Filed under: Exquisite Reviews | Tags: Alasdair Stuart, Aleph, Art Lyon, Brian Wood, Chris Sprouse, David Baron, David Lloyd, DC, Garry Leach, Gene Ha, Glenn Fabry, Global Frequency, Global Frequencyu, Jason Pearson, Jon J Muth, Karl Story, Liam Sharp, Mike Heisler, Miranda Zero, Roy Allan Martinez, Simon Bisley, Tomm Coker, Vertigo, Warren Ellis, Wildstorm
Written by Warren Ellis
Art 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 and Gene Ha
Colours by David Baron and Art Lyon
Letters by Mike Heisler
Original series covers and collection cover by Brian Wood
If the list of artists up there isn’t enough for you to pick this up, then how about this:
Global Frequency is my second favourite comic of all time.
Still not enough? Okay. Global Frequency is the world’s most public secret rescue organization; 1001 specialists in everything from piloting to torture, quantum physics to magic, who all have one thing in common; when their special phone rings and the voice on the other end says ‘You’re on the global frequency’ they come running. Led by the mysterious Miranda Zero, Global Frequency is a constellation of experts held together by satellite phones and a single, brilliant young woman named Aleph who processes information better than anyone else alive. They exist because the 20th Century left unexploded bombs behind it, horrors that are forgotten or no one admits to. When that happens, Global Frequency come to rescue the world, usually from itself.
‘Bombhead’ is illustrated by Garry Leach and opens the series. In the middle of the night in San Francisco, a Russian man is suffering crippling headaches that are beginning to be destructive outside, and inside his head. Global Frequency Agent John Stark is a soldier, tasked with ending whatever this man is doing. The only problem is, he can’t help it…
This issue sets the tone for the series; fast paced, ideas heavy and high stakes. Leach’s grounded, realistic artwork is the perfect counterpart to the story, itself a haunting combination of cold war conspiracy and human tragedy. Not every agent on the Frequency lives, and we learn that up close and personal here, only emphasizing the importance of their work more.
‘Big Wheel’ pencilled and inked by Glenn Fabry and Liam Sharp continues this theme as Miranda leads a team of Global Frequency agents into the Big Wheel, a USAF research base where Captain Richard Quinn has become the world’s first fully functional combat cyborg. The experience has driven him utterly insane and with LA far too close for comfort, the team are ordered to stand him down if possible or kill him if not. This is classic Ellis, a science fiction concept dragged kicking and screaming into the real world and shown to be equal parts horrific and tragic. Quinn’s actions, and his fate, lead to one of the best moments in the book and the first example of Global Frequency viewing ‘rescue’ as a word with many meanings. The final panel alone is worth reading the story for; equal parts peaceful, sad and full on science fiction crazy.
‘Invasive’, with art by Steve Dillon skews the book in an entirely different, and frankly rather sweet one. It also puts us in the shoes of an agent more completely than either of the previous two as Lana Kennedy, a bisexual linguistics specialist, gets the call. A pattern is invading an area of New York, first taking down the phone lines, then the power lines then forcing people to attack one another. Lana is on the front line of first contact with a meme, an alien idea that is breaking humanity and reshaping it. If any of you saw the short-lived, and huge fun, show Threshold, this episode treads similar gound and Ellis has a lot of fun with the idea that the best way to invade Earth is to make us into the invaders. Also, as I say, the entire story is character driven and remarkably sweet.
‘Hundred’ , illustrated with scratchy, frenetic aplomb by Roy Allan Martin, takes us out of the US for the first time, as Danny Gulpilil, a Melbourne cop and Jill, a British spy on holiday, are tasked with stopping or killing a terrorist organization so obscure they can’t accept the fact no one has heard of them. Superficially, this is the weakest of the series, little more than an extended gun battle but the final few pages and Martin’s art gives it a sense of fluidity and sweaty-palmed tension that lifts it immeasurably. Plus there are a couple of really effective characters beats, such as the moment where Jill asks Danny whether he’s killed before. He replies ‘Twice’ and she jokes about the quiet life of a Melbourne copper. Almost to himself he says ‘It wasn’t a job thing,’ This is the first hint that Global Frequency operates on a different set of ethics, and it’s one the series will return to later.
