Anyway, this... INJECTION, VOLUME ONE Art by Declan Shalvey Written by Warren Ellis Coloured by Jordi Bellaire Lettered & Designed by Fonografiks © 2015 Warren Ellis & Declan Shalvey Originally published in magazine form as INJECTION #1-5 Image Comics, £5.49 (currently £2.99) via Comixology (2015)
I was going to start off on a portentous note by solemnly intoning something along the lines of “Britain is an old land...” But all lands are old, you know; Belgium didn't just turn up one day and forget to leave. Still stubbornly aiming for that serous note that would get me the gold elbow patches I so dearly I aspire to, I toyed with “Despite its size Britain is full of history...”. But all lands are full of history. Even Belgium. Clearly this wasn't working, particularly as I'm not exactly sure what Britain's history is. Not WW2 and The Corn Laws, no, I mean the stuff they don't cover in class; the bit when we were all running about in woad and worshiping trees and stones. But is even that Britain? I mean we were a very popular spot for invasions, seemingly right from day one. Before wi-fi the old rape and pillage were all the rage, and Britain had plenty to rape and pillage by all accounts. It's not much to brag about but we'll take what we can, thanks. And British people will drone on about how hardy we are, but a lot of the time the invaders won. E.g. in 1066, as commemorated on the Bayeux Tapestry (one of the first long form comics) the French arrived quite violently on our shores, and it wouldn't be until 1399 that we again had a king whose mother tongue was English. Strangely we don't go on about that a lot. But, boy, we never shut up about Agincourt. Like all races the British memory is selective, but facts dictate that the British are a mongrel race; we can agree on that at least? Which perhaps explains their preoccupation with defining British-ness. Seriously, I'm British but that shit is just tiresome. Here we have a comic by Declan Shalvey and Warren Ellis which is all about Britain and Britishness but...it's not tiresome in the least. I know! You could have knocked me down with a feather!
When I first read INJECTION, I'll admit I was less than impressed. At first glance it looked like a rejig of the PLANETARY template: there's a group of hideously over competent specialists investigating singularly odd occurrences which all point to a larger, world threatening conspiracy. Is that PLANETARY? I didn't read past the first two TPBs, mainly because I got distracted, but also because there was a character called the Drummer who was, sigh, a drummer and every time he appeared I sighed a little harder until I had to drop the series lest all the air sigh from my body. But if I'm writing about a thing I usually give it a couple of go-overs (I know, arent I professional!), and a second read of INJECTION resulted in me ejecting my biases and appreciating the comic more fairly. And having given it a fair shake I'd say it was certainly among Ellis' best work. That I've read, naturally.
In INJECTION Shalvey and Ellis have come up with a cast of five specialists, each of whom is typically sickeningly proficient in their area of expertise. (I am of course wildly jealous as I am the kind of man who calls heating a bolognese in the oven “cooking”.) There’s also a healthy spread of ethnicities within the group, unlike PLANETARY. Maria Kilbride is the notional head of the group and she may be white but she is ginger, which in bitter old Britain is treated as a distinct race and abused in a similarly unthinking fashion. Maria's also cracked in the head. Trained in the art of exposition-fu Maria is currently attempting to atone for something she and her gang of four did. And this Something is something the series makes clearer as it progresses. Simeon Winters is, for want of a better description a spy; he is also black. He allows Ellis to bring in his creepy feel for gadgetry and indulge in long stretches of artfully choreographed violence. During an an extended contretemps gone wrong in a plush hotel Declan Shalvey demonstrates once again (see MOON KNIGHT) that he is one of the premier action artists of the modern age. Falling chandeliers, knives through bone and faces smashed into unwashed dishes are just some of the stuff he pulls off. And all as the combatants dance their deadly dance through dimensions discretely defined and adhered to. Fucking beezer, in short. (If Simeon Winters is any indication that Ellis penned JAMES BOND: VAGNA might be worth a look.)
Brigid Roth is your street urchin/hacker and is also not Caucasian, but she is Irish. Although she never exclaims “Bejaysus!” or dances a jig, so I'm taking this Irishness on trust. (Racism Disclaimer: I'm not mocking the Irish, I'm mocking the poverty of their portrayal in comics. I can mock the Irish if you like. Drop me a line.) There are only five issues collected here so not everyone gets equal space and Brigid gets sketched out nicely enough, but I imagine the depth will come later. However, in one of her pieces, Shalvey draws a super piece of body language in one panel as she scoots some discarded grundies under a chair with her foot while hoping her visitor won't notice. He also goes to town on her house and her tech bringing much needed sense of realism to this particular steet urchin hacker thing I find so difficult to digest. I know, I know, there are singing stones distorting the fabric of reality and ancient ents spitting Middle English in modern travel lodges, but what I have problems with is how such a street-wise scamp got so much PC kit. That's on me. Vivek Headland is another non-Caucasian and is the least defined character in the book. At the moment he is the OCD Sherlock type that is currently in vogue. Hopefully he'll be fleshed out later, and if not hopefully he'll fall under a bus. Fifthly and finally, Robin Morel is the token Caucasian male (how'd you like them apples; better get used to 'em. Multiculturalism is here to stay!) and the most explicitly British of the cast. So British in fact that his ancestors were Cunning Folk (i.e. druids) and it is strongly implied that his family tree has its roots in the first soil that settled on the rocks of Britain. He denies he is a magician or has any ulterior motives with all the strength and conviction of someone who is in fact a wizard and has ulterior motives to spare. Wesley's wise words to “always bet on black” are wise indeed, but Kane's creed of “always to keep your eye on the white guy” might also need heeding.
Ayup, it's a varied and interesting cast. One which, for maximum narrative interest, we're introduced to in the present and also the past via parallel narratives. In the present strange and deadly shit is erupting, while in the past we find out why that is. Sure, Ellis can't help indulging in tediously sarky banter, but he does keep it to a minimum, leavng plenty of space for actual characterisation, nasty set pieces and technical gobbledygook, all driven by the visual urgency of Shalvey's art work. Art work aided by the sublimely accomplished colours of Jordi Bellaire. Now, I don't have a handle on colours but it's clear Bellaire's up to something here. The play of blues, greens and reds in particular across the pages suggest some underlying theme which I have not yet gleaned. Which is perfectly appropriate for a series I suspect has surprises yet to unleash. INJECTION is a work of quiet strength and that strength comes from the scope of its approach. Ellis works in a cheeky nod to Will Wiles' 2014 novel The Way Inn while also sprinkling in Olde England legends. Ellis explicitly brings in the legend of Wayland The Smith, and it's a cute way of showing the old stories still have meaning in the modern world. I think it's notable though that Ellis keeps Wayland sympathetic, because there's an ending to his legend that Ellis doesn't tell. A brutal and cruel revenge which makes him less symapthetic than he appears here. Which suggests that with this first volume of INJECTION we've just settled on the surface and deeper, darker depths will be broached soon.
Essentially, Ellis combines his fetish for the future with a passion for the past and creates a more balanced work than I've yet read from him. Being aided by Declan Shalvey (who similarly elevated Ellis' writing on MOON KNIGHT) ensures that the visuals are compelling and arresting even during the quieter scenes. Crucially then, Ellis keeps his Ellis-isms to a minimum and Shalvey appears incapable of doing anything but shine. I don't really know where INJECTION is going but the chances are good it will have more to say than it's all the Fantastic Four's fault. VERY GOOD!
NEXT TIME: I don't know! I'm not a machine! COMICS!!! COMICS!!!