The Short Version: What exactly did they do, those five brilliant minds given reign to imagine the future and how they could make it arrive more swiftly? What, exactly, is causing things like ghosts and transhuman zombies and leafy spirits of Olde England to appear in our world? And can any of it be stopped?
The Review: I’m a wide-ranging fan of Warren Ellis’s particular take on the specifically-very-English blend of technology, history, and magic (however you define it). Even his more American stories, like Crooked Little Vein and the Transmetropolitan books, bring a particular blend of English understanding to the tale. And I’m not talking tea and the Queen: I’m talking a sense of underlying superstition in the world, superstition that both signifies and defends against some kind of encroaching darkness. He also has a hell of a sense of humor.
I read these two first volumes of his latest comic series Injection back to back, so I can’t rightly separate them – although the two arcs are distinct. The first is a heady trip to be sure, juggling both a present-tense case as well as a truckload of backstory. Ellis does a fine job of balancing the story, though, and he’s maybe never been better. I imagine it might’ve been a harder thing to read this issue-by-issue when it first hit the stands, but reading the single volume provides a kind of complex pleasure rivaled by very few other comics: it bends your brain while also never losing you.
To think about it chronologically, we meet a group of five geniuses: a hacker, a secret agent, a Holmes-esque detective, a scientist/adventurer, and a wizard. Basically. None of them quite trust each other but, over the space of several months, they warm to one another and to their task: finding a way to avoid technological stagnation in the future. The ultimate way of accomplishing this turns out to be… well, giving birth to AI, in a simple sense. It is much more complicated than that, but basically they craft a program that is also essentially a living organism. It does not function along human paths of thought but instead operates in line with what a non-human advanced intelligence might do. Somewhat unsurprisingly, this is a really bad idea.
Fast forward: the team has gone its separate ways, although they’re still in touch from time to time. Maria, the genius scientist/adventurer, has been called in to work on a case of a missing anthropologist – and a scene that looks reminiscent of Stranger Things‘ Upside Down (although it predates that series by a fair mark). Slowly, we’re introduced to the rest of the team as they all try to help her from afar. We come to understand that this is not the first strange occurrence – and it seems to be far from the last, as well.
I’ll pause before shifting to the plot of Volume 2 to remark upon the absolute magnificence of Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire’s artistic work. Shalvey’s characters have the angular fierceness of modern comics but with fascinating shifts of perspective and hints in the background that give the series a rich and vivid feel, as though you could pan from the panels themselves and the images would continue to unspool. This is helped by Bellaire’s tremendous coloring, which evokes the beautiful autumnal palette of Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal while taking its own twists and turns to subtly highlight (or background) moments that compliment the storytelling. The book works on every single level, across every panel, and although it might not be for everyone – this style, these tones, this story – I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who couldn’t agree on at least the fundamental pieces all working perfectly together.
The second volume follows another one of the five who created the Injection – Vivek, a detective who could wipe the floor with Cumberbatch’s modern Holmes or Preston & Child’s Agent Pendergast. He should be a caricature, a stereotype, a tired joke, but instead he feels refreshing and real. Ellis has, once again, crafted a character who both consumes and transcends his inspirations and it is a delight to watch him attempt to solve this most particular of cases.
As he does solve it, calling in the favors of (particularly) the hacker and the MI6 operative while Maria and Robin are backgrounded a bit more. This is not to say that their parts are any less important and I imagine that Ellis is building up to something particularly exciting with Robin: he feels like a riff on John Constantine, a reluctant magician whose engagement with the mystic is not something he asked for but something he certainly has to come to terms with.
Indeed, all of these characters are coming to terms over the course of these two volumes: the thing that they’ve created has spun off from them and become far worse than they could’ve ever imagined it to be. Ellis is just as interested in the adventure as he is the endgame, if not more so, and I’m not sure that something like Injection could ever be stopped. I’m not sure that our heroes – if you can call them that – are either. But I can’t wait to see them try.
Rating: 5 out of 5. A bit more complex than your average monthly, but reading them in a collected state allows the reader to just dive into the strangeness of this near-future or alt-universe – and once you’re in, the three artists have combined to create one hell of a ride. Warren Ellis, master of transhumanism and futurism, has spun a gripping adventure yarn with five smashing protagonists. Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire have turned that story into a work of beauty and terror. Maybe the future will come on slow – but I’m okay with the wait if we’ve got stories like this to keep us company.