Friday, May 25, 2007

Global Frequency #1

Global Frequency #1, December 2002, Wildstorm Productions
writer: Warren Ellis
artist: Garry Leach
colorist: David Baron
letterer: Michael Heisler
editor: Scott Dunbier

When it comes to good comic book series, I'm like the guy that shows up five minutes after the coolest thing at the party happens. You know, when you show up fashionably late and a friend blurt, "Aw, man, you just missed it! Chris totally lit a firecracker in the living room and burnt a wicked hole in the carpet, and then . . ." What I'm saying is, I usually discover how great a series is too late to experience it on a monthly basis; for example, I only discovered Preacher when Vertigo released its first issue as a commemorative reprint, just when the last issue of the series was hitting the stands. When Ex Machina debuted, I held the first issue in my hand and wondered if I'd be on ground floor of an interesting series, but I passed it up only until recently, when I found the first graphic novel discounted on Free Comic Book Day, and now I'm hooked, and actually a little torn -- I know many readers like to wait for a series' graphic novel so they can get a more comprehensive experience of any given story arc, and I'm wondering if that's what I should do with the Vaughn/Harris vehicle. To me, this is the equivalent of preferring your friend's recap over actually watching that firecracker go off. You get the same exciting impression, just not when it first happened.

Warren Ellis understands this phenomenon. This week's release of the first Fell graphic novel, reprinting issues #1-#7, does not contain all of those issues in their entirety; in each issue of Fell, Ellis includes a "back matter" in which he divulges story inspirations or pre-production notes, and actually introduces something called a "letter's column" in which readers can write missives to the creative team for potential publication. Hmm, interesting concept. (Sarcasm intended!) With an affordable $1.99 cover price per issue, I don't know why anyone wouldn't pick up Fell on a monthly basis, and the conscious decision to exclude this material in even that first collection is an intended incentive to that end. Ellis wants us to get to the party on time. While I don't think these subversive, creator-driven decisions will alter the overwhelming boom of graphic novels in the marketplace, I think some readers, particularly those spoiled by most collections' supplemental sketch book sections or script notes or excerpts from Brian Michael Bendis' grade school diary, will realize there's a movement underfoot.

Assuming Ellis has many years of comic book writing left in him (a thought he might dissuade based on recent messages from his Bad Signal e-mailer), I did get to his party late, but I'm slowly making up for lost time. I think I picked up the last story arc of Transmetropolitan and ended up finding the last half of the series in back issues. Earlier last year, I splurged for many of his series published by Avatar (Diamond's "Warren Ellis Month" certainly helped), and, as I've reviewed here, I recently picked up Nextwave: Agents of Hate and NewUniversal from issue #1. Still, I'm coming in slowly, if only to recreate the joy I would've experienced had I been waiting for these titles monthly; for example, I just picked up Global Frequency #1, which, after Transmet, is the most hyped of Ellis' past, spandex-free titles, at least from what I've read. I think it was even optioned for a television or film project. Reading this issue, I can understand the attention. Frequency is an interesting concept that, in our culture of ever-developing technology, I'm surprised wasn't penned before 2002. It's another party we've barely crashed.

Basically, the Global Frequency is a communications network of 1,000 secret special ops agents dedicated to combat worldwide threats and terrorism. In this first issue, we meet five of these thousand as they attempt to diffuse a wormhole threatening to transport a nuclear missile into the heart of San Francisco. The trick is, this wormhole is generating from an old Russian undercover agent, whose abilities to move small objects with his mind were augmented by a microchip in his brain, which, after thirty years of dormancy, has started to malfunction. By placing the perpetrator in a helpless and sympathetic position, the GF agents aren't fighting a man so much as a force of nature, implying that the greatest dangers are oftentimes less tangible (and more morally ambivalent) than we realize. Also, aside from their ultra-cool telephones, which actually look a lot like my DirecTV remote control, these agents aren't buzzsaw cufflink James Bond types. They're secret agents with special skills, and, like most of Ellis' characters, a penchant for being really sensitive under their tough guy behavior and bitterly clever dialogue.

For instance, Agent Zero explains her 1,000 agent co-op like this: "These are the things I formed the Global Frequency to deal with. The litter of the way we live. The unexploded bombs." I rest my case.

I should also note that I found myself enjoying Leach and Baron's visuals a lot more than I thought I would. This issue's cover reminded me of Templesmith's Fell covers, with that filtered urban look, but Leach's interiors reminded me of Brent Andrews' Astro City or even Dave Gibbons' Watchmen. In all three cases, the artists tackle their writers' lofty concepts with a very streamlined approach, foregoing fancy stylistic options for a very detailed, almost textbook take on their characters. They're the kind of issues you could learn to draw by, from anatomy to backgrounds to page layout and blocking, while reserving a sense of cinematic drama one could never really emulate without inherent talent. So, yes, I liked the pretty pictures, as well.

If you pay attention to the time at which I write these posts, you'll notice I'm about fifteen hours earlier than usual. Well, I read Global Frequency after midnight this morning, after some co-workers and I saw the eight o'clock premiere of Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At World's End. While I was jaded by the, uhm, critical review posted by Geek in the City scribe Aaron, that was one party I wanted to get to early, and, as I'll probably explain in my LiveJournal, I wish I hadn't. Still, I've been missing so many of my intended deadlines on A Comic A Day that I'm glad I took in a summer blockbuster so early; when I dug Global Frequency #1 out of a quarter bin a few months ago, I intended to read it on Earth Day until I realized that the Alternative Press Expo was that weekend. It's one thing to show up to a party late; it's another thing to show up on the wrong date entirely.

Tonight, I'm on the road to Arizona for Memorial Day weekend. With temperatures there already reaching the hundreds, if I remember anything it'll probably be why I don't live there anymore.

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