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.

Planetary Trade Post

Much like 100 Bullets, I got into Planetary, but then stopped because there was too much going on and I wanted to keep track. Oh, there was also the intense lateness of the book by Warren Ellis and John Cassaday that ran from 1999-2009 and only 27 issues came out. I read the first two or three trades while at Wizard, dug the book, but once I realized how slow the book was in coming out and knowing my poor recall, I figured I’d wait for the trades. That was probably five years ago? Not sure. Anyway, I just got the fourth trade and finished Bullets, so I figured it would be a good time to revisit and finish the series.

If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, Planetary is an organization looking to uncover the secrets of a version of the Wildstorm Universe. I say a version because there’s no way to make sense of this book in the context of the ongoing Wildstorm U as it was. There were only a few random references here and there anyway, though the Bleed did go on to play a major part in the Wildstorm and then the DC Universes. Our heroes Elijah Snow, Jakita Wagner and The Drummer work for Planetary and each have super powers to help them on their mission (temperature control, super everything and the ability to read information, respectively). As it turns out, this world is filled with several characters from literary history like Sherlock Holmes as well as analogs for characters like Lone Ranger, Green Hornet and a slew of modern superheroes like Superman, Green Lantern and most importantly the Fantastic Four.

I’m not really sure where to go from here because I’ve got very mixed feelings about this series. I’m not sure if the wait was worth it, not that that really matters for trades, but I still experienced all that as a regular comic book reader. Also, while I really grew to like the three main characters, especially Elijah, but a lot of time is spent on analogs for or versions of existing characters. Part of me wants to say that some of the issues were fun at the time, but wound up not really having much of an impact on the story itself. Another part of me realizes that a lot of these whole issues spent on one thing or the other did actually serve as both interesting one-off stories and building blocks for the series as a whole. The Hong Kong ghost issue? Fun AND served a purposed. The one about people shooting themselves into space in a ball? I don’t think so. Like I said, I still have some resentment for how late this book was and I’m comparing it to 100 Bullets which was such a well crafted and thought out book, that pretty much everything else will pale in comparison to it.

But, like I said, I really liked the characters, two of the three of whom didn’t come off as one-note. Jakita loves to punch things, which is a nice balance to Snow’s machinations and Drums’ craziness. The thing about Snow that surprised me, though, was how good he actually turned out to be. I had him pegged as one of these “I’ll sacrifice anything to get my way” guys, but he actually has a lot of loyalty to his people and truly wants to make the world a better place. The Drummer also really came into his own in the last few issues of the series where his loyalty for Elijah was explained and he took a much more active role in their mission.

I’ve also got a bit of a problem with Ellis as a writer. He often comes off as the guy who likes to write comics about superheroes showing how dumb superheroes can be. But, I’m not sure if any of that is actually in this book or if I’m overlaying my prejudices on it. Were the Superman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern-esque characters removed so easily because they’re dumb or because that’s what would happen in this world? Was that bit about the funeral for a John Constantine type character who turned into Ellis’ Spider Jerusalem for no apparent reason honest or tongue in cheek? It’s almost impossible to tell anymore. But, I did like that moment where the out-of-nowhere superhero complains about being turned into a complete mess by the man representing Vertigo.

At the end of the day, I think there’s enough here for me to dig into at least down the line for a second complete read through. I haven’t talked about Cassaday’s art, but I think it’s pretty good. I don’t fall over backwards like a lot of people for him, but I think he’s solid and does great facial expressions. Again, I can’t help but look at some of the pages and wonder what took so long, but I don’t know why the book was late and I really shouldn’t care anymore, but it bugs me. There are some beautiful compositions by him in this book, I’m especially fond of the shift ship and its inhabitants which actually looked shiny and bright on the page. So, yes, I’ll keep these books for now to read another day. I’ll leave it up to Future TJ to figure out if he wants to keep them on his shelf for the long haul.

