Today, Drew and Ryan are discussing Injection 1, originally released May 13th, 2015.
Drew: The conventional wisdom on writing is that you must hook your audience from the very first sentence. “Don’t give the reader a chance to put it down,” my old professor used to say. It’s logical advice, but I always chaffed at how prescribed it felt. The complexity of ideas you can convey in a sentence or two is necessarily limited, and it seems silly to deny ourselves access to more complex ideas for fear of a fickle audience. Maybe it’s because my background is in classical music, where the audience is necessarily more captive, but it always seemed a tad alarmist to presume the audience is constantly looking to stop reading. If we allow that hook come later than the first sentence or two, it’s less tied to a single image, idea, or quote — it can become more about characters, atmosphere, even pacing. This is exactly the kind of approach Warren Ellis, Declan Shavley, and Jordie Bellaire take in their new series, drawing us in as much by what they don’t show us as what they do.
Under other circumstances, a sleepy hook might read as a failure, but Ellis, Shavley, and Bellaire — both individually and as a team — have long established that they aren’t making the mistake so many creative writing teachers have warned against. Indeed, their Moon Knight 1 demonstrates just how capable they are of grabbing the audience when they’re so inclined, wrapping up the entire premise of the series into one compelling synecdoche. Here, they’ve opted for a much subtler introduction, relying on talking heads, bizarre omniscient narration, and just a hint of action with no context.
Actually, playing with context is one of the biggest themes of this issue. Characters use initialisms ad nauseam throughout the issue, though they’re almost always explained. We learn that FPI used to stand for “Finest Production Industries,” but became “Force Projection International” after moving its headquarters to the west in the ’80s, and that the AAA stands for the “Actionable Archaeology Annex.” What exactly any of those things are is still not totally clear, but now we at least understand what the initialisms stand for, even if we don’t understand what they mean. Ellis is playing with information here, offering answers that don’t actually answer anything.
My favorite bit of context, though, comes from Dr. Robin Morel’s assertion of his own Englishness.
I can’t claim to understand the geopolitics of Great Britain, but specificity obviously mean a great deal to Morel. He immediately assumes his compatriot is feeling excluded because of her Welshness, but her offense may be more at the way his language diminishes the United Kingdom as an entity. She is working for the Ministry of Time and Measurement, after all, and perhaps thought an appeal to his patriotism would be fruitful. Obviously, that only works if he places an emphasis on Britishness over Englishness.
Which I suppose brings me back to FPI. I first assumed “Force Projection” was some kind of telepathic sci-fi mumbo jumbo, but it’s actually used to describe one country asserting power elsewhere in the globe (often, though not necessarily, through military presence). It’s a concept that didn’t exist until the 19th century, and the United Kingdom, imperial power that it was, is widely regarded as the first country to apply force projection on a global scale. In that way, the fact that Morel worked for FPI’s “Cultural Cross-Contamination Unit” might speak to his desire to preserve Englishness over some kind of homogenized Britishness.
But it’s also clear that whatever the Cultural Cross-Contamination Unit was doing, it wasn’t so mundane as cultural preservation. We only catch up with three members of the team in this issue, but they all seem damaged by whatever caused them to disband. Morel is on his solitary journey through England, Maria Kilbride is residing in a (mental?) hospital, while Brigid Roth (a Dubliner, as Morel is quick to point out) has turned to drink. More importantly, when Kilbride and Roth answer the call to action, they’re confronted with decidedly more disturbing tasks than anthropological reportage.
This image might actually be the biggest clue about whatever caused the team to disband — the art all points to the syringe symbol all of the team bears on their forearm, but the real clue is how letterer Fonografiks breaks up the dialogue. It’s syllabic, sure, but it’s also lined up (and misspelled) to make “Hell Bridge” a clear grouping. There’s nothing to tell us explicitly how this might fit in with “Cultural Cross-Contamination,” but suddenly, Morel’s interest in Englishness — and particularly ancient, pagan English sites — takes on a whole new meaning.
So there’s a lot to dig into, but none of it is nearly as bombastic as Moon Knight 1. That makes Shavley’s contribution the most changed, as this issue saddles him with a lot of talking heads. Shavley is smart enough with his staging and acting that this never gets boring, but it also doesn’t leave him with nearly as much room for expression that we saw in Moon Knight. Indeed, aside from one eight-panel grid, every single page features somewhere between three to five widescreen panels, stacked one on top of the other. He revels in those limitations, using those tight parameters to explore a more subtle range of expression, elevating full bleed to the role of punctuation, providing key pacing to the issue as a whole. It’s difficult to demonstrate that kind of formal function with an excerpt, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Kilbride and Roth’s surprises are fully bled images that fall in exactly the same spot on their respective pages.
