Wednesday, June 22, 2005

We3 by Morrison and Quitely

Grant Morrison is my favorite writer, and probably the best creative person in any medium right now. Frank Quitely is the best artist in comics right now, the man has drawn the best issue of any comic ever, The Invisibles 3.1, as well as the brilliant miniseries Flex Mentallo, both written by Grant Morrison. So, I was understandably excited to read their new miniseries, We3, which just came out in trade earlier this month. The two of them together are a team unparalleled in comics, and We3 pushes the medium in uncharted directions, while at the same time telling a story unlike anything else Morrison has done.

Grant Morrison has a lot of pet themes that are present in almost all his work, the boundaries between fiction and reality, the evolution of humanity to a superhuman level, exploration of the nature of reality, and while I love all those themes, it does mean that it's pretty easy to recognize and understand a Morrison work once you've done in depth study of his major opus, The Invisibles. We3 is a major departure from everything else he's done before, it's like no story I've ever experienced before, and the thrill of discovery is always something I like to experience.

The book is about a team of cyborg-animal assassins, a dog, a cat and a rabbit, who have been trained by the government to kill people. They have been augmented and given the ability to speak, however, the team has become outmoded, prompting the military to end the Weapon 3 project. However, the animals escape and go on a search for 'home,' all the time being pursued by a military that needs to destroy them to prevent evidence about the project from getting out.

The work has two really notable things about it. One is the art which is some of the most dazzling I've ever seen. Quitely's work here rivals JH Williams' on Promethea in terms of how he invents an entirely new visual language for depicting events. Quitely has always been an incredible artist, the way he draws things is very cool looking, and even when he's working on a more conventional book, like New X-Men, his stuff looks better than anyone else out there, but here, he's in experimental mode, and it's a joy to behold.

The whole work is told from the animals' point of view, and to facilitate this, Quitely depicts almost all the human characters in fragments, just a mouth or legs, to show how animals would view them. This is really notable in the first scene where we see the team. We can see the animals' faces, but not any of the government people. Similarly the silent sequence that opens the book builds so much suspense, culminating in an amazing page in which we see a man being literally split apart.

The first issue also contains a great security camera sequence, with six extremely dense pages of eighteen panels each, almost all silent, a sequence that culminates with a double page spread of the animals breaking out. After the incredibly claustrophobic tight panel layouts, the double spread gives the reader the same relief that the animals feel.

In the second issue, we see the animals fighting and these sequences are the most violent, incredibly rendered things I've ever read. Quitely does a few layouts in which there's a big main image, with a whole bunch of little panels showing detail of the violence. The rendering on these details is so brutal and tells you absolutely everything you need to know. The violence here is genuniely disturbing and you feel the consequences much more than in a book like Preacher.

The third issue features probably my favorite layout of the series. On the left is a splash page of the cat leaping through the air, an archetypal superhero pose, and he is incredibly menacing. On the next page, we see him rip into Weapon 4, tearing his eye out, then pushing him out through a brick wall. The brick wall breaks into the next panel and their fall continues onto the next page, as they both fall onto a highway. The way the panel builds a structure is what's so cool, even the shape of the panel contributes to this. You really understand how this place is laid out and can easily see the physical element of the action.

But, more than specific panels, what's most notable about Quitely's work here is the way he makes the animals into characters. You really feel for them and that's because of the incredible facial experessions he gives them. His images are so visceral they produce an incredible emotional reaction.

And that emotional content is the other thing that's so unique and amazing about the story. Grant's work always affects me, but to read this book is to be immersed in an incredibly poignant, brutal story. I don't even like animals, but seeing the characters here and their utterly pure desire to find their home, you can't help but feel for them. Really emotional works are usually accused of being manipulative and melodramatic, but this work gets you without any cheap ploys, just the nature of the characters and their plight is enough.

A lot of it comes from the way they talk. The animals can speak, but they have a limited vocabulary, and most of the things they say are very simple, but the simple experssions of emotion almost subliminally tap into something basic in all of us, or at least me. Words and higher thought sometimes get in the way, but here, we just get the purest, unfiltered emotional thought. At the end of the first issue when the cat, Tinker, says "We3 no home now" it tells you everything you need to know and with that one sentence he experesses the extent of damage that has been done to him. As the covers show us, these critters used to be regular pets, but that life is gone, they've been used and now they've got nowhere they belong.

