Despite a downtempo start, Injection, the latest collaboration from Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire, promises to unfold into another genre-hopping epic.
Instead, the work he’s doing at the moment (perhaps in response to the emergence of young pretenders like Ales Kot) provides pleasing echoes of his earlier career-defining projects, while still being driven forward by his tireless imagination and curiosity.
Image’s solicitation blurb for Injection certainly suggests that the author’s ambition hasn’t been curbed in any way, describing the project as “a serialised sequence of graphic novels about how loud and strange the world is getting, about the wild future and the haunted past all crashing into the present day at once”.
The promised scope of the series – “science fiction, tales of horror, strange crime fiction, techno-thriller, and ghost story all at the same time” – recalls the generic range of Global Frequency and Planetary, as does its focus on a core group of diverse specialists.
However, despite the scale of its premise, the first issue of Injection doesn’t immediately grab the reader by the throat. It’s a curiously downtempo affair, largely built around conversational calls to action and exposition (delivered with Ellis’s familiar spiky brio), a brief flashback and an ominous, highlighted narration that reads a bit like Sisters of Mercy lyrics circa First and Last and Always.
The book takes us into the world of the now defunct and provocatively titled Cultural Cross-Contamination Unit – a shadowy body lurking somewhere between government and Big Science. In particular, this first issue focuses on Professor Maria Kilbride – a troubled scientist who is liberated from a secure hospital to investigate an anomalous occurrence.
Lots of intriguing allusions are dangled before us, including mysterious institutions such as The Cursus, the ‘awkward squad’, the Ministry of Time and Measurement, The Breaker’s Yard, Cunning Men and, of course, ‘The Injection’ itself. However, in the early pages, at least, this has the slight feel of an “issue #0”. At this stage, Ellis et al still seem to be selling the sizzle rather than the sausage.
The low-key start doesn’t really seem to project the promised high concept, either. We’re told in the blurb that the “five crazy people” of the CCCU “poisoned the 21st century”, creating a world that’s “becoming too weird to support human life”. However, from Dublin’s fair city to the ancient rural path of The Ridgeway, the world depicted here doesn’t look a lot more toxic than what’s probably lurking outside your window.
However, there’s no doubt about the skill of Ellis’s collaborators. Injection reunites the writer with his teamies from last year’s acclaimed but short-lived run on Marvel’s Moon Knight: artist Declan Shalvey and colourist Jordie Bellaire. It also brings on board the design and lettering studio Fonografiks, which has given books like Saga and They’re Not Like Us such a strong look.
Shalvey has the versatility to move effortlessly from familiar landscapes to high-tech gubbins and transdimensional strangeness. He also has a great facility for character work; the burden of experience clearly weighs heavily on Professor Kilbride (and after Klementina Ristovych in The Fuse, it’s great to see another mature female protagonist). Meanwhile, Bellaire’s characteristically stylish colour choices give the polished artwork another coat of gloss.
In its first issue, at least, Injection might lack the global geopolitical gearing of Trees or the immersive glamour of Supreme Blue Rose, but there’s still more than enough here to suggest that once its creators have unpacked its dense core, it could be another mature and intriguing epic from a creative team that hums on the same (global) frequency.
Warren Ellis (W), Declan Shalvey (A), Jordie Bellaire (C), Fonigrafiks (lettering and design) • Image Comics, $2.99, May 12, 2015.