Though not mentioned as often as Transmetropolitan or The Authority, Global Frequency was one of the best series Warren Ellis ever created. Great premise, great format, great selection of creative team. It lasted twelve issues but there are issues that stick with me even today. There was talk of it becoming a television show, but as it stands the comics are an achievement all their own.
The premise is elegantly high concept: the mysterious but deadly Miranda Zero runs a “rescue organization” called Global Frequency which has 1,001 agents who have a wide variety of specialties. With the help of Aleph, who coordinates the agents from Global Frequency headquarters, the agents do their best to handle the unexpected threats on humanity, and not all of them are guaranteed to live.
The format is straightforward: each issue is a standalone story, self-contained in a kind of Mission: Impossible styled scenario. The premise of each story is quintessential Ellis: he takes some kind of weird news or historical event or scientific breakthrough and builds a paranoid story out of it. Norwegian death metal bands are murdering each other and burning churches? Russian cold war scientists were experimenting in mental teleportation? Military theorists want to dwindle down the human population? Body horror a big trend in Japanese film? Ellis knows what to do with each of these, and often with enough info to make the reader feel a bit more cutting edge and pseudo-informed as well.
Ellis had the further idea to use a different artist for each story, often making the best fit imaginable in terms of plot, tone, and atmosphere. There’s a murderer’s row of top notch talent in these twelve issues, and some of the best comics artists in recent years have done some very memorable work as a result.
So here’s a quick take on each of the stories that make up the series – and the Deluxe Edition collection, which also includes some interesting back matter on the pitch for the series and the script for the tenth issue. I had not read many of these stories in a while, maybe even a decade, though a couple I’ve dipped back into time and again (you can figure out which). So I wouldn’t say I was bringing fresh eyes to the book, but hopefully I can bring a better appreciation for what works and what doesn’t. So, starting things off…
“Bombhead” with Garry Leach. Great art – dynamic, bold, and with a beautiful use of colors, like an action movie brought to funnybooks. A man with a strange ability is carrying a weapon that will launch from him and must be stopped. It’s an excellent introduction to the concept of Global Frequency and how they use different agents. Ellis has a great way to figure out the mystery of the story, which of course goes back to some weirdo Cold War paranoid history as well as a powerful one-liner from the titular character that knocked my socks off.
“Big Wheel” with Glenn Fabry. A team is assembled to stop a bionic man. Fabry is perfect for the grotesquerie of this horror, and the story does a nice job of imagining what bionic enhancement would entail and the cost to one’s humanity. The range of lethal skills on the team is put to excellent use, with some great back story to motivate a solid ending – and even a moment of quiet redemption?
“Invasive” with Steve Dillon. I miss Steve Dillon. A lot. This is perfect for him: an unexpected alien invasion takes over a street on New York, possessing humans and turning them dangerous. A team is assembled – including an agent with a very weird specialty – and the answer to fight the invasion is absolutely spectacular in its horror and geekiness and the triumph at the end. This issue is lighter than the previous two – apocalyptic stakes as usual but there’s a lot of jokes and cute asides that makes this story feel positively life-affirming and even poignant. One of my two absolute favorites from start to finish.
“Heaven’s One Hundred” with Roy Allan Martinez. In Melbourne, an internet death cult is holding hostages and planning to blow up a bomb. Two agents, an Aboriginal police officer and an English woman with very lethal abilities, are sent to shoot their way through and rescue the hostages. It’s a lot of violence and nastiness done with snide banter and some goofy jokes about people who think the web is everything, and it’s decent dark fun if not particularly edifying beyond that.
“Big Sky” with Jon J Muth. A small Norwegian town has gone insane after a black metal band burned down a local church; some of the survivors claim an angel had been unleashed. A field team that includes a magician and parapsychologist try to figure out what exactly happened and how they can help. Alan Crowe, the magician, is a great character – kind of like John Constantine but less bastard and more scientist – and his discussion of magic is engaging even as he seeks a more rational answer to the incident. Muth’s art is gorgeous here, capturing the stark feel of winter landscapes and fragile lives cracked open. While the answer is a great solution, an air of mystery still looms which makes the entire issue still feel mysterious and laden with dread.
