It seems to me that in recent years the artistic medium of comics has received a far greater degree of critical appreciation than was ever previously permitted. In spite of this there are a great many people who are yet to indulge themselves in the world of comics and graphic novels (the reasons for this are
Sam Raimi’s weak Spiderman movies more varied and subtle than I have time to discuss here, but well worth investigating – perhaps in a later post) so the aim of this review is, in part, to persuade those who haven’t already to give comics a try.
While I appreciate that not everyone can be converted, in the case of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s We3 I urge any ‘sequential-art’ virgins who might be reading this to cast your doubts aside, whip out the wallets and invest the paltry sum required to purchase yourselves a paperback copy. This book is (almost) definitely for you, and here’s why:
I hate spoilers, you hate spoilers
We all hate spoilers, but its impossible to review a book without discussing its content so here is the briefest of brief overviews to whet your appetite:
As part of a top-secret American military experiment, three household pets have been kidnapped from a nearby city and transformed through a combination of advanced cybernetics and training into a team of highly effective killing machines known as ‘We3’. When the trio learn that they are to be “decommissioned” they escape captivity, only to be chased by the full might of the US military. The real beauty of the book is that it manages to pose important moral questions about humanity’s relationship to animals, and how we make use of them, to the reader without ever losing the plot’s immediacy as events unfold.
The three animals are able to talk thanks to an array of implants reaching into the back of their heads but their conversation skills are limited (being a cat, dog and rabbit – not Shakespearian dramatists). Their interaction with each other as part of the collective ‘We3’ as well as the humans they encounter is cleverly written to reflect the nature of each species, and the effect on the reader can be rather touching. The rabbit ‘3’ is a simple soul who is utterly dependent on his larger, smarter companions for leadership; the cat ‘2’ is as playfully and innocently capable of cruelty as my own pet cat was; while the dog ‘1’ who leads the group is torn between his instinct for survival and the desire to simply be “home”.
The pretty pictures
Upon opening We3 I was immediately struck by the artwork that lay before me. Thanks to advances in colouring techniques and print quality contemporary comics are often beautifully illustrated when compared to works appearing just ten years ago, so for any comic to stand out from the crowd as much as this one does is quite an achievement.
Frank Quitely has describe the style he tried to achieve in We3 as “western manga” and influence of Japanese comics on his drawings is most evident in the cybernetic armour grafted on to pets ‘1’, ‘2’ and ‘3’. Quitely’s clever experiments with panels are very effective at conveying a rapidity of motion in some highly visceral action sequences. Two double-page spreads particularly stand out in this regard; one overlays the main sequence of panels with lots of small box-type panels, each containing a ‘zoomed in’ detail of what’s happening, while the second features a character flowing from one panel into the next, where each panel is actually a cross-section of a single divided landscape. These descriptions can’t do justice to the feel of We3‘s artwork, it simply has to be seen.
It sounds like a clichéd and hollow platitude to say that the cast of We3 have been drawn lovingly, but really that’s how it feels when read. The sheer horror of what has been done to the book’s mammalian protagonists is plain to see, yet they retain enough cuteness (for want of a better word) to remain identifiable with ordinary household pets.
There are very few comics which can encapsulate so much of what is best about the artistic medium as a whole as We3 does. It wraps up concise storytelling, questions of morality, solid characterisation, interesting concepts and stunning artwork into an easily readable package. Whether you’re a seasoned consumer of comics or a curious newbie looking for somewhere to start, you’re in for a real treat.