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: Simon Dark Ashes & Countdown Presents Lord Havok & The Extremists

SIMON DARK: ASHES (DC)
Written by Steve Niles, drawn by Scott Hampton
Collects Simon Dark #7-12
After spending a lot of time re-reading books like Preacher and Walking Dead, I figured I should get back to burning through the boxes of unread trades I’ve got in my closet. Between working at Wizard, getting stuff from friends, half price boxes at conventions and being an active member of Sequential Swap, I’ve got a lot to read. This weekend I read quite a few books, but I’ll be talking about these two tonight.

I reviewed the first volume of Simon Dark here. As a quick review, Simon Dark is a strange, patchwork boy living in the sewers of a segment of Gotham called the Village. He’s got a strange magical history and keeps bumping into members of Geo Populis, an Illuminati-type group run by demons after a fashion. This volume features the shadowy group infecting Gothamites with a zombie-like disease spread around by soap poisoned with demons. Yeah, it sounds crazy, but it all seems to work thanks to this being Gotham and literally anything can happen and doesn’t seem too crazy, no matter what.

Though there’s a big Matrix-like scene with Simon talking to an old man in a white room who explains a lot of Simon’s origins to him that’s kind of lame, I really liked the originality of the story. Unlike a lot of Niles’ other books, this feels too strange and wild to be too heavily borrowed from other sources. Niles creates some truly awesome looking monsters including a yellow elephant thing that I now love. I believe I read these issues as they came out, but I didn’t remember much of it. I want to get the third volume and see how the story ends. Does anyone know if Simon got canceled or just had a finite run? I’d imagine it’s the former, but I’m curious. Oh, Hampton’s art is still super-sick. I’d like to see him do some Hellboy or B.P.R.D. work.

COUNTDOWN PRESENTS: LORD HAVOK & THE EXTREMISTS (DC)
Written by Frank Tieri, drawn by Liam Sharp
Collects Countdown Presents: Lord Havok & The Extremists #1-6
Woof. While I liked Ashes, there’s very little to like about (deep breath) Countdown Presents Lord Havok And The Extremists. For anyone who doesn’t remember or has sufficiently blocked out the complete pointlessness of Countdown (even if I didn’t think it was such a bad story, it served no purpose whatsoever) the weekly series spawned a bunch of minis and one-shots, many of which involved various characters visiting some of the newly minted 52 Earths in the multiverse. As I’ve said here and there, I think DC completely missed the point by basing a lot of those Earths on old Elseworlds books that no one but me remembers. Anyway, this miniseries–which according to the Wikipedia page takes place on Earth-8–instead took notes from a team created by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis in Justice League Europe called the Extremists who came from another dimension. The team consists of analogs for Marvel’s biggest villains Dr. Doom (Lord Havok), Dreamslayer (Dormmamu), Gorgon (Doctor Octopus), Tracer (Sabertooth) and Dr. Diehard (Magneto), but Tieri and company extrapolated that to basically turn Earth-8 into a giant Marvel analogy that just seems tried and boring to me.

So, as you might expect from a regular DC trade, this collection doesn’t offer any kind of context for the story through an introduction, which is kind of insane considering there isn’t much of an explanation in the story itself. The dimension-hopping Donna Troy, Kyle Rayner and Red Hood show up for a few seconds, but literally disappear in a page. But even if you remembered every aspect of Countdown, this series is still a mess. Tieri tries to balance the series by showing the Extremists planning to take on, essentially, the Avengers who have teamed up with Monarch and his dimension-hopping army with origin stories, but the problem is that, for the most part, the origins don’t really have much to do with the current action. So, instead of a Lost model for flashbacks where a character’s past actions have something to do with what’s going on with them in the present, we’re just seeing origin stories. It’d be like if we saw everything about Jack’s early history in episode one. With only six issues to tell this tale, I don’t know why they bothered with the origins or why characters like Gorgon have such a different origin than the character he’s based on while Tracer is basically Wolverine, but bad. It’s confusing and more than a little annoying. Frankly, a few boxes explaining which characters can do what would have been enough and, that way, we would have actually been told what Dr. Diehard’s powers are.

Even with all its faults there are two interesting aspects of this book. First is the strange Justice League with Soldier Batman, Bizarro Wonder Woman and Zombie Gordon and the second is the idea that the Extremists are now planning on conquering multiple earths. I know they’re waiting for Grant Morrison to clear some of his schedule, but it bewilders me why they haven’t exploited the mutliverse more since then. The longer they wait on this stuff, the less and less interesting it gets (not the Extremists aspect, the multiverse of course).