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We3 #1-3
Written by Grant Morrison
Illustrated by Frank Quitely
Published by DC/Vertigo; $2.95 USD ea.

Grant Morrison has done it again. In We3, the second of his three pop comics has pushed the actual storytelling of action comics far into the future after what seemed a lengthy stagnation. Morrison, for all he and his fellow mainstream writers talk of something new, is one of the few who actually delivers on a consistent basis, and with Quitely, his favorite collaborator and the one best suited for such experimentation, has given us a new benchmark.

The story is part fairy tale, adventure story, and sci-fi metaphor. Three animals are turned into cybernetic weapons by the U.S government and, after a show of their deadly abilities, escape the lab and run amok, trying to find their way "home," which is more of a primitive ideal in their minds than an actual, physical place. The animals, as well as being heavily armed and armored, are able to speak, but do so in a garbled and primitive English that seems like it would be painful to listen to; a disturbing take on talking animal books. This is a relatively simple concept, but the excitement lies in the execution.

Quitely's art is perfectly suited for this violent tale. His art is that of a stylized cartoonist doing a twisted impression of a "realistic" mainstream super hero artist. His wiggly lines let the drawings flow, bounce and emote like cartoons, yet never seem to go beyond the real world, and the effect is disturbing and strangely beautiful. And this is no more evident than in the shoes that litter the pages of We3. Often told from inhuman perspectives, the story features an awful lot of shoes, especially soldiers' boots, and they are gorgeous. I'm not usually one for feet, but here, Quitely gives them a true presence and character and grace, more so than some of his faces. The very first panel is of shoes, the faceless soldiers are often represented by shoes, and the footwear gives the reader certain insights into minor characters, defining them as people even though there isn't enough time to properly know them within the story.

The main appeal of this book is the unparalleled action sequences. Each one is unique, and as far as I know, totally original (except one, which may have been inspired by a scene in the hugely underrated Elektra Lives Again by Frank Miller). Each issue of We3 made my jaw physically drop. The violence is extremely graphic, but in a stylish, inherently comic book way; sheer terror balanced with endless bullets and candy colored blood. The pacing of the action scenes is stunning and elegant, and sometimes explode into dozens of tiny panels that bring the reader into the energy and confusion of the attack.

But best of all is the substance to the story. Although not nearly as narratively dense as Morrison's other work, (which he more than makes up for in his recent JLA Classified run), he tells a relatively simple tale that is an allegory for war. In an interesting bit of storytelling, the covers clue us in on an important fact that might be taken for granted; the three animals, a dog, a cat, and a rabbit, were for some reason stolen from children who loved them to become weapons for the government, echoing a national military draft, and the metaphor continues throughout the story. The animals are uncomfortable, confused, and unable to tell where they stop and the weaponry begins. There is a frightening scene in which the dog, rescues a civilian man caught up in the battle that perfectly demonstrates the limited understanding the three possess over their situation. The final fate of these draftees is bittersweet for the animals, but tragically reminiscent of the real lives that many soldiers come back to. We3 is an absolutely heartbreaking and impressive book, both for its finesse and craft as well as its social commentary and human characters.

-- Jef Harmatz



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