We Want Action: RED (2010)

With all the election nonsense clogging up the airwaves last night, the missus and I decided to have ourselves a little dinner and a movie date and saw RED and The Destinta, an awesome independent theater near our place that does discount tickets on Tuesdays. We decided on this flick because the missus liked the cast and we both figured this would be better to watch on the big screen than a drama or comedy. And, boy, did we both have a lot of fun with the flick.

The idea is that Bruce Willis, a retired CIA agent has been marked for death. Since he’s been flirting with customer service rep Mary-Louise Parker has been targeted to, so he grabs her and goes on a cross-country chase trying to figure out why Karl Urban’s after him, enlisting the help of fellow older killers Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren and Brian Cox. With the exception of a few stiff line delivers, I think this might be Willis’ best movie in a while (Cop Out was okay, Surrogates was interesting, but didn’t really take up much rent space in my brain) because the action is solid (though I wish they hadn’t shown that scene of him getting out of the spinning car in the previews because it takes away a little bit of the awesomeness having seen it a billion times in the commercials). I was worried that Freeman and Mirren might have just signed up for this flick for a paycheck, but it seemed like they had a good time, or at least took it remotely seriously. I liked Parker more in this one movie than almost all of Weeds. Urban really proved himself to me in this flick. He was great in Star Trek, but he was basically interpreting someone else’s performance in that movie and really got to show what he can do in this one from both an acting and action perspective. And, damn, Malkovich as the paranoid-but-right dudes was just so damn perfect.

For whatever it’s worth, I didn’t read the comic the movie is loosely based on written by Warren Ellis and drawn by Cully Hamner. It came out while I was in college and working solely off of my established pull list. I don’t think I’d read any Ellis books at that point and it doesn’t sound like I’ve missed a whole lot. RED sounds very violent and pretty basic, kind of like Ellis’ later team-up with Hamner for Top Cow Down, which I read and dug, but don’t even think I’ll need to revisit. The movie, on the other hand, I think I’ll watch a few more times, especially if it comes on on a Saturday afternoon or I come across it on Instant. It’s fun and funny and has a nice, but not too gooey, romantic plot that doesn’t diminish any of the characters.

I had three random thoughts while watching this movie. First off, I think they filmed the rocket launcher scene in this movie (which was awesome all around, by the way) in the same place they filmed the finale of The Losers, which is kind of funny because they’re both movies based on obscure comic properties owned by DC. I don’t know what they call those giant, rectangular metal shipping boxes, but that’s what tipped me off. Second, related to the first, actually, is that the trailer was randomly spoilery. So, SPOILER WARNING if you care. One major and one minor plot point can be figured out just by watching the trailer. The major one is that Freeman isn’t really dead after the attack in the nursing home, which you know because you see him with Mirren in the preview. The minor one is that the red headed woman is actually following them. Malkovich hassles the lady, but you’re supposed to just think he’s paranoid. Of course, if you’ve seen the commercial for the movie, you know she’s the one that fires the rocket at him. And finally, I wonder if Kevin Smith had problems with Willis on the set of Cop Out. On the most recent Smodcast (#143), Smith mentioned that the main different between filming Cop Out and Red State is that on the former there was someone who clearly didn’t want to be there and on the latter everyone was excited to make the movie. You’d think it would be between the two leads–Tracy Morgan and Bruce Willis–if it caused a certain amount of problems or headaches, but Smith defended Morgan on Twitter the other day, so I’m wondering if he was referring to Willis. For what it’s worth, Smith has also praised Adam Brody and Kevin Pollack in various podcasts, which seems to leave Willis. Knowing Smith, I wouldn’t be surprised if he eventually came out and told that tale. I’d definitely be curious to hear it and also figure out if I was right.

Trade Post: The Authority Vol. 1-5 (Plus The Monarchy Vol. 1)

2008-12-23
4:10:25 am

So, as I’m sure I mentioned before in my post about loving Wildstorm, but I recently re-read Warren Ellis’ Stormwatch which naturally leads into The Authority. I’m not going to get too in depth on these reviews.

