Monday, August 15, 2016


Comics! Huzzah!

To celebrate the release of the superlative Injection vol.2, this is essentially Warren Ellis week here at the ol' Recommends. Bad news, I'm sure, for those of you who do not care for the work of Mr Ellis, but if this just so happens to be you, please don't close this window before at least watching this week's video. That in itself is really worth a look.


By Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey & Jordie Bellaire
Published By Image Comics

You like sandwiches. I like sandwiches. Everyone likes sandwiches. Just not as much as Vivek Headland likes sandwiches. Headland, genius detective and sandwich connoisseur, is the member of the cross cultural contamination unit who takes centre stage in this second volume of Ellis, Shalvey and Bellaire's Injection and it's hard not to imagine that he's totally stolen the show.

If you're coming in cold to this series, you can pop over and read my review of volume one if you like, which neatly tied in with another classic modern SF mind-bender, Frederik Peeters' Aama. Both series describe the birth of what are essentially A.I's created through what Peeters handily labelled "techno-natural creation processes." In the case of The Injection, invented by Headland and co., that entailed a dash of science, a pinch of technology and a helping of magic, with the resulting creation then "injected" into the Internet in an effort to speed up human progress. The Injection has been toying with us ever since, re-writing the rules of physics and re-creating the mythical. It's a techno-trickster god, learning and experimenting as it increases its influence over whatever it is that we call "reality."

Now, that's all rather heady SF stuff and you maybe can't be bothered with it. That's okay, because enter this creative team, packing pound for pound more comics swagger than possibly any other current collaborative comics unit and who, like The Injection itself, really decide to have some fun with their world with no prior knowledge of the series required for new readers. Seriously, all you really need to know is here and it's all essentially self-contained. Structurally, for such an ambitious book, that's impressive. 

Injection vol.2 is also completely hilarious. Ellis, a writer frequently given to inputting large doses of dark humour in his work, has sharpened his characters' typically pithy verbal barbs to their sharpest possible points. Seriously, this is a funny, funny book. It's Tanaka's Gon funny. It's the best of Giffen-era JLA funny. It's Ellis' own Nextwave funny. Barely a page passes without some impeccably placed verbal zinger or sight gag and, in Headland, Ellis may actually have found the best vehicle for his hyperbolic, frequently ridiculous insults. A quick shout-out to Fonografiks before continuing, as I am frequently harsh on letterers, for his clean fonts and simple but striking design proves not only handsome but also unobtrusive and easily read, allowing Ellis' riotous dialogue to rip along speedily and clearly and staying out of Shalvey and Bellaire's way in the process. Being unobtrusive, I imagine, is one of the hardest parts of lettering - Fonografiks makes it look easy.

Vivek Headland is contacted by John Van Der Zee, a widower who when looking at a photo of his dead wife and son, had visits of an erotic nature from his deceased bride. When the photograph was stolen, the visits unfortunately stopped. With his history and knowledge of his contacts preceding Headland, Van Der Zee rightly believes that the detective is "predisposed to sympathy with the supernatural" (although "sympathy" might be pushing it). Headland of course takes the case, introduces us to his staff of criminal ex-mercenaries, including the wonderful Red who functions as his butler/bodyguard, brings in some contacts from the larger cast and quickly discovers a connection to that engineer of the weird, The Injection. 

Packed with evil cults and gun battles and haunted laptops and accidental cannibalism, it's not just Ellis having a blast with Headland's adventure; you can almost see the whole team chuckling as the pages were prepared. Shalvey, as always, is up for anything - bicep hams, elbow joints exploding at the impact from a bullet, striking night time skylines and polyamorous sexual action, and all of it superbly laid out and framed. On one hand he's lucky to be working with a writer so skilled and generous as Ellis, on the other I can't really imagine anyone else doing as good a job. Ellis writes for his partners on this project, not just himself, and the seams between script and finished page are nowhere to be found. And I mean anywhere. Shalvey's range of expression is also superb, carrying the weight of many an Ellis gag with a deadpan stare or a look of confusion. Lines like, "I am Headland. I am offended by your ham, sir," would have none of the comedic punch they do with characters wearing the wrong expressions on their faces and Shalvey’s on particularly on point here.

Bellaire, who just scooped another Eisner for her growing collection is also superb. She understands that colours are there to round and enhance the linework, to help set mood and, in the case of a book like Injection, convey a sense of realism. Her work is painterly yet subtle, eschewing garishness constantly. If a scene needs to be largely brown, brown it is, yet still she creates textures and mood even as she limits herself. It's really lovely work and it's great to see her become so lauded whilst simultaneously demonstrating such restraint.

I've tried to find something, anything, but I don't have even a quibble about Injection vol.2, I really don't. The only real question is can the series actually top this? As The Injection spreads its influence ever further, tinkering with the world in ever greater ways and the ongoing plot cleverly sprinkled through Headland's adventure sows intrigue for the future, it's clear there's a long way to go. But even in the extremely unlikely event that this series crashes and burns from here on out, "The Adventure of the Elderly Ghost Sexer," as Headland hilariously dubs his case, will remain a highpoint in the careers of all involved. Injection is inspired, impeccably crafted comics.

By Warren Ellis

From 2013 comes this short story by our esteemed scribe, "The Lich House," commissioned by Institute of the Future as part of a series exploring the future of networking and interconnectivity. Ellis weaves a tale of an intruder breaking into a house that feels very much alive, if not exactly sentient, giving "murder" an extra element of calculated cruelty in the process. In cool, affectless prose, reminiscent in certain ways of that of your humble columnist's literary hero and similarly blackly-humoured futurist, J.G. Ballard, Ellis' story does a good job of being both a fascinating piece of futurist crime fiction and reading like some sort of detail-obsessed, field test journalism breaking down a product's technological powers. Bonus video included of Ellis describing the story's origin.


"Science is beautiful," says Warren Ellis. "It is our new wilderness landscape. It is the new forest full of weird animals and spirits sliding in and out of view on the edge of the clearing and the pool." If that alone doesn't make you want to watch this talk, featuring two of Injection's main creators shortly after the series launched, there's all sorts of process work included, Shalvey linking his and Bellaire's visual approach to the series with the unlikely (but now totally obvious) inspiration of Wes Anderson films and even Ellis, yes Warren Ellis, brimming with positivity as he urges us to see the up side of living in the "science fiction condition." This is excellent and inspirational stuff, expertly condensing a bunch of ideas Ellis has expressed at various futurist talks and showcasing Shalvey's skills and comics methodology perfectly.

See you next week. Love your comics.

Cameron Ashley spends a lot of time writing comics and other things you'll likely never read. He's the chief editor and co-publisher of Crime Factory ( You can reach him @cjamesashley on Twitter.

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