big Steve Niles fan, but lately he’s been writing some pretty good comics, so maybe my tune is changing. What I first thought was a retelling of the Frankenstein tale has kind of morphed into something much more involving dark magic and other craziness all set in the backdrop of Gotham City. But don’t expect Batman to pop up every issue, in fact, I don’t think he shows up in this trade at all. I’ve read most of the issues after this one and still dig the story, even if it does drag out a little. A big, big part ambiance of the story definitely comes from artist Scott Hampton. Looking at it actually makes me feel cold. That’s really the best way I can describe it. Crisp. I think Simon may be my favorite new, non-legacy character from last year, especially as he finds more and more out about his weird past.

BATMAN FACES TPB

Really the only reason I even picked this book up is because of Matt Wagner. I’m a big big fan of Mage and really hopes he does the third and final miniseries. So, while waiting for that I decided to give this Batman/Two-Face story a while and I really enjoyed it. Basically Two-Face is trying to take over an island that Bruce Wayne wants to buy and start a new country with a bunch of European sideshow freaks. I laughed as soon as I saw them because I had JUST watched Freaks. It’s another one of those great coincidences like when you’re flipping through channels, stop on a History Channel or Discovery show about something you’ve never really heard of and then it comes up in conversation the next day. I love when that happens. The story itself isn’t all that surprising, but Wagner does some great thing with his art (like a Family Circus-style dotted line splash or the page consisting of a track). The big draw is Wagner’s art, especially his interpretation of classics like Batman and Two-Face and the freak characters. It’s more about the smaller moments, like how the freaks react at the very end of the story than the big plot stuff, but all in all it’s a really enjoyable story.