Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Grant Morrison Corner: We3 (#1-3)

"Home is.. run no more" - One/Bandit

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 flerken cat.
Before we start, let me introduce you to Biff.  He's going to be eleven next month and he's the first cat I have had who has been "mine" and not the family cat.  He's a laid back, powerfully intelligent mini-tyrant who has me as his familiar.  He's also affectionate and loving and in ten years we've never spent more than a day apart.  We live together, we've moved house together, we even go on holiday together.  I love the little bastard so much.  So don't expect the bad-guys in this story to get a fair shake (not that I think Morrison and Quitely would want you too), and I hope meeting this member of my family will help you understand my reactions to this comic.  Everytime I read it, I can't help but think what it would be like if I had lost my cat to an experiment like this. And then I cry some more.  Don't think they'll be any anti-dog stuff though, I had a much loved pet dog growing up too (a sweet natured and gentle Afghan Hound) and if money and space permitted would have one in my life now as well.  In fact it's the dog in this comic that breaks my heart the most and I'll talk more about that as we come to the relevant parts.  Rabbits are nice too, although not the type of pet for me.  My first girlfriend had a house rabbit and it was pretty damn adorable.

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.
The story begins with a wordless sequence as an armed gangster is blown up by the three power-armoured animals I'll be collectively referring to as "We3".  We are then introduced to the female scientist in charge of them getting reading to go to work.  We3 are being transported back to the lab in the back of a lorry.

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 speaks.
The senator is told that if anyone attempts to remove the animals from their armour it will self destruct.  The senator then says "Hello boy" to Bandit, who replies:

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.
As he departs with Dr. Trendle in tow he says that Dan Washington will be "warming seats in the Oval office" soon and talking about animals used for warfare.  It's time they concentrated on animals bred for such a purpose (rather than the household pets We3 originally were).  Regarding We3 and Dr. Berry he says to Trendle, "what kind of lunatic teaches a killing machine to talk?"

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?
Once they realise what has happened, Trendle is on the phone reassuring the project chief that this can't be traced back to the senator.  They can't survive more than a few days without their medication, but they are armed and trained to kill:

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 is still on the phone, stressing that Bandit alone is armed with surface to air missles and that their senses are different, "much faster than any human.  They experience time and motion differently."  He gets off the phone and says to Dr. Berry that they don't understand the danger:

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 meanwhile are on a railway bridge.  Bandit and Tinker get into a tussle because Tinker says "is no home."  Pirate plays the peacemaker, then Bandit detects the weaponised rats who have been set on them and they massacre them.  Then a train suddenly hits them and they blow the bridge to smithereens sending the train wreckage into the river below.

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.
Poor Pirate.
Later that night Pirate goes and sits in the middle of the road, it is hungry and needs to be fixed and seems to think any human can help.  A man and his son get out of their truck to investigate and the man points a shotgun at Pirate, when Pirate comes towards them he fires, hitting Pirate in the head.  In a rage Bandit flies at the man and kills him.  When he realises what he has done, he sits and repeats the words "bad dog" over and over sadly.  As Terry Pratchett wrote in Men At Arms, the words "Bad dog" are the most powerful ones you can ever say to a dog.
Bandit, full of regret.
Back at the lab, the project chief says the boy was found in the woods close by and We3 are now within a few miles of a major population centre.  They load a mysterious weapon onto a lorry and tell Dr. Berry she is going to act as a "lure", much to her distress.

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.
The man bumps into the soldiers amassing nearby but says he hasn't seen them. Dr. Berry is told to lure them into position.  This "farce" is being spun as a field test to Senator Washington.  Ominously we are shown a controller and told, "animal weapon four engaged". 

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*
Let's look at that image for a moment.  It's just perfect.  Unlike cats who are sociopaths (and it's darkly amusing that it's the cat the project chief seems to fear the most), dogs genuinely seem to feel guilt and sadness for both their wrongdoings and for bad things that happen to them.  What Quitely has captured so amazingly well is the look Bandit is giving Dr. Berry here.  Anyone who ever had a dog they had to yell at for some reason will recognise that look as their dog comes and puts their head sadly in your lap and stares soulfully up at you silently begging for forgiveness and affection.  Oh it's heartbreaking here and if Quitely doesn't have a dog himself, he's spent long enough around one to be able to nail that expression dead on. Magnifcent art.

Dr. Berry: "The name on your collar was 'Bandit'.  U. R. Bandit".
Bandit versus "Four".
She finally realises what an appalling, dreadful thing she has done to them and that it requires a sacrifice to save them. She then uses her body to block the sniper shots and as she is killed she yells, "Run Bandit! Run far!"  We then see an enraged Bandit take on the mastiff, bellowing "BAD! DOG!" at it.  The project chief seems to think the mastiff will deal with Bandit easily, but Trendle isn't so sure:

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.
Cat attack!
Between them, "Four", Bandit and Tinker crash through a wall and onto a road.  The bloodied and now pain-crazed mastiff, it's eyes torn out by Tinker, goes to attack a police officer who has got in the way but Bandit protects the policeman and the project chief remotely shuts the mastiff down causing its head to explode with the codeword "Fido".  I feel bad for the mastiff, but there was no saving him, he was We3 without the love and care their former lives and Dr. Berry had given them.

