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.

Trade Post: Last Week’s Pile 8-9-09

It’s been almost a month since I ran down what trades I’ve read recently and I’m sure you’re chomping at the bit for more of my “insight” (ie blathering). To catch up on a few things. I finished Tor and Barry Ween from last time. Barry was awesome from beginning to end, while Tor felt a little long, though it might be solely worth checking out for the art.

MAJOR BUMMER #1-15 (DC) written by John Arcudi, drawn by Doug Mahnke
Okay, obviously this one isn’t a trade, but that’s because it hasn’t been collected yet (not my fault). I remember reading about this book in Wizard all the time back in 1997-1998. It’s about this guy named Lou who gets super powers thanks to a couple of aliens working on a college project, but he wants nothing to do with being a super hero. But that doesn’t stop other similarly afflicted people from trying to get Lou into the super hero game. I love this creative team. Arcudi’s doing rad things with B.P.R.D. and Mahnke’s the sickest artist out there right now. No offense to JG Jones, but I really wish they would have gotten Mahnke to draw all of Final Crisis. And pretty much any other comic ever. Oh, also, one quick thought about this book: I wonder if it would still be going on (or at least gone on for longer) if it had been a creator-owned book from Image, Dark Horse or one of the smaller companies (this book has no connections to the DCU). Ah well, I think it works very well in its 15 issues.

DAREDEVIL: HELL TO PAY 1 & 2, CRUEL AND UNUSUAL (Marvel) written by Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka for CAU, drawn by Michael Lark, Stefano Gaudiano, Lee Weeks, Marko Djurdjevic, John Romita Sr., Al Milgrom, Gene Colan, Bill Sienkiewicz, Alex Maleev, Lee Bermejo & Paul Azaceta
Altogether these three trades cover Daredevil #94-110 which is everything post Brian Michael Bendis’ run minus Bru’s first two trades. I started reading DD with Kevin Smith’s first issue and enjoyed the book (for the most part) up through Bru’s first arc called Devil Inside and Out which had Matt Murdock in jail. I really liked the secret agent-like quality of Murdock at the time and after he broke out of jail, but dropped off somewhere in the second arc when everything revolved around smell. The problem with basing a written story around the idea of smell is that, well, I can’t smell it. So, I lost track of the book, but I still am a huge Ed Brubaker fan and heard his re-team with Rucka was good so I gave these books a shot and I liked them but I won’t be adding them to my shelf. I think I’m all set when it comes to reading about a mentally unstable Daredevil. It was one of the aspects of Bendis’ run that didn’t really work (though, to be fair, I was reading monthly comics about once every five months, so I was cramming a lot in on college breaks). I did like how Bru got rid of Murdock’s wife Milla without killing her and the #100 issue had a lot of cool art sequences, though watching yet another “drugged hero relives his mistakes” comic wasn’t the most exciting thing in the world. All in all, they were solid comics, just not the kind of thing that I was looking for. I’d like to see a drastically new direction for DD. Maybe not something bright and sparkly, but maybe a little less crazy?

SUPERMAN MAN OF STEEL VOL. 4 (DC) written by John Byrne, Marv Wolfman & Paul Levitz, drawn by John Byrne, Jerry Ordway, Greg LaRocque, Erik Larsen
So, the deal with the MOS trades is that they’re (in theory) reprinting every post-Crisis on Infinite Earths Superman in order from John Byrne’s reboot Man of Steel miniseries on. Being a huge Superman fan, these books were on the top of my “must get” list and as of this last Christmas, I acquired all the ones available as of then (and now I think). The thing about these comics (Superman 7-8, Action 590-591, Adventures 460-431, Legion 37-38) is that some of them are kind of hard to slog through. Partly because they still fall into that “I’m describing what I’m doing” writing style and partly because, by the time I started reading Superman in the early 90s I had heard about a lot of these stories already. But, this book does include the first appearance of Rampage, an encounter with the Metal Men, a convoluted origin for Chemo that includes multiple earths and Crisis, an adventure drawn by Erik Larsen and, most interestingly, a crossover between Superman and Legion that explained why Superboy was still appearing in the future even though, post-Crisis, he wasn’t supposed to exist. It’s kind of convoluted, but it also seems like Geoff Johns was very familiar with the story when he wrote the end of Legion of 3 Worlds (a series I REALLY liked). Another interesting thing about these books is that, after Crisis, they were still trying to figure out how Crisis effected everything and they were really focused on nailing down Superman’s abilities. For instance, he’s not as strong or fast as he was pre-Crisis and even has trouble fighting a goon like Mammoth from the Fearsome Five (sporting two new members in the form of Charger and Deuce, characters that I’ve never heard of). And, finally, I know this is just a coincidence, but doesn’t this look kind like one of the new Corps symbols:

My only complaint about these books is that I wish they reprinted the covers between the issues. Kudos for including all relevant issues though and not skipping over tie-ins!

