It's the start of the month so it's time for more Alan Mo- No! No Alan Moore, he's in the Sin Bin for a month because of Miracleman 3. No instead we're going to take a look in Grant Morrison Corner instead. And today we find in there... We3. One of his acclaimed collaborations with one of modern comic's finest artists, Frank Quitely. Now, if you've read enough of my posts you may know I love cats and have a bit of a blind spot when it comes to them. Like if Hitler had had a beloved cat instead of a dog I'd have mumbled something about him not being "all bad". Fortunately Grant Morrison is not Hitler, and he loves cats. His semi autobiographical book "Supergods" charting the history of superhero comics has some incredibly moving accounts of how much he loves his cats right down to having had them immortalised in the first US comicbook he wrote which was Animal Man ( a series that was very passionately pro-animal rights as well). We3 is the emotionally charged story of how three family pets; a rabbit, a cat and a dog are abducted by the military and experimented on to produce three sapient creatures in power armour as weapons of the future. This is very much a story that relies on its art to tell the story as much as it's script and Quitely is able to go wild with the panel layouts and pacing as we are taken through some thrilling and heartbreaking events. To really hammer home the evil done to these animals, each of the three issues has as its cover a homemade lost pet notice of the type you'll see sadly affixed to lamp-posts in the usually vain hope said pet can be found and returned home. Tears, my friends, tears were cried during the writing up of this blog post. If it was on paper it would be soggy.
|Biff, my |
I'll be referring to the three animals by their real names (Bandit the dog, Tinker the cat and Pirate the rabbit, all names linked by their "outsider" status) as it reads a bit better than calling them "One, Two and Three". Also I want to keep emphasising that these are people's pets that have been turned into killing machines. It's also interesting to note that bar the main human characters everyone else is mainly drawn with their heads and faces obscured, dehumanising them in the process, arguably this is how the three animals would see humans they aren't familiar with and also keeps our focus on their plight not the humans.
|We3, Bandit, Tinker and Pirate.|
At the lab, a US senator called Dan Washington is being shown the animal "research and development" which he has thrown his political clout behind, and its various applications. He is shown a rat with a drill for a head being controlled by what looks like a gamepad into killing its fellow rats as a "living weapon".
The female scientist is introduced as Roseanne Berry as the senator is shown We3. Apparently she has a hard time dealing with "mere humans" and prefers to spend time with the animals. Bandit is designated the "tank", Tinker the "lethal stealth machine" and Pirate for the delivery of mines and poison gas.
Bandit: "I.M. Gud. R. U. Gud. 2? 'Mr Wah-shing-ton'"
Washington is surprised by this but he is reasurred that We3 only kill "enemies of our nation." Bandit cocks his head and says "Gud dog. Is Gud dog?" The cat, Tinker is less agreeable:
Tinker: "Mmmmen stink! Bossss stink! Hungry!"
The senator leaves with the head scientist following. The head scientist tells Dr. Berry and the other sympathetic scientist, Dr. Trendle that We3 are going to be decommisioned (ie: killed). Dr. Berry says she can't believe it, that the project represents years of her life. The head of the project insinuates she'll be fired as well.
|Dr. Roseanne Berry.|
Then we get an astonishing sequence of eighteen panel pages as Berry releases the locks on We3. Trendle comforts her as We3 realise they can leave, she asks them to kill her and that she "deserves it" but they run past her and exit the lab to freedom.
|Freedom! Now what?|
Trendle: "They are instinctual, amoral. They lack the fear of death that sets limits on human behaviour. That's our only problem sir... they won't go down without a fight."
Meanwhile We3 are deciding what to do next. Pirate asks Bandit where they should go. Bandit says "home" although Tinker is unwilling to follow but decides to anyway.
|One of the lost pet covers.|
Trendle: "Those poor men. See what you've done? Oh those poor men."