THE AUTHORITY: RELENTLESS (VOL. 1)

Written by Warren Ellis

Drawn by Bryan Hitch

I really dig what Ellis started here. It’s kind of hard to remember reading these books now, but this was one of the first times we ever saw “heroes” take matters into their own hands and change the world how they saw fit to make it a better place. This trade collects two storylines, one introducing the team and pitting them against Kaizen Gamorra and his crazy superpowered kamikaze clones, and the other pitting the team against aliens from an alternate universe. That’s a lot of action in one trade. It’s also a lot of information, especially when it comes to exactly how the carrier works.

I’m not usually a big fan of Ellis’, but he really was dipping into a very cool well of ideas when he was putting this book together. But he doesn’t get too wrapped up in the small details as the big ideas are balanced pretty well with big action. I’d recommend this book to pretty much anyone who’s not easily offended (I love how, every time Jack Hawksmoore, who may be my new favorite superhero, he knocks their jaw or head clean off, that’s awesome). My only negative is that I don’t really get what the big deal about Hitch’s art is. Yeah, he’s pretty good and there’s some killer splash pages in there, but I don’t understand why people would wait so long for him to finish Ultimates (I have no idea how late, if at all, Authority was when he was drawing it, but I’m still waiting for that last issue of Planetary…). But, again, it’s a really great book, which obviously leads into…

THE AUTHORITY: UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT (VOL. 2)

Written by Warren Ellis & Mark Millar

Drawn by Bryan Hitch & Frank Quitely

Warren Ellis’ last arc, which featured the creator of the Earth coming back to terraform Earth for his own fiendish purposes. Plus SPOILER, the death of Jenny Sparks (she was the spirit of the 20th century after all). Again, I’ve got to say how impressed I am by these characters that Ellis created, whether it’s Midnighter or the limited Superman in the form of Apollo to The Doctor and The Engineer. So, yeah, Jenny goes out with a bang, which leads to Mark Millar and Frank Quitely’s arc, which isn’t quite as good.

This is the famous arc that has the Authority facing off against Avengers proxies. The problem is that the story doesn’t quite measure up to memory as it seems to take a really long time to get to the point (the Authority kicking the crap out of the Avengers). There’s also a pretty big jump between Ellis and Millar’s runs where the Authority become celebrities which brings up a point I want to make. In both Ellis and Millar’s arcs, things happen that are explained but never shown and it’s a little annoying. For instance, why the heck are they so famous now? We’re never really told. Is it just because Jenny saved the world? If so, they did that before and we never heard about how the general populace reacted. We’re also never really treated to much in the way of origins for The Doctor or the Engineer beyond what we’re told. I’m not the kind of reader that needs everything laid out for me, but it would have been nice to see at least a flashback or something at some point.

Anyway, this arc is still pretty cool, as the Authority does eventually kick the crap out of the evil Avengers. Unfortunately, this trade reminds me of why I didn’t like Frank Quitely until All-Star Superman. This trade has some of the ugliest faces I’ve ever seen and not just the ones that are supposed to be ugly, Shen’s particularly bad looking. There’s still plenty of interesting ideas like the New X-Men-like Hive-Mind, HeadMailing and the Avenger-like group’s invisible hideout in the middle of NYC. Volume 2 is definitely worth buying if you liked the first villain and even though Millar’s arc doesn’t quite match up to Ellis’, it’s still a valiant effort that fits well within the post-Authority Wilstorm Universe.

