Thursday, February 09, 2006

Information Revolution

Mainline Sequence
Apex Digest online - February 2006

Regular readers of Mainline Sequence should know by now that I like dark spec-fic. Funny that, given the publication preferences of Apex Digest. So it will come as no surprise (unless you've been overindulging in recreational mind-fucks and are now trying to function with the cognitive faculties of a lizard) that I worship the work of Brit spec-fic comic writer Warren Ellis.

Ellis's work appeared in the 90's with one-shots for various UK comics including Judge Dredd and Blast! Magazine, and then later in US titles such as Marvel's Doom 2099. But his tour de force, and arguably the work for which he will be most remembered, was the 1998 60-issue gonzo-punk dystopic saga of rabid reporter Spider Jerusalem: Transmetropolitan.

In Transmet, Ellis rubbed our noses in an exploration of a world where information is everything. Information is at the heart of corrupt government; it results in genetic re-engineering for "alien" cult followers, and utilises attack-cancers and bowel-disruptors which are not just incidental window-dressing spec-fic props, but speak to the perversity of modern techno-sociological trends.

In other words, he holds a dark mirror up for us to see ourselves clearly.

In December 2002, Wildstorm published issue 1 of Ellis's first major post Transmetropolitan project: Global Frequency. The contemporary setting of Global Frequency lends strength from being published in the post-9/11 era. A global network of 1001 ordinary people who each possess an area of specialty are linked by cell-phone to the Global Frequency. The co-ordinating field officer Miranda Zero can bring members of the Global Frequency together to respond to emergencies:

ring ring

"Hello, Mr Stark. You're on the Global Frequency."

And just like that, an ad-hoc team converges to deal with a guy whose head is going to explode into a min-black-hole, or mutant six-million dollar (wo)men, or aliens, or the appearance of an angel. But in between, Ellis's vision deals with real-world terrors (including a terrorist attack on London), and violence, violence violence. The important thing is the idea of the Global Frequency, the idea that information can not only lead to corruption and degeneracy (as in Transmetropolitan), but that it can be used to respond to those things.

Interestingly, I recall reading Ellis's blog in 2003, while he was still working on some of the issues of Global Frequency. He sat in his local pub and uploaded his blog from his PalmPilot via a WiFi connection. It is fitting, then, that this issue of Mainline Sequence is being written on a PalmPilot in my local pub, and will be uploaded via a WiFi connection. Commonplace now. Exotic back then.
Furthermore, Global Frequency was made into a TV pilot by Warner Brothers. When the executives decided not to air the show, a copy was leaked to BitTorrent and the P2P reception was overwhelming.

How fitting.

Each issue of Global Frequency is self-contained, so the plot is tight, the art is hot and immediate, and the issues add up to one of the best convergences of the various skills that go into making speculative fiction sequential art storytelling.
Dark? Yes.
Disturbing? Oh yes.
If you like reading Apex Digest, then chances are you will love Global Frequency. It has recently been re-released as a two-issue graphic novel.
Buy it.
Warren commands you.