“The Run” with David Lloyd. This is the story that immediately comes to mind whenever I think of Global Frequency and it stands up to this day. A parkour runner is furious at her boyfriend and is suddenly told she has to defuse a bomb that will kill London with the Ebola virus. She is in a very bad mood but manages to parkour her way through the city and locate the threat. Lloyd’s art is spectacular here, gracefully capturing the movement of Sita as she navigates her body through the city – and there is one joyful moment that still makes me want to stand and cheer, even if Sita’s mood had to sour again. Parkour has become something of a joke – remember that bit in The Office? – but it still had a freshness when this first came out, and Lloyd goes a long way to make this a beautiful thing to witness. This is just truly, truly spectacular – I would make everyone read this one alone if I could.
“Detonation” with Simon Bisley. Considering the artist, this is a very sick, twisted story featuring lots of horrible people doing horrible things. Bisley is at his finest and most Bisley-esque here – he manages to mix caricature cartooniness with stomach-churning ultraviolence to stirring effect, and Ellis makes the two agents at the center of this story especially creepy but – in one case, at least – surprisingly human. The other main agent is a well-mannered behemoth of a nightmare. There is nastiness on display here, but it is executed with a sense of gallows humor and some very nice intrigue and even a touch of realpolitik philosophy. Bisley is rarely ever my cup of tea, but this is one story of his I can go back to again and again.
Untitled eighth story with Chris Sprouse and Karl Story. Miranda Zero has been kidnapped and must be found within the hour or she will die. As enjoyable an artist as Sprouse is – I loved him on Legionnaires and Tom Strong, for instance – he doesn’t really make the story stand out beyond solidly crafted visuals. There is a bit of personality here, but it’s clean and polished and very mainstream – it doesn’t stack up in comparison to Lloyd or Muth or even Dillon, though Dillon was himself a very mainstream creator. That said, Ellis does a great job of showing just how far the reach of the one thousand and one agents can go, as we see a huge variety of support for Aleph and the field team. There’s never any doubt how this would turn out, but that’s kind of the point, I guess. Still, a pleasant diversion with a funny punchline at the end.
Untitled ninth story with Lee Bermejo, though the back matter has it titled “Cathedral Lung”. This is like a noir special ops take on Japanese body horror, as an agent who quit is being sent back to check on a hospital where things have gone seriously wrong. There is a nod to the classic comedy Suicide Club, which was fun to read, and Ellis does a great job of both the science and the metaphysics involved in this particular hospital of horrors. Bermejo is another great example of a perfect fit for the story: he is able to depict seedy street-level violence with as much conviction as some truly nightmarish mutilation atrocity exhibitions that could stick with you for way too long afterwards. Not exactly my cup of tea, but it does stand out in a way that makes it hard to ignore.
“Superviolence” with Tomm Coker. A killer for hire who specializes in biofeedback is back on the loose, so an agent who also specializes in biofeedback is sent to kill him. I actually would have appreciated a little more info on how this biofeedback fighting works, but it’s just two guys beating the shit out of each other mercilessly in hand-to-hand combat. Coker is a revelation with his art, delivering some vivid action in a believable manner. That said, the story itself is pretty weak and delivers little more than what the title promises. Itchy and Scratchy could have done this shot-for-shot. The closing line is mildly amusing at least.
“Aleph” with Jason Pearson. I vividly remembered the premise of this story: Global Frequency headquarters is being attacked and Aleph has to defend it on her own. What I forgot, and I don’t know how I could, is just how fantastic Pearson’s art is. I remember liking him okay on the Legion of Super-Heroes but he is much sharper than I usually thought him to be, with a very healthy dollop of Eduardo Risso influence on display here. It is beautiful to look at, and Aleph is handled wonderfully in the story.
“Harpoon” with Gene Ha. A Cold War era weaponized satellite has been activated and will destroy Chicago. Miranda Zero gets a whole lot of agents – even a few we’ve seen before! – on the frequency as they try to stop the satellite and get past the rock stupidity that is a fossilized military industrial complex. Ellis gets to proselytize a little and Gene Ha’s art is stunningly gorgeous, even throwing in some nice effects that make the story even more visually exciting. It’s a solid ending to a very solid series.
Re-reading these stories was a great experience and the series has not lost any of its unique charms and Ellis-ian edginess over the past decade and a half. The standouts remain “Invasive” and especially “The Run”. I used to daydream about a second volume, though I’m guessing it would have happened by now. Nevertheless, Global Frequency remains an unsung high mark in Ellis’ career – and many of his chosen collaborators. And who knows, maybe someday in some other manner, Miranda Zero and her agents may raise their heads again and rescue the world anew.