In case anyone was keeping track from last week’s “Image Previews Picks,” a re-read has confirmed that this is the best thing Warren Ellis has done in quite a while. This isn’t a complete break from what the writer has been doing. It’s more like a re-focusing of his strengths which helps remind longtime readers like me what he’s capable of. “Trees” was a step in the right direction, but this is the real deal. Complete with art from Declan Shalvey that perfectly complements the story. Which happens to be about five specialists who decide to combine science and the supernatural to make the future more interesting.
The back cover states that premise in a much more dramatic fashion, “Once upon a time, there were five crazy people and they poisoned the 21st century.” These five people being genius Maria Killbride, strategist Simeon Winters, logicist and ethicist Vivek Hedland, hacker Brigid Roth, and esoteric historian Robin Morel (who is totally not a wizard). They’ve been brought together by a corporation and a branch of the British government to pool their particular resources and find out what the future holds for us. What they found was that innovation is going to stagnate and the next hundred years were going to be a very dull and difficult time. So they came up with a way to make things more weird and interesting and called it the Injection.
Unfortunately for everyone involved, the jury is still out on whether or not the Injection is doing what they want it to. The story begins with the five specialists dealing with the aftermath in their own way. For Maria, that includes convalescing at a hospital where she takes jobs from the organizations that brought her group together to deal with the weirdness that has sprung up in its wake. This latest one involves stones responding to sounds and men that may have come under the influence of a brand of British pixie known as a Spriggan. It’s here that Maria has to reach out to some of her former comrades for help as it’s now clear that the Injection may be functioning in a way that they didn’t intend.
My main issue with this volume is that it takes a little while to come together. If you were reading this in single issue form, I can see how the first couple of issues would try your patience. Things begin with the five main characters separated and their past collaboration only hinted at in flashback. It isn’t until things pass the halfway point that things start coming together.
That said, this becomes a lot easier to deal with in graphic novel form. The slow burn works better with more than one issue to go through at once as Ellis takes his time introducing the characters and their world. It also helps that the cast are genuinely likeable and interesting people on their own terms. Maria is visibly haunted by what she has seen over the past few months but continues on with her work with a mix of grim responsibility and determination. Robin is caught between the tug of history -- his and his nation’s -- and his own desire to master it and be his own man. Simeon and Vivek don’t get a whole lot of fleshing out here beyond their respective roles. However, the former has an impressively staged fight scene to establish his badass credentials, and the latter is established as a highly competent Sherlock Holmes-type that I want to know more about. Brigid gets kind of the short shrift here, outside of one key scene interacting with the Injection, as she seems to be here mainly because the story demands someone of her particular skillset.
While the characters, their dialogue patterns, and stylistic tics of the narrative will be very familiar to anyone who has spent a decent amount of time consuming Ellis’ work, they’re presented in a rather engaging fashion here. You really do get a feeling from the flashback scenes that these people were once a close-knit group who actually enjoyed working together. Now, they’re only bound together by history and trying to clean up this mess they’ve created. There is, of course, a healthy dose of snark exchanged between the cast, but it’s dialed back significantly from the writer’s recent projects. To the levels you’d expect to see from real people. The exposition regarding English mythology and the future of innovation also feels less self-indulgent than you’d expect because of how directly it’s tied into the core narrative. There’s also a clever twist involving the omniscient narrator that makes this volume read a bit differently a second time through. None of this is bracingly new, but we get some of the writer’s crispest dialogue and most interesting ideas in a while and the story reads all the better for it.
It’s also clear that the best thing to come out of the writer’s run on “Moon Knight” was getting to work with artist Declan Shalvey. The two clearly work well together and the evidence of that is on the page. Shalvey is great with the conversation scenes, giving enough detail to the characters expressions to make following their words interesting. We also see that he hasn’t lost his touch from drawing compelling action sequences or outlandish weirdness from “Moon Knight.” His work with Simeon doing what he does best and Robin confronting his past in the form of a leafy green tree monster in a transforming hotel room make abundantly clear. Hell, Shalvey is good enough with the details to make this volume’s running sandwich fixation interesting. Now I want to read the promised next issue where Vivek contemplates a murderous sandwich even more!
So yeah, this volume is off to a great start. It has an interesting cast, a core story I want to know more about, and fantastic art. I don’t know how long Ellis and Shalvey have planned for “Injection” to run, but I hope it’s successful enough for them to tell the entirety of it. I’ve also mentioned in many previous reviews of other comics from Ellis that they were only completists of his work. Not this one. The first volume of “Injection” is recommended for everyone.