THE AUTHORITY: EARTH INFERNO & OTHER STORIES

Written by Mark Millar, Joe Casey, Paul Jenkins & Warren Ellis

Drawn by Frank Quitely, Chris Weston, Cully Hamner & Georges Jeanty

With Volume 3, Millar definitely steps his game up. This arc focuses on the Doctor’s drug problems along with a rogue Doctor from the 60s who’s wreaking havoc on the Earth (or something, I’ll be honest, I didn’t quite get it). Wheston handles some of the art chores, which don’t even look as good as Quitely’s not-quite-there-yet art. But, the story makes up for it as we get to see the scale the Authority is working on (they evacuate the entire planet to alternate universes). I also really like how the Doctor comes back and defeats the old Doctor (this whole thing is kinda like Dr. Who isn’t it? I’ve never seen the show, but, it seems similar).

Anyway, this is another good book and we get our first look at Midnighter out of costume (at least in Authority). Apparently he’s blond (but only in this issue, as he appears as a brunette in every other out of costume appearance I’ve noticed). There’s also a few shorter stories here from other writer/artist teams. There’s an annual where Midnight and Apollo have to face off against zombie versions of their old Stormwatch teammates, a short story about the Engineer’s non existent sex life and one starring Jack Hawksmoor (love that guy). Good stuff.

THE MONARCHY: BULLETS OVER BABYLON (VOL. 1)

Written by Doselle Young

Drawn by John McCrea

Authority #21 was written by Doselle Young as a way of spinning Stormwatch’s Jackson King and Christine Trelane off into their own world-changing group The Authority. There’s a lot of cool, Authority-like ideas in this book (and the use of Union, one of the few Image characters I have fond memories of as a kid getting comics from a grab bag), but the problem is that this trade only collects the Authority issue and the first four issues of the 12 issue series, so you don’t really get to see how things play out. Hopefully DC and Wildstorm will put the rest of the series out at some point. Oh, I also really like John McCrea from his work on Hitman, one of the best in-universe mature reader titles of all time.

THE AUTHORITY: TRANSFER OF POWER (VOL. 4)

Written by Mark Millar & Tom Peyer

Drawn by Dustin Nguyen, Art Adams, Frank Quitely & Gary Erskine

And now presenting the trade where everything goes off the rails. Apparently there were some scheduling problems or something that pushed the stories in this book (half written by Millar, half by Peyer) back and made things screwy. I’m not sure if a regular schedule would have saved things as the Authority are seemingly killed and replaced by a new version of the team. It could really have been a 2-3 issue story, but ended up as eight freaking issues. The book really just seems to be spinning its wheels the whole time. Even art by one of my all time favorite artists Art Adams can’t save the issues he drew. I ended up just skimming them, waiting for these new jerks to die and for the Authority to kick some butt, which they eventually do (of course), but it and the marriage of Midnight and Apollo doesn’t save this book. Skip this one if you can.

THE AUTHORITY: HARSH REALMS

Written by Robbie Morrison

Drawn by Dwayne Turner & Tan Eng Huat

So, the Authority took some time off, but eventually came back under the stewardship of Robbie Morrison (don’t be fooled by the cover, which only cites “Morrison and Turner” as the creative folks, very tricky Wildstorm). This particular volume sets the Authority against Reality Incorporated, a group of jerks who use other realities for their own gain. It’s not a very memorable story (I read it over the past two days and still had to go back and see what happened in the issues I didn’t read today. It’s not bad stuff by any means, but it does make one think that the Authority is the kind of team that should maybe just hang out in limbo until someone has a really cool idea for them.

So, I know I haven’t read all things Authority yet, but I did have a lot of fun with the book. I love the characters, especially after this second reading where I’ve gotten a better idea as to who they are and what they can and can’t do. I’d like to check out the rest of the trades, especially the one where they actually take over the world, I’m curious to see how that played out aside from the obvious. I also like how they’re being handled now in the post-apocalyptic playground of the current Wildstorm U. They’re no longer the “we can do anything we want” team, they’ve got problems of their own, though I’m not a big fan of Hawksmoor being city-less. Oh well, we’re see where things go and if I’m able to snag the rest of the trades.