Ryan, I enjoyed this issue immensely (increasingly so the more I think about it), but I also struggled to say anything meaningful about it. Were you able to pull anything more out of this issue, or do you also feel like there’s not quite enough here to say anything substantive? Did you also find yourself feeling out-of-the-loop on all of this Britishness? Oh, maybe you can comment on the resemblance between the lightning Kilbride sees and the Uffington White Horse Morel was admiring earlier in the issue.
Ryan: Hmm. I admit to not seeing the correlation between the lightning on that spirit-plane and the White Horse, but if the two are related, I would guess that it offers a further example of how deep, prehistoric forces may be seeing a resurgence amidst all of the new-age technology and civilization which we have developed since, which seems like a potential through-line. Now, Drew, I truly hope you will not regret asking me about the idea of British identity. I have plenty to say regarding the wonderful theme of the Empire and Britishness which you pointed out, so follow me here while we explore some of the places Ellis and Shavley took us.
Ellis makes fascinating use of what some call “cultural space,” i.e. the tangible locations, buildings, landmarks that hold together together a culture’s identity. You know the “literary space” that Mike Carey plays with in The Unwritten? Cultural space is like that, but for nations. So, looking at the locations used in this issue may shed some light upon the kind of meta-commentary Ellis makes to further this rift between British and English. The curtains rise on Kilbride’s (mental) hospital. While the reader does not know the exact location of this building, its architecture makes some interesting points:
From those skinny lancet windows, the scalloping under the cornice, and the hood mouldings, we can tell (with the help of an art teacher friend) that this building is of the Neo-Gothic tradition. Who cares, right? Well, consider that this movement of Gothic revival took off during the last quarter of the 19th century, when the Anglo-Catholic traditions found a widespread resurgence after being previously ousted by the ideals of classicism — which gave way to the ugly, controversial giant of industrialization. This pairs beautifully with the spirit of the title: despite the technology and advancement of this world, there are entire bureaus dedicated to what seems to be “the occult,” or at least “the preternatural.”
Next comes the conversation on the Ridgeway, “probably the oldest road in Britain.”
Dr. Morel, with his shaggy blonde hair and trench coat, already looks just one Silk Cut cigarette away from being a preppy, white-collar John Constantine. People have utilized this road for over five thousand years — that’s before the Bronze Age and the disbanding of the Roman Empire! The countryside also stands for one of the most significant times in the English literary tradition: the pastoral. This class of literature presents the idyllic life of those who live in rurality, as told by poets such as Edmund Spencer, John Milton, and Percy Bysshe Shelley, whose voices are synonymous with England. Morel’s time on this hallowed stretch of cultural space reminds me of the Constantine arc called “The Fear Machine,” in which the ley lines — a mystical network of spiritual energy — are a focal-point, furthering the similarities between the Cunning Man of Morel and the Laughing Magician of Constantine.
Lastly, we are brought to the capitol of the Emerald Isle: Dublin. We recognize this city from the establishing panels of the Ha’Penny Bridge over the River Liffey, then one of its busiest and iconic intersections of College Green, featuring the former Irish House of Parliament and Trinity College.
What better place to hold as counterpoint to the glory of England or Great Britain than a country like the Republic of Ireland, which so spectacularly and violently threw off the yoke of the Empire during the War of Independence of 1919-1921? The only thing which could better illustrate the failure of the UK would be to have a transplant from India on the team, but I think our Irish lass serves her purpose to illustrate a cultural space which was once part of an insoluble whole. Each of these locations is rife with symbolic history in the tale of an empire’s rise and fall, and, from the hints given in the comic’s murky exposition, there may be more “fall” afoot.
All said and done, these are very pertinent undercurrents with which this comic is playing, especially considering all of the recent controversy over the UK’s race for a new Prime Minister and Scotland’s failed bid for independence. Injection 1 does a remarkable job of giving the reader a lot to chew on without actually revealing its hand, to mix two metaphors. The writing and art possess a confidence that tells you though you may not have a grasp on the big picture yet, the creative team does, which makes me excited to buckle up for the ride. Those looking to this series for more of the same they received from Moon Knight may be surprised to find this title — from what little we have seen thus far — more of a mix between Hellblazer and B.P.R.D. Drew, I am glad that this title gave me a chance to put it down. This could be the kind of series which encourages me to reread each previous issue before happily tackling the newest. Isn’t that the sign of a great hook?
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?