Then in an amazing double page spread we see We3 destroying the squad of soldiers send to pacify them. Trendle is back on the phone saying "I did try to tell you." He'll try and find another way to to stop We3. He says to himself, "humans shouldn't be dying. That was the point. The whole point of my work".
|We3 destroy some soldiers.|
We3 drop down and Bandit drags the driver onto the shore saying "gud dog. Help man." Then We3 leave, the "camera" pulls back to show the man is dead and missing below the waist. And if any moment speaks to the perversion of a dogs natural instincts by the scientists who made him into a weapon it's this. Heartbreaking stuff.
|Bandit, full of regret.|
The final issue begins with a hobo going into an abandoned building out of the rain. We3 are sheltering there as well. Pirate is still alive, just about. The man is shocked at what he sees, "what kinda sicko penned you all up in there?" He decides he needs liquor and tools, We3 are sick and need their medicine, Bandit pleads with the man:
Bandit: "Sick. Bad sick. Help find home. Boss."
The hobo tells them to wait and he'll see what he can do. "Is gud man" Bandit reassures the others.
|Hark! A vagrant.|
Pirate goes wandering off despite Bandit's pleading for it to stay. Then something large and vicious runs at them.
Bandit: "Afraid smell! Big afraid big! 3! Run! 3!"
The creature, "Four", is a specially raised mastiff in black power-armour. Pirate runs at it and attacks and the mastiff kills Pirate. Oh, poor, poor Pirate, so gentle and undeserving of death. Dr. Berry goes out and Bandit comes over to her looking heartbroken.
|Wow, this room is so dusty all of a sudden *sniffle*|
Dr. Berry: "The name on your collar was 'Bandit'. U. R. Bandit".
|Bandit versus "Four".|
Trendle: "Doctor Berry, she... she was very gifted, you understand. She taught the animals to work as a team".
And Tinker attacks. Despite having argued and disagreed with Bandit every step of the way, she is still part of the team and will gladly put herself in danger to save him. It's a real "fuck yeah!" moment despite the awfulness that has led up to it.
Bandit and Tinker escape via the sewer and make their way back to where the hobo was. Soldiers are watching the building and inside Bandit, after another argument, suddenly yanks Tinker out of her armour and makes a getaway with her via another sewer grate. The armour's self destruct sequence kicks in and explodes taking out the soldiers as it does so.
We cut to an exhausted Bandit now also out of his armour lying down, Tinker catches a mouse and brings it to him for him to eat (oh God, my heart... it hurts. That's the point I am usually inelegantly blubbering by when I reread this story).
Bandit: "Is where B 'Bandit'? Is. Is where?"
Tinker: "Is home."
Which is the first time Tinker has countenenced the concept of "home" fully having been at odds with Bandit over it for the whole story beforehand. Tinker says it while looking at the hobo who has found them.
|*incoherent sobbing noises*|
Hobo: "Just love and attention. And a few scraps of food never hurt. They bring me luck."
Trendle hands over several hundred dollars to him and climbs the steps back to the court, leaving a surprised hobo in his wake as Tinker and Bandit sit happily on and next to him. The end.
|Run no more.|
Morrison is making a point, fairly bluntly about how he feels regarding animal experimentation, but the comic doesn't come off as preachy it simply shows us what he feels would be the end result of treating animals as weapons. And it's testiment to how skewed the priorities of the scientists are that the fact the animals are able to talk - an amazing breakthrough in itself - is not seen as worthy of further research, it's just their use as weapons they care about. Frank Quitely's art is what elevates the material into something truly special though. The extras show his prototype sketches and it seems he had a pretty free hand in designing the look of the three power-armoured animals. The script is remarkably unsentimental in fact, it's the addition of the art that adds the wrenching quality of the animal's various interactions, which of course was Morrison's intent when choosing Quitely to work with on the project. At only three issues it might seem like a poor investment, but the story is exactly as long at it needs to be and I would rank it very highly in the canon of Grant Morrison's work. Very highly indeed. In fact going through it in detail for this post has made me realise it's now my favourite Morrison work. Higher even than my previous favourite of his, "Seven Soldiers Of Victory". It has no potentially alienating meta-commentary, it's Morrison writing purely from the heart and with Frank Quitely in total synchronicity they have created something comics as a whole can be proud to have as part of them. It really is that good.