MILLENNIUM (DC) written by Steve Englehard, drawn by Joe Staton & Ian Gibson
I’ve read a lot of crossovers in my days. Some can be easily contained within the miniseries/crossover they were originally sold as (Sinestro Corps War), while some rely heavily on tie-in issues in addition to the main book to tell the full story (Civil War, Secret Invasion). I’m not sure if I prefer one way of telling a story to another, but I definitely prefer a trade that has all of the pieces of the puzzle in one place, which, unfortunately, Millennium doesn’t. Huge story elements take place in the tie-in issues. See, the whole idea (which wasn’t explained very well in the main series) is that the Manhunters from Green Lantern have infiltrated the lives of every hero (or at least every hero with an ongoing book at the time). One of the big ones at the time was Wally West’s dad. I’m not sure if that still holds up, or if his dad was always a Manhunter or was just replaced at some point like a Skrull (for an incredibly in depth comparison of Millennium and Secret Invasion check out J. Caleb Mozzocco’s Every Day Is LIke Wednesday “The Other Secret Invasion” posts). It would have been nice to read a fuller version of the story that might include more (or all) of the tie-ins. I love a good omnibus as long as it’s not too heavy (I’m a contrarian). So, as a solo story, the Millennium trade doesn’t really work, but it is a fun little time capsule that focuses heavily on the Green Lantern Corps (it was a weird time for them) and tries to launch a brand new team that I’ve seen in ads as The Wanderers, but I’ve never read an actual issue.

[Note: I haven’t actually read Justice Society Vol. 1 yet, it must have snuck it’s way into my pile on accident, or thanks to me cleaning up for the in-laws’ visit.]

HOUSE OF MYSTERY VOL. 2 LOVE STORIES FOR DEAD PEOPLE (Vertigo) written by Matthew Sturges, drawn by Luca Rossi (plus guests!)
I am loving this book and with the cancellation of Exterminators, 100 Bullets ending and my inability to keep up with Scalped unless I’m reading trades, I’m still struggling to keep up with my current favorite Vertigo title. I think the “problem” is that there’s so much going on that I can’t really keep track of it from month to month. Anyway, this trade collects issues 6-10 of the Sandman spin-off, which really digs deep into why these people are stuck in the House of Mystery (I love that these old DC houses are still being used, the Secret Six were using the House of Secrets at one time as an HQ). We also get some more history of our heroine Fig. I’ve heard from friends that HOM comes off as kind of hitting all the right notes, but not being exceptional as far as Vertigo titles are concerned. I think this doesn’t bother me because I haven’t read all that many Vertigo titles in this vein. Plus, having just read Sandman in the past couple of years, it’s nice to see some kind of continuation. I’m also, of course, a big fan of the side stories told in every issue drawn by guys like Kyle Baker and Bernie Wrightson. I think these stories are what really put me over the edge into the love column. Hopefully I can get caught up or at the very least, stay caught up on the trades. Oh, plus, Luca Rossi does a pretty great job in my opinion of capturing everything from regular folks to huge monsters and all kinds of fantastical elements in between. Plus, I can’t think of anyone who has turned a house into such a character as him. Well done and hope this book has a long a fruitful life.

EASTMAN & LAIRD’S TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES COLLECTED SERIES VOLUME 1 (Tundra) written by Ryan Brown & Dean Clarrain, drawn by Ken Mitchroney and Jim Lawson
You guys, this was a weird one. I think this is a pre-Archie mini series (three issues, if I’m reading everything right) and boy is it crazy. Not only do you get a non-canon origin of the Turtles and Splinter as told by Splinter to April in the very beginning, but you also get highly complicated origins for Man Ray, Leatherhead and a surprise appearance from one of my favorite secondary characters (at least in toy form) Ace Duck. Voodoo curses, alternate dimensions, Krang in his robot suit, the Turtles in luchador-like costumes and a floating cow head who can traverse time and space. That’s what you get in this volume. I’m not really sure how to explain it any other way than weird. If anyone knows how all this stuff fits in with the rest of the animated TMNT comics, please let me know. Here’s a page scan to give you a taste of the weirdness: