Saturday, May 13, 2006

Top 10 Comics since 1979
5. We3 #3: Pirate

January 2005
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Frank Quitely

Frank Quitely is hands down the best artist in comics right now. By the time he's done, he'll have redefined sequential art in the same way that giants like Joe Kubert, Harvey Kurtzman, and Jack Kirby have. He's just that good.
Most of his recent projects have been collaborations with Grant Morrison, which is appropriate because Grant is altering comic writing in the same spaced-out fashion.

We3 is the story of a military project gone wrong: super intelligent, talking animals placed in mechanized suits with unlimited firepower.
Stay with me here, I promise it's worth it.
Anyone vaguely familiar with the movie Short Circuit or Project X knows what happens next, the project is decommissioned, and the sweet, lonely doctor sets her subjects loose. The animals roam the countryside, an ultra-violent version of The Incredible Journey.
There is a dog, Animal Weapon 1, leader of the group; a cat, Animal Weapon 2, loose cannon (like all cats are in their hearts), and a bunny, Animal Weapon 3. The animals have been given a serum to make them understand and imitate human speech, though in a pidgin style (good, for instance, becomes 'gud').
Issue 3 is the conclusion and the awakening, when the animal's newfound consciousness leads to their salvation.

A drifter runs from helicopters overhead, stumbles through the rain into an abandoned shack. He can't know if the cops are after him or not, but he's had enough experience to stay away. Inside, he discovers the animals, who have become very sick as the serum wears off. "Sick. Bad sick." 1 says, as he shuffles towards the drifter's outstretched hand, "Is gud dog?"

The drifter leaves in search of food for the animals and tool to get them out of their battle armor. Look at the way Quitely plays the moment when the drifter steps out, and is confronted by the police. Time slows down and speeds up all at once. The drifter's (and the reader's) eyes are everywhere at once, the brilliant lights of the squad cars, the gloved hands reaching towards us, the all too threatening police tape.The drifter is offered a reward, "...sorta money you could use. A guy like you." He responds:
The army and the cops have the animals surrounded, and have released their newest project, Animal Weapon 4, a giant Rottweiler, mechanized and larger than life. Poor little 3 is the first to come face to face with him, while the others search frantically for him.
Look at this moment, with 2 leaping over an abandoned train car. This is how you portray quickness in a static medium: In one leap, 2 is gone and 1 is left alone, and whines plaintively,
On the very next page, we get the ugly truth. 3 hangs crushed in the jaws of the enormous black beast, blood pouring out of his head and sparks flying from his damaged armor. 1 growls and readies his attack, but a tiny pellet comes from 3's behind which, naturally, is explosive. 1 survives the blast, and runs towards a familiar voice, Dr. Roseanne Berry, his caretaker in the lab. Dr. Berry knows that the shoot to kill order has been given, and her mission is to give the sharpshooters enough time to hit their mark. But as the red laser targets of their rifles collect on 1's forehead, she pulls him close to her and whispers:"Run Bandit, run far!" she screams, and pushes him out of the way, taking the bullets meant for him. Quitely presents us with an image of fearful symmetry: the red lasers entering her body at one end and the red blood shooting out of her at the other. Comic art is like photography, it's all about stopping time at the right second, and Quitely is the master.
And look at this brilliant, heartbreaking moment, rain drops falling into eyes that will never close on their own again. A more poignant image of death has rarely, if ever, been seen on the comics page. That we're given the scene upside-down makes it all the more unsettling.

Bandit runs howling after 4, and finds him at the same time as 2, who comes leaping off the train car to bury his claws in 4's eyes.
I have to give you this entire sequence, look at what Quitely does here,First we have the raging mania of 2 as he plunges his claws over and over into the beasts eyes and circuits. Then, watch the way that Quitely follows their frenzied battle:4 and 2 stumble into a brick wall, and go crashing through it, falling infinitely through the panel borders. As we turn the page:They continue their fall, their momentum stopped only by the cars crashing into them. It's a spectacular sequence that very few comic artists could have pulled off, but Quitely makes your heart race here.

Weapon 4 is remote terminated after the crash, his head bursting like a water balloon ("Damn thing almost ate a police officer.") and 2 and 1, now forever Bandit, make their escape into the countryside. They return to the same place that they met the drifter, and plan to wait for him, but the army is still following them.
As they descend the stairs Bandit, who has taken human life and saved human life comes to a stark realization, "Broken." he says, "Is leg coat...Bad Coat. Coat. Is coat not 'Bandit'."
Bandit's journey of discovery has ended. He understands who he is, and what he was used for. He has come to the depths of his purpose there in the basement. He decides to be a regular dog again. To destroy the suit that has turned him into a killer.
Nature has cast of the shackles of man, and is again pure. Bandit and the cat stay with the drifter, to live out their days as innocents.

Grant Morrison has written stories dealing with animal testing and its cruelty before, but by giving the animals voice he makes his strongest statement yet. Not only about the terrible things that people do to nature and ourselves, but ultimately, what it means to be human at all.


David Golding said...

Back when this issue came out, someone pointed out the homeless man's combat boots: he's very likely a veteran, himself discarded by the military. (And as a "vet", qualified to help animals!)

I don't think it is to nature that We3 return, exactly. In The Invisibles and The Filth, Morrison points out that humans and their tools are part of nature too; besides, these are domesticated animals; and they stay with the man in the city. But 1 and 2 do manage to navigate back to a place where they can be given compassion and dignity as living beings.

Matt Guerrero said...

Maybe I should say their 'natural state' then, instead of nature, because you're totally right about Grant's take in The Invisibles (I've not read all of The Filth, something about those giant sperm freaks me out).