‘Big Sky’ may be my favorite issue. It sees Miranda lead a team to Norway where something has rendered an entire village catatonic. Everyone who’s still alive says the same thing; they saw an angel. Miranda’s team, including Icelandic parapsychology Beta Krisjansdottir and British magician Alan Crowe must discover not only what happened, but whether the village can be saved. What follows is an entirely action-free but completely gripping story, as Global Frequency slowly put together what happened to the village. It’s a discussion of science vs magic, how faith and science interact and how Global Frequency can rescue people from even the most esoteric and unusual of disasters. Illustrated with wintry precision by the brilliant Jon J Muth, it’s a real highlight of the series.
As is ‘The Run’ illustrated by David Lloyd. Sita Patel is in London. She’s the only Global Frequency operative closest enough to the Embankment to stop a bomb terrorists have planted there. The only problem is, Sita’s on the Frequency because as she herself says, she does ‘Fine arts, petty burglary and le parkour. Not bombs.’ As Sita glides and bounds across the city, Aleph feeds her a constant stream of information as they learn about the bomb, thanks in no small part to Douglas Coyle, a Global Frequency agent and interrogator. The issue concludes on the London Eye as Sita is faced with the bomb and what to do with it and is, frankly, joyous. There are two panels towards the end, and you’ll know them when you see them, that never fail to make me smile. Because, for all the endless horror of being on the Frequency, Sita loves her work and it shows. A beautiful, near perfect single issue story.
‘Detonation’ illustrated by Simon Bisley, explores Global Frequency’s odd position in in the global intelligence community. Set in Berlin, the issue follows Miranda as she, and Agents Grushko and Lau, intercept the head of MI5 en route to a meeting with the German and Russian secret services. The meeting is a trap and Miranda sets Lau and Grushko, two very different but equally effective combat specialists, loose. This is arguably the darkest issue of all, the opening page riffing on an infamous moment from JFK assassination conspiracy theory and making it even more squalid and awful and building from there. By the time the issue finishes, with a blood-stained standoff between Lau and the last terrorist left alive, you’re reminded of the first issue. The stakes are always higher than they first seem, the intel is never quite fast enough and agents on the ground need to improvise, for everyone’s sake. But sometimes, not their own…Tight, brutal and quietly heroic, it’s another gear change in this endlessly adaptable series.
Picture an episode of CSI, a really good episode. Now put it on fast forward. That’s the next story, illustrated by the fantastically brawny, clean lines and character work of Chris Sprouse. There’s no official title for this one which is fitting as there’s no real time for one. It opens with Miranda tied to a chair, berating her captor and being told that if she doesn’t tell him what he needs to know about Global Frequency in one hour, his associate will come in and shoot her in the head.
And then it accelerates. We see Aleph putting every LA area agent on alert, dispatching tech specialist Mark Tran, (mostly reformed) criminal and professional bodyguard Alice April and retired detective Winston Croft to work her hotel room, the last place she was seen. Winston and Alice in particular are some of the most fun agents in the book; Winston barely able to contain his delight at being called out of retirement and Alice a cheerfully brassy modern day Viking who gets most of the issue’s best lines.
However, the real stars of the issue are Miranda and Aleph. The scenes with Miranda and her captor spark and crackle not with tension but with rage, as we see this fiercely brilliant, ruthless woman not only open up about what she’s sacrificed to be on the Frequency but using it as a weapon to take control of the situation. Meanwhile, Aleph acts not just as the centre of the organization but its mind, tasking image analysts to pull the trail Miranda’s kidnappers took together and deploying Alice at literally the last possible second to save her. This issue is insanely tense from start to finish and highlights the different, complimentary brilliance of the two series leads perfectly.