In the harrowing sequence at the end of issue 2, we see Pirate shot, not by the government, but by a civilian who's afraid of him. Quitely's rendering of the shot is explicitly violent, and showing the violence hammers home the pain they feel. Normally in movies, showing violence of this extent forces you to distance yourself from the work, and rarely do you see a creator merging violence and emotion because that may be too much to take, but Morrison and Quitely do it here and it works so well.

The final issue is the most emotional of them all, starting with the opening in which a homeless guy finds We3 hiding in a condemnded building, Pirate spouting mechanical nonsense. The man offers them food and for the first time, the animals are loved. The man gets taken away by government troops and it's an incredible scene in which Bandits tells them to wait there for him, because he said he'd be coming back. He has such a trust in people and believes exactly what they say. It's this pure desire to help mankind, something we also see in the scene where he drags a man out of a river, saying "Gud dog, help man," and at the end of the scene we realize it's just a corpse.

So, the final issue sees all hell break loose, as Tinker and Bandit duel with the military and weapon 4. The best scene in this sequence is when Roseanne, the woman who built them meets Bandit. Bandit tells her, with the saddest look on his face, "Doc-tor Rose-anne, No Dee-Comm-Ish We3," and we can see him prepare to die, but Roseanne jumps in front of him and takes the bullet. It's an incredible panel in which we see her ripped apart with Bandit looking on. It's ultraviolent, but it serves the story and conveys the brutality of these military people.

I already talked about the battle with Weapon 4 above, but in the context of the story that's such a high point. Seeing the cat go back to help Bandit, defying his nature in favor of friendship, is the perfect fusion of emotion and action. Particularly after the emotional drain of the previous scenes, this is such a catharsis, to see our heroes finally get one back and win.

The Doctor Roseanne meeting has Bandit thinking differently and after the leg of his suit falls off, he begins to question the nature of what he is. These animals had been programmed to believe that the suit was a part of them, they are inseperable, but Bandit, crying, says "Is Coat Not We," essentially interrogating his very nature. He doesn't have to be a killing machine, he can go back to the pure animal within, and that's what he does, stripping off his suit and Tinker's, and leaving them behind to detonate, providing cover for their escape. Bandit realizing that nature of the suit is one of those moments that Morrison does so well, where all of reality comes crashing down, and a character has to create a new paradigm, live in an entirely different world than they had before.

This leads to an incredible two pages in which the cat kills a rat and brings it to Bandit. Throughout the whole book, Tinker was only looking out for himself, but he's changed, and he brings food to his dying friend. On the edge of death, Bandit asks Tinker where they are, and Tinker says "Is Home," with the most incredible expression on his face. That one panel contains so much emotion, just the happiness on this cat's face after their journey, they have achieved their dream, and after that, they finally get a happy ending.

The finale was unexpected. Halfway through issue two, I thought for sure that they were all going to die, but instead we get a happy ending, one that I think is earned. Much like The Office, this is the sort of thing that could be cheesy in another movie, but because of the hardship, you can't help but be happy for these characters who have finally found the home they were looking for.

Ultimately what the book tells us is that love is the only thing that can really save people, a classic Morrison theme. Rather than trying to destroy them, they show them that they don't have to be weapons and save them. It's breaking down the manichean view of good and evil, just like in The Invisibles. In that way, the work is very close to the rest of Morrison's canon.

So, on the whole, the greatest thing about this book is the emotional impact. I was thoroughly drawn into the story, and desperately wanted the characters to avoid being hurt. There was no distance from the events, I was right there with them, thoroughly absorbed into the fictional world. Morrison has been on an incredible role lately, New X-Men was the definitive take on that property, Seaguy was thought provoking and really fun, and then this is Morrison's most emotionally immersive work to date, not to mention his best use of the medium, and Quitely goes above and beyond his already brilliant standards to redefine what is possible with the medium.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Excellent review. I just read We3 and couldn't agree more about how powerful the story is.