Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Declan Shalvey, Jordie Bellaire
Published by Image Comics
Release Date: May 13, 2015
Injection is finally here. I–and, undoubtedly, many others–have been waiting for this book ever since it was announced that Declan Shalvey, Jordie Bellaire, Warren Ellis would be teaming up once again. Their work on the first arc of the Moon Knight reboot was, in a word, transformative. It was my pick for Best Series of 2014 and, as a result, Bellaire + Shalvey were my Best Artists of 2014, with Ellis as runner-up for Best Writer. Shortly after we learned that their work on the book would only last 6 issues, we were gifted with Injection, a story that was crafted completely from Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire’s interests. With such a unique creative method, I was excited to see how Injection would unfold.
Shalvey does a really killer backdrop. I don’t think I paid as much attention to it as I should have in Moon Knight, but it’s very much apparent on the first few pages of Injection #1. There’s an attention to detail and a sharpness that encourages a long look at even simple shots of buildings and signs. Bellaire’s colors only take this to the next level. On page one, beyond the beautiful dullness of the sky–that is, the beauty in the way that Bellaire has really captured the gradient of colors on a dull day–every single brick in our setting is given texture and context. When these two are at their best together, they are unreal.
Moving away from the panels, Shalvey seems to favor heavy, decisive lines and a slightly aggressive shadow. You can expect a grey watercolor haze applied to most of the darker scenes and even many of the well-lit ones. This is actually to the point where I notice when it isn’t there and feel as though the style is a bit off. There is a two-page flashback scene in this issue that is much brighter than the other pages. We see no watercolor shadow at all; instead, the characters are much flatter and stylized as compared to their versions in real-time. Even flipping between the end of the flashback and the next page shows a pretty stark visual contrast.
My guess is that the intention is to impart to us, visually, that it was a happier and simpler time by way of brighter colors and lighter lines–but the change was so drastic that it actually distracted me from the narrative content/aims. It felt like I was in a different book entirely, perhaps even with a different artist. The work wasn’t bad, just not what I’m used to and perhaps a little bit too dissonant from the overall feel of the book to really work.
Perhaps it’s because I became familiar with Shalvey’s work through Moon Knight, but I do think he seems most comfortable in the dark. It’s where the shadows seem the most appropriate and the least forced. My two favorite pages, judging strictly by the art, take place in a cave and in what looks like a bunker. In both of these situations, once again, Bellaire taps in and takes the work to the next level. She wrings colors and shades out of every corner, shape, and angle of darkness–and, of course, the light is more beautiful as a result.
Truth be told, I’m a little disappointed when we get to brighter scenes; they seem to be less nuanced than the darker ones and I want every page to look like the one in the bunker or channel the bright weirdness in the cave. The power we get in the darker settings is never matched by its counterparts and I want more of that intensity throughout the whole book–though, knowing this team, I suspect I should be careful what I wish for.
One thing that should be said about this book: it is very British and Irish and in the best way possible. From the very beginning, we get mentions of Old English and an Irish protagonist. Deeper into the story, there are other connections–visual callbacks to Stonehenge, direct discussion of some English history, and vernacular that is very particular to British and Irish folklore.
However, more interesting to me is the presentation of Britain and Ireland as they are now, rather than a mere glorification and investigation of the old ways. In a relatively unusual step, we also get persons of color who are identified by their nationalities, rather than their racial backgrounds. People seem to regularly forget that there are black people in Ireland or that the largest ethnic minority in the UK identifies as Asian or Asian British. These rarities are out in full force in the Injection debut–though in a curious way.
One of our main characters is a woman of color with a traditionally Irish first and surname; she is identified as a “Dublin girl” by her accent. Another person of color tries to identify her as his sister, but she rejects this immediately. It’s not clear to me whether this is meant to align them in the same racial group, but I do find her rejection of this kinship interesting and meaningful. That same rejection of racial identification is echoed by a scene shortly after with a white male Englishman identifying a woman of color as South Walian, Welsh, and British. Once again, her race never comes into it. The only racial engagement we get is an oblique reference to the racism often attached to the notion of English v Britishness–and that’s a query of the White Briton, not the South Walian of color.
I’m not sure what the aim is here, but it certainly reads as intentional omission given that we, the readers, can see that these characters have an ethnic identity beyond their nationality. Because I like and trust Ellis’ work, I’m willing to wait and see whether this choice has any significance beyond a “I don’t see color” narrative, but I admit that I am a little bit concerned.
However, regardless of my concerns, I can still say that the way in which these issues are brought into the narrative is still clever as hell. Ellis manages these nuances by introducing a character who has not just studied the British Isles but also can identify an accent by ear. This is useful, clever, and once again, very British/Irish, not just because comics are a silent medium but also because it takes advantage of one of the things more unique to British and Irish culture than other English-speaking countries: accent localization. More than anywhere else, the first words you speak place you to a location–and to a class. Given how solidly Ellis seems to have rooted this tale in the United Kingdom and Ireland, I can only imagine narratives about class are on their way.
Ellis’ dialogue is, as ever, on point. It’s a tricky thing to nail sardonicism and disaffectedness in a way that is genuinely sardonic and disaffected. A lot of the comics I’ve been reading seem to lean heavily on very quippy humor, but Ellis’ quips strike that genuine balance. My amusement is a pleasant consequence but not a means to an end, which is a characterization in itself.
The weakest point for me is the narration style. The comic opens with and occasionally goes back into a dramatic third-person voice-over. It’s the sort of thing you saw in comics from the 80’s–early Hellblazer or a more digestible version of Alan Moore’s voiceovers. They definitely have a prose-y sort of flavor–and probably would have been more fitting if Injection had been a prose book. If I just look at the pages without the voice-over, I don’t lose anything that needs to be understood immediately or isn’t likely to be covered more in depth later on. The language is beautiful and the metaphors are lovely, but I don’t think I need them in those moments in this particular book.
Injection #1 is a solid showing from this team. I’m very interested in this world that Shalvey, Ellis, and Bellaire are constructing. It seems to be like ours–but not quite. The details are off just enough and in just the right way that the questions build steadily throughout the issue. This all leads up to a last page where all three are on game–the dialogue, the art, the colors, all perfect to create a lasting final image and fantastic characterization. It’s the page that’ll remind you what these three can do together, convince you that this book was worth the wait.
The Verdict: 8.0/10