The next issue, illustrated with washed out sodium light and clammy tension by the splendid Lee Bermejo, is also unnamed. Takashi Sato used to be on the Global Frequency and quit after a series of horrifying jobs. Now nominally a trainer for field agents he’s manipulated back into service by Aleph to investigate a Medical Research Facility outside Osaka. What he finds there, illustrated with incredible, at times nauseous detail by Bermejo is the worst excesses of scientific research. Unfettered by ethics or morals, the site is a blood-soaked canvas of experimentation, and Takeshi, a man broken by his experiences once already, is broken all over again. This is the hardest issue to read and also one of the most interesting. Takeshi’s past cases will be familiar to anyone who follows Japanese cinema and his reactions are both very real and at times utterly poignant. The look of barely contained terror on his face when he shows Aleph what’s been done to the patients, and the final time we see him in the issue, are particularly effecting as we watch this man walk into the last case he’ll ever work and still, somehow, do his job. Not easy by any means, but one of the strongest entries in the entire series.
‘Superviolence’ is a story about a fight. In fact pretty much the entire story is a fight, as Miranda sends The Frenchman, a Global Frequency agent who specializes in biofeedback, a means of using the body’s potential to heal wounds and minimize pain, to kill Lionel Wellfare. The splendidly named Mr Wellfare is part of an elaborate, bloody, plan to secure a security contract. The Frenchman just wants to kill him, What follows is one of the scrappiest, nastiest fights in recent comic history, illustrated with bloody knuckled enthusiasm by Tomm Coker. The payoff may be distinctly shaggy dog story in tone, and the issue itself is the lightest in content of the series, but you can’t a beat good fight scene. Or rather, you can, you just need biofeedback.
‘Aleph’, illustrated by Jason Pearson, puts the spotlight on Global Frequency’s central point of contact. We see her recruited by Miranda and then, in the present, being told the one thing she never expected;
She’s on the Global Frequency
Global Frequency Central Operations has been located by a hostile force and they’re coming for it. What follows is fascinating as we see Aleph defy Miranda’s orders to pull out, for a surprising, and heroic, reason and Miranda care more about an Agent than the work the organization does. All this is played out against a backdrop of creatively nasty action rendered in Pearson’s fluid, powerful style. Again, it’s light on event and big on action but the character work is fascinating.
Global Frequency is a series that focuses on two ideas; that history is full of unexploded bombs waiting to go off and that there will always be people prepared to diffuse them. Those two ideas, along with pretty much everyone we’ve met up until this point, come together in ‘Harpoon’, the final story. Aleph receives intelligence that a Cold War-era satellite weapon, capable of destroying Chicago, is active. It’s too stupid to hack, the base station that communicates with it is locked down and it will launch, and destroy the entire city, soon. The only option is full mobilization; everyone is on the Global Frequency.
What follows is split between Miranda trying to work out a peaceful way to contact the ground team and Global Frequency agent Bert Truax, a private spaceflight pioneer, prepping his astronaut and rail launched spacecraft to go and disarm the satellite. The image of Truax, smiling as he gets the call next to a launch track that runs up an entire mountain, is one of the best in the series and encompasses it’s themes; brilliant people doing insane things for good reasons.
That also powers a heated discussion between Miranda and Aleph that sees Aleph argue that evacuating Chicago, and the scandal it would cause, is a price worth paying to get the people responsible for so much of what Global Frequency have to do out of power. She’s right, and she’s wrong, and that sort of moral grey area is where Global Frequency itself, and the series, live. The world is, of course, saved. But this time, for Aleph, it may not be such a good thing…
Global Frequency is extraordinary. These are stories about fighting the future and understanding it, about what rescue can mean in different situations and the people who stand between the world and harm, knowing what it will cost them. Most of all, these are stories about an amazing group of individuals, written and drawn by another amazing group of individuals. This is the Global Frequency, and it’s a pleasure to be on it once again.
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