WE3 #1 Review

Reviewer: Iain Burnside
Story Title: N/A

Written by: Grant Morrison
Penciled by: Frank Quitely
Inked by: Jamie Grant
Colored by: Jamie Grant
Lettered by: Todd Klein
Editor: Karen Berger
Publisher: Vertigo

What do you do when you are faced with something truly original?

Well, how do you react?

Do you take the merrily mundane Marvel misanthropic approach and beat it over the head until it just goes away?

Do you embrace it with open arms, cherishing the opportunity to finally see, taste, hear and learn all about something new for once?

Now’s your chance to decide, because this comic book is the strongest breath of fresh air to have breezed into stores in years.

Ironically enough, the last time something as absurdly lucid as this came along it was New X-Men #114, which was of course brought to us by the same creative mindset that now brings us this three-issue mini-series. Yes, Morrison & Quitely are back to take us all on another wonderful trip through the nether regions of sanity. Every time these two pair up something magical can happen. They are as complimentary as ying and yang and just as elusive. This time, however, Quitely is leading the dance, with some of the most dynamic and oddly unsettling imagery to have embraced the comic medium.

So, here’s the gimmick. A top-secret government initiative, entitled Animal Weapon 3, has managed to hotwire several small animals into living weaponry. These creatures are called ‘biorgs’ and have their nervous systems hotwired to robotic suits with the firepower of an entire battalion of human soldiers. Under the tutelage of techno-biological expert Dr. Roseanne Berry, the three test subjects have been successfully deployed on a number of covert operations to eliminate several enemies of the state, most recently a dictator named Guerrera. They are, respectively, a dog named Bandit (#1), a cat named Tinker (#2) and a rabbit named Pirate (#3). However, despite their success, the animals are viewed as obsolete and are ordered to be put down following a visit by Senator Washington as WE3 is decommissioned. Although the government wishes to pursue biorg mass-production as a means to end conventional warfare and save the lives of millions of men and women in the armed forces, they still recognize the delicate political nature of such an endeavour and wish to have animals bred specifically for the role. However, as you may have guessed, Dr. Berry did not take too kindly to this news and intentionally left the security systems lax enough for the animals to escape from their constraints and return to nature.

If the premise is not enough to hook you, then check this book out for Quitely’s stunning and subversive art. The cover alone should immediately grab your attention, styled as it is in the form of a ‘have you seen this dog’ poster seen in countless of neighbourhoods the world over. The simplistic poster style and irresistibly charming picture of Bandit as seen through his former owner’s eyes lies at odds with everything within the book itself, already letting us know all about the sharp contrasts that are lying in wait. For instance, we have the opening scene of WE3 breaking into the hide-out of the aforementioned Guerrera and destroying both him and his troops. This is a make-or-break moment for the book. Had it merely gone for a traditional plodding action style then it would have looked ridiculous to see these creatures in those costumes doing what we are doing. However, the gradual build-up to the big reveal works magnificently through Quitely’s use of perspective. Nothing looks right. Everything is close-ups of running feet, beady sweat, the back of a head, and strange shapes on the staircase. This leads up to a double-page spread that will make you gasp with surreal delight as we look through the eyes of WE3 opening fire on Guerrera. It is the visceral equivalent of your first shot of tequila, and Quitely keeps going back to the bar for more. The vast majority of the panels in this book simply should not work, which is of course precisely why they do. There are barely any clear shots of faces. We instead look at grinning teeth, objects in hands and people from the neck down. We look through various security cameras in a six page series of panels that fall off the page into the unknown territory set to be explored by WE3 in issues to come, building up to a hauntingly beautiful image of the titular trio floating over the night sky to their freedom. Simply put, we get creative freedom of expression on a nearly unprecedented level for an industry haunted by repetition.

So, what of Morrison? The dialogue in this comic is very limited, which does of course add to the creeping fear that makes the WE3 project work so well. Strangely enough, for a writer so high on concept, Morrison doesn’t actually need to say all that much here. His government and army characters make the briefest of brief exposition pieces during Senator Washington’s visit, but that’s all that needs to be said really. The real strengths of the book lie in the intricately mapped out details of what is seen in which panel. Morrison’s biggest contribution to the book is the animal dialogue. It is fittingly fractured and stunted, kept to a bare minimum of disjointed words and exclamations that still manage to highlight the distinct personalities of the creatures. Bandit is loyal and eager to please (“Gud dog. Is gud dog?“), Tinker is self-centred and cruel (“Mmmmen ST!NK! Bossss! ST!NK! Hungry.“), and Pirate is detached and simple (“No. Grass. Eat. Now. Eat.“). They are as stereotyped as most interpretations of their species can be, reflecting the animal rights issue once more. After all, the general’s biggest concern with them was that they did talk. If they didn’t, they would still be mere animals and it would be easier to send them to their deaths for our benefit with no moral qualms. Now, however, they are not just strange science projects but living beings reminiscent of beloved family pets (hell, family members) being manipulated for rather nefarious operations solely to clean up the mess we created but are too reluctant to tidy.

Is it right? Is it wrong? Hell, I don’t know, at least it’s entertaining. Make no mistake about it – this is the most refreshing read you will see all year. Hop on board and take the ride if you dare.

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