May 18, 2015

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Injection #1

 

Injection #1
Written by Warren Ellis
Illustrated by Declan Shalvey
Colors by Jordie Bellaire
Letters and Design by Fonografiks
Image Comics

There are certain things that writer Warren Ellis captures better than just about anyone. That looming sense of existential dread wrapped in a sci-fi story that's somewhat impenetrable but completely conveys the sense that "the world is completely f$@&ed"? Ellis (along with some very talented artists) is your guy.  Injection is an ominously promising start in that same vein which explores some of the same themes as his other recent work (Supreme: Blue Rose, Trees, Blackcross), such as the notion that there are terrible forces beyond our understanding that are coming our way, and there's not much we can do about it. Ellis has able artistic collaborators in his Moon Knight partners Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire.  It's a cagey first issue that doesn't explain a whole lot, but nonetheless is a highly intriguing start to the destruction of the world.

From the outset, it's not entirely clear what's going on but (not surprisingly) something terrible is happening. Years earlier, the members of the Cultural Cross-Contamination Unit were brought together to think big thoughts and do big things. Not surprisingly, everything went terribly wrong and now they must deal with the fallout of something called The Injection. The story takes place in two time periods - when the group was first put together, and now, years later as it's time to get the band back together (or what's left of it) to undo the damage that they've done for what they created. Their leader is Maria Kilbride, who spends her downtime in a mental institution. All of the members of this team that we see in the present day seem pretty damaged, whether they're alone in a cabin, walking the ancient roads of England solo, or locked up in a mental institution. But it's clear their work is not done yet.


If the purpose of a first issue of a comic is to set the tone and establish the stakes, along with building mystery and intrigue, then this is a highly successful first issue. Every choice here (whether dialogue or art) feels deliberate, like this is a book that is going to reward careful reading. Ellis likes to explore themes of the unknown and the unexplainable, going all the way back to Planetary (and other series),  which was all about "space-time archaeologists". It feels like this is meant to explore some of the same ideas. However, where Planetary was about the interconnected nature of all of these various unexplained phenomena and the heroic figures that recognize the beauty in the strangeness of the world (and work to preserve it), this doesn't feel nearly as heroic.  This has much more sinister overtones, more like Ellis' other three recent series mentioned above.  It's a story about the bad guys who are trying to clean up their messes.

As in Supreme: Blue Rose, there is a large corporation with an impenetrable name that seems to have some connection to these strange phenomena. As in both Supreme: Blue Rose and Blackcross, there are sinister forces that are just beyond our reach (and our understanding). We don't yet know what the  Injection is, or what it's done, but it seems to have profoundly damaged all of the people involved. This feeling of impending dread, something unnatural inserting itself into our world, is also found in Blackcross and in Trees, Ellis' other recent series at Image comics. In that series, unexplained alien objects arrive on earth and or disruptive and damaging to society (and we chronicle those who attempt to understand the strange phenomena). This series also has some of the other Ellis hallmarks, such as prickly (very British) personalities, and a fondness for acronyms, bureaucracy and pseudo-scientific jargon. This sort of language choice makes perfect sense in the world and Ellis is creating, where large companies with anodyne-sounding names have strange departments making stranger decisions that impact the world.  It's cold and clinical, but that suits the story well.
 
In some ways these themes remind a little me of another recent Image comic, Autumnlands. That book shares nothing as far as plot and art (though both are expertly colored by Jordie Bellaire), as it's about a world full of magical animals. However it's also a story about some of the brightest minds coming together to accomplish remarkable goals and all of their good intentions going horribly wrong. Similar to that story, this theme has a lot of real world parallels such as the Manhattan Project (and as an aside, the theme of a scientific elite taking humanity's future into their own hands is well explored in The Manhattan Projects) creating an atomic bomb, the "best and the brightest" getting the United States intricately involved into Vietnam, and high-level closed door meetings to resolve the financial crisis which had far-reaching consequences.  Here's it's slightly different in that it's just a small department of a large company, but they've somehow set forces in motion beyond the understanding in control of the people who took those actions.

None of the remarkable tone and atmosphere sent in the story would be possible without the work of Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire. These two worked with Warren Ellis previously on Moon Knight, to produce some truly remarkable comic storytelling.* As opposed to the more kinetic style used by Shalvey in Moon Knight (which was a much more action oriented series), here he has a clean, clinical, almost sterile line to convey the world these characters live in.


Shavey's careful, deliberate linework is complemented perfectly by colors from Bellaire. She uses a somewhat muted palate in the present day of the story. Even the outdoor scenes have something of a wan, sad look to them.  This isn't some sort of apocalyptic story, this is much more subtle than that, and the colors reflect that impending disaster. One nice touch throughout the story (much of which takes place in cold, clinical environments) is Kilbride's bright red hair. It's a nice contrast and it evokes the spark of life within her, even when she is at her worst.


Throughout the issue, Shalvey shows the impact that the Injection has had on the main characters. In the introductory scene of the story, there are several pages of interactions between Maria Kilbride, the  leader of the Cultural Cross-Contamination Unit (currently spending time in a mental institution), and a woman called Control (there with a new assignment). Shalvey completely conveys Kilbride's fatigue and her wariness of this new task, we can see (through her facial acting and body language) the way in which she is a tired, broken woman. This is completely contrasted by the version of the same character to whom we're introduced in the first meeting of the Cultural Cross-Contamination Unit. That sequence also takes place in a sterile environment, but it's brighter and cooler in some ways. Kilbride is younger, but more than that, she seems more alive, someone with optimism and enthusiasm. The similar contrast is shown for Brigid Roth and Robin Morel, two other members of the Cultural Cross-Contamination Unit. In their initial meeting they're full of optimism (in the case of Morel) or at least spirit (in the case of Roth), as contrasted with how they seem in the present day.


For Morel in particular the contrast is severe.  In the present day, we see him walking the lonely English countryside, and his eyes are closed as he seems to be absorbing the beauty of this pastoral setting. Along with some thoughtful narration (with great lettering throughout the issue from Fonografiks), the scene of him, the single panel, tells us a great deal about him (his fatigue, his appreciation for the solitude). We see though, that there's rage within him.  When Morel's eyes are finally truly open as he's confronted by an agent of the Company, you see the strength and power and hostility within him. Shalvey and Bellaire accomplish this in a remarkable panel in a windblown scene surrounded by trees, where it makes Morel look almost like he's got superpowers.  The story isn't just about subtle looks and gestures. We do finally get a look at what the Injection might be (or some phenomena more directly affected by the Injection),  and Shalvey and Bellaire effectively show this situation, we understand that the situation is pretty dire.  

The dramatic, unsettling end to the issue effectively shows the weirdness and violence that exists within the story just below the surface, and what readers can expect in future issues.  For a compelling, unsettling science fiction story about how highly intelligent people can come together to wreck the world, I'd highly recommend Injection.

* Seriously, if you haven't read their arc on the comic, stop what you're doing right now and go pick it up. One of my favorite series of 2014.