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*
The story ends with Dr. Trendle reading a newspaper article about senator Washington being "sunk" by what appears to be his testimony regarding the deaths around the escape of We3.  He was part of a terrible experiment but at least he's helped force it out in the open so it (hopefully) can't happen again.  He is returning to the court building and sitting on the steps is the hobo with Tinker and Bandit. Realising what the animals are, he asks the hobo if they need special care?

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.
Truly this is a wonderful piece of work.  It is an artist and writer in absolute lock-step with page and panel layouts used to incredible effect, a lot of them are double page spreads which I can't really show you properly.  Summarising it doesn't really do it justice, I urge you to seek it out and read it yourselves.  If you have a pet it will feel like a knife to the heart and although Bandit and Tinker get a happy ending, seeing how their natures have either been perverted (in the case of Bandit and Pirate) or exaggerated (in the case of Tinker) by the scientists just breaks the heart.  The fact that the animals are show to be sapient but are are still going to be discarded once they have served their purpose shows how monstrous the experiment involving them was.  Indeed although Dr.Berry is shown as full of regret at what she has done and sacrifices herself to save them, she still was responsible for them and in unleashing them on the world got many people with families killed in the process in trying to assuage her guilty conscience, but what else could she do when the "decommission" order came? 

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.


  1. your cat is the most chilled out one I have ever seen! my pair are maniacs :D this post was hard to get through, i'm not sure i could cope with reading the actual comic, manly tears might start flowing!

  2. Hah, Biff was a maniac too when he was younger but now he's ten he spends about 95% of his life either asleep on my bed or asleep in the yard. The other 5% of his time is spent nagging for food and having his head scratched.

    If any comic could tug manly tears out of someone it's this one to an animal lover, but go for it I say. Be proud of those tears! :p

  3. I read this review over and over. It's so sad :-( I will never own a pet / share my life with a furry friend.

    That said, I enjoy being friends with Biff. Black and white cats are the best. (Tony's favourite cat colour is tortoiseshell, but he's wrong wrong wrongity wrong.) Tinker is still a DUDE though, even though he's ginger. He shows the true meaning of friendship.

    It's sad that we teach animals to trust us so that we can use them. Bloomin' scientists. Don't send a rabbit to fight a human's war!

  4. Aww, well consider Biff a pet by proxy. Black and white cats are cool, they are the cats most likely to end up unwanted which was a BIG reason for me wanting one. The first family cat we had was a little tortoiseshell female, she was aloof and independant and the scourge of small animals and birds, but had a secret affectionate side and got along with our dog although she ruled the house. The next family cat we had was a male tabby and man we all loved him, he was daft as a brush but so, so gentle and loving. Then when he departed this world I got Biff, such a tiny sweet kitten, ah what happened...? :D I like all cat colours really, but I must admit b/w has a special place in my heart.

    I'm sure the fact that one of Grant Morrison's first cats was a ginger had something to do with Tinker's look. Next time you come over I'll show you the cover of Animal Man that immortalises said ginger kitty.

  5. It's very kind of you to say Biff can be my proxy pet. 'Preciate it, dude.

    Oh my word, I just had a thought (happens once or twice a year): what if the title of this book is a reference to Henry V? "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers."

    It's even more poignant now :-(

  6. I'll give him a pet from you, he'll enjoy that.

    Aww, now you mention that quote it is extra sad. If only Pirate could have survived as well.

  7. Oh wow, I'm all over the place after reading this. Apologies for the incoming stream of consciousness ramblings through sniffles and rage.

    Perhaps if I start with why I have a particular abhorrence towards cruelty to animals. It's the fact that, unlike humans, you can never explain to them why it's happening and more importantly that it's not their fault. Even with kids (my other red line) you can eventually get through to them "you did nothing to deserve this, you are not to blame, the fault is entirely with your abuser"

    One of the most heartbreaking things in the world is when an abused animal is still trying to get affection from its abuser. You can see it thinking 'what did I do wrong, how can I make you love me again'

    I've never seen anything capture that as well as the story here. "bad dog" indeed.

    Morriston certainly knows how to tweak the heartstrings with the use of dog language. It's like a perverse mirror of the Gary Larson "Cat fud" cartoon. I think he's entirely justified though and his obvious sincerity stops this falling into melodrama l.

    I don't think I've ever read anything where I've felt more in tune with the writer. It's like the doors of perception. It's like I get every nuance and thought behind this. I'll put money on if I met Morriston and said 'incredible journey' he'd just wink.

    I won't comment on the story itself; you've said everything that needs to be said better than I could.

    I'll certainly be sharing this discovery with friends so thank you for bringing it to my attention.

  8. Alan you have articulated just why I feel angry and upset at animal abuse too. And cruelty to children is also my other beserk button. Morrison has been a long time supporter of animal rights, his first major US comic series "Animal Man" turned into a screed on animal welfare, he mentions in "Supergods" seeing a specific film showing animal abuse in agriculture and testing that I can't recall the name of off the top of my head shocked him and converted him to the cause.

    Frank Quitely is one of my favourite comicbook artists he can imbue everything with quiet and powerful emotion and he just nails it here, I can never get the image of Bandit's head in Doctor Berry's hands with sniper lasers lined up on it out of my head when I think of it. Anyway glad you read this I thought you might appreciate it :)

  9. Hi Varalys, fellow Mammotheer here. Alan was kind enough to recommend this post to me. Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed ...? no, enjoy is not the right word! Animal pain, especially when caused by humans - you know.
    I loved your review. Thanks :)