Today, Ryan D. and Drew are discussing Injection 5, originally released September 9th, 2015.
Ryan: Who is the main character in this comic? At first glance, I fancied Maria Kilbride to be our lead. Her character arc seems to be one of the most vivid; every issues’ flashback scenes show her as the bright-eyed genius responsible for tying together the Cultural Cross-Contamination Unit, full of piss and vision. Seeing how cheerful she was in this issue when Brigid suggested they all get matching tattoos stands in stark contrast to the gaunt, hollowed lone-wolf who tackles a Cornish spriggan infestation head-on. Though her foe here be mystical, Kilbride is haunted more closely by the Injection, which finally reveals itself plainly. The fingerprints of the Injection are stamped on every curious happenstance which has taken place over the past five issues, making a compelling case to call this creation the main character. Its character journey has taken place predominately off-page, with the bulk of its exposition in the dialogue of its “parents”, the remnants of the CCCU. It now rears its invisible head to Maria, and in doing so shows that it is responsible for the previously anonymous, seemingly omnipotent yellow narrative text littering each issue.
And the Injection is earnestly terrifying. Self-described as a “non-biological artificial consciousness emulator” and using the personal pronoun of “I”, this creation has a mind of its own. But it was designed to. I love the scene between Rob and Brigid in which we see Rob’s contribution to its design: he makes it live. Perhaps the strongest running motif in this series is the intersection of science and the supernatural, and this is encapsulated here perfectly. Spells have recipes, making magic easy to liken to cooking; however, here we learn that it also parallels with coding:
Anyone who has futzed with HTML and CSS to build a website or gone into console to use a cheat in a computer game understands the small joy which occurs when a few strokes of your keys directly alters something which exists, or makes something new leap into being. It is not a huge logical leap, then, to imagine a script or sequence of code — if infused with elements of The Other World (the comic’s realm of the fantastical) — to serve the same function as John Constantine’s use of cat blood and incantations: both are simply naming an element of a whole (reality) and using a tool to modify it. HOW COOL IS THAT? Even though this scene is purely talking heads, the ease with which Ellis explains some very heady concepts and the believable dialogue between Brigid and Rob make this scene fascinating. I also appreciate the visual continuity from colorist Jordie Bellaire, who drapes the background in a citrine pall to signify its place in the past.
As the audience finally begins to understand what the Injection actually is, it is apparent how hopelessly out-gunned our protagonists are. While each of the members display mastery of an incredible talent or skill, the Injection possesses the same with the ability to organically and systematically learn more, effectively making it the sum of all their parts and more. While the original purpose of creating this emulator — to ensure that “innovation didn’t stagnate”– may have been noble, we all know with what Hell’s engineers pave its roads, and any formalist critic will tell you that the author’s intent matters nothing once a work has been published. We do not know the Injection’s motives, except for the simple fact that it wants to punish those who begat it. Though it has been with us since the beginning, the Injection functions as a compelling new — if not the main — character. As its rationale becomes clearer, it seems obvious that nothing short of a fully unified CCCU can topple it. Before those five can bounce back from their splintering, they will need to come to terms with the Damoclean sword of guilt they all share thanks to their foray into playing god.
More than anything, this issue shows that nothing in this comic thus far has been incidental. Drew, you mentioned the pacing back in issue 1, which started off with an intriguing whisper over a bang, and now these whispers aggregate into a complicated, driven chorus. For every answer Ellis gives us, two more questions arise. Is this approach working for you, Drew? How do you feel about the use of the preternatural in this issue? And are you excited to learn more about our eponymous antagonist?
Drew: You know, the more I learn about the Injection, the less I want to know — not because it’s a bad villain, but because, as you said, every answer brings more questions. Brigid and Sim hypothesize on the Injection’s motivations, but seem to mostly be guessing.
Sim’s point is shocking, to be sure, but there’s no reason to think that his worst fears aren’t a manifestation of Brigid’s — that the Injection is just fucking with them. Frustratingly, the Injection is just as coy when speaking for itself. Maybe it’s bending the laws of physics to make folklore come true, or maybe it’s just making Maria aware of folklore that was already true.
That last question certainly seems like it could be answered by Rob, who, in spite of his claims with Brigid, may actually be a wizard. In a kind of epilogue to this issue, Rob visits Wayland’s Smithy — the apparent true destination of his journey along The Ridgeway — to ask advice of Wayland the Smith. That he’s capable of speaking to the dead (or, if you prefer, mythological characters) suggests that the world of Injection may be a heck of a lot more magical than Rob ever let on. I mean, if ghosts of quasi-historical figures are real, then perhaps spriggans were real all along.
Or, maybe Rob wanted the Injection to make magic happen. Rob’s language in issue 1 made me suspicious of his allegiance to the United Kingdom as an entity, and Wayland’s advice here is decidedly anti-ruling class:
Is it possible this was a lesson Rob already knew? Could he have bent the design of the Injection to fulfill his purpose above those of the CCCU?
Whatever the case may be, it’s almost certain that Rob won’t be working for the Home Office any time soon. But, this may just be his call back into action. Whether he was serving his own ends before, it’s clear enough that he’ll be serving them going forward. I’m not sure exactly what that means, but the hint of a proactive Rob we got in that flashback was more than enough to get me excited. He may not be the main character (I’m inclined to agree with your assessment that the title of this series belies its true focus), but he might just be the lynchpin on which this whole series hinges.
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Of course this comic is awesome with an eerie and evocative story, beautiful art from its minutia to its splash pages, colored by one of the modern masters, and I suppose I should say something about the letterer but I have no idea how to compliment that. But I want to talk about something different.
“In a Citrine Pall”, written by Ryan. Would be an awesome name for a racehorse. Or a band. Or a song or a poem or a novel or a boutique or really about anything.
(It might be even better with ‘draped’ in it, as written, but racehorses have a maximum of 17 characters, including spaces, in their names, so I cut that part out. But that only might make it better. Nah, it does. If I walked by a dark store on Hawthorne called, “Drape the Background in a Citrine Pall” I’d be compelled to go in, terrified and exhilarated by what I might find.)
You are making me glad I didn’t go with “flavescent” instead! These are the things with which I struggle. #firstworldcomicreviewproblems
Even as more questions arise, I feel like this issue finally brought everything that this series is about and is trying to do into focus for me, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. The fact that the series takes this long to really define itself makes me want to say that perhaps it would be better enjoyed in trade, but actually, there’s been something really interesting about watching it gradually define itself month by month.