Thursday, 3 November 2016

Review: Injection by Warren Ellis

Image result for injection warren ellis
Injection is an Image title, written by Warren Ellis and illustrated by Declan Shalvey - who did Marvel's Moon Knight (which I haven't read, so I'm coming to their partnership cold). Set in a modern Britain, the comic follows five people, who seem to be modern analogues for certain fictional and mythological figures - there's a guy who's pretty much Sherlock Holmes, one who seems to be James Bond, and the third man (who spends a lot of time explaining the difference between a wizard and a cunning man) seems to be Merlin, albeit a Merlin who denies that he is that. There are also two women, one who in Ellis' usual style is hard as nails, if damaged and who is an executioner of sorts, while the other is an inventor and maker who's claim to fame is creating an AI that wasn't based on human intelligence, even though it passed the Turing Test. The quintet is the focus of the story because they did something, creating the 'Injection' - which has made the 21st Century weird.  This weirdness manifests itself in a number of ways, but the first story arc's strongest manifestation comes in the form of a possession by spriggans, old English spirits which the characters insist don't actually exist - the Injection's work seems to have been to make the old new, plundering the collective consciousness of the UK to make mythology real again.

Image result for injection warren ellis
The arc is scattered, the issues collected in the graphic novel are as much establishing the back story as they are dealing with what's happening now. Even so the details of what the 'Injection' actually is are thin on the ground, as are the ways that it manifests - I assume that anything out of mythology is fair game and readers might see Black Annis or parts of the Mabinogion come to life (though I would bet against a romantic version of King Arthur because the nature of the book feels more primal than that). 

Pulling our focus back, let's look at the world Ellis and Shalvey are detailing - on the surface it's pretty normal, but there are hints of weirdness even in the midst of government, Westminster and White Hall have 'the Department of Time and Measurement - presumably analogous to the Department of Weights and Measures only more sinister - which administers something called The Breaker's Yard. Given that 'not Merlin' is the character connected to this place, It's a 'ghost hunting' or 'monster killing' outfit, which in turn begs the question of whether modern Britain is something created by magic, and the 'Injection' is simply bringing those elements back into play. 

Pure conjecture on my part, but the book opens up questions for me, ones that I'm looking forward to Ellis answering as the series progresses. 

Image result for injection warren ellis
A word on the art, it's moody and dark - fitting the book perfectly as it oozes the uncertainty of the Injection off the page. Shalvey's pencils are clear, you get a clear sense of who everyone is, and cleverly each character seems to have their own colour palette. The depictions of the Injection, of the old reaching into the modern are particularly well done, they remind me slightly of the old Lords of Misrule comic and the creepy way they reach out into modern life.. 

The book feels like Ellis is meditating on the nature of Englishness, all that 'matter of Britain' stuff, and the mythology that we have largely forgotten but which informs the way our nation is today. It's something that seems to be picking up over in Trees, where he channels his inner John Wyndham on a global scale. While I would say that he isn't promoting the sort of flag-waving, animalistic, patriotism we've seen emerge in Britain over the past few months (though 'break the surface' would probably be more accurate - it's always been there but for the most part it was hidden), this is much more thoughtful, a meditation on the roots of our identity as a nation. I quite like it, but I can see that a lot of people would not. 

I would recommend this if you like Ellis' other work and if you enjoy Strange England type stories. 

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