Holiday Gift Bag: We3

Well, it’s the day after Thanksgiving, and we all know what that means. Time to head out to the mall in the middle of the night, fight our way through jam-packed parking, and commit major felonies just so you can get our hands on — what’s the hot toy this year? Furbies? You’re kidding, right? Furbies? I’m supposed to beat up housewives so I can buy a freakin’ Furby?! That does it, I quit Planet Christmas.

But wait, we have an alternative to irritating Black Friday shopping! Comics! Yes, go visit your friendly local comic book store, where the parking lots are less crowded, the customers are more sophisticated, and the employees are dedicated to helping you find the perfect gift. We’ll spend a few weeks looking through our Holiday Gift Bag to find some great presents for any comic-lover on your list.

So let’s get things started this year with a book I’m honestly amazed I’ve never reviewed before now: We3 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely.

This was released as a three-issue Vertigo miniseries in 2004, then put out in a trade paperback in 2005. It focuses on three animals that have been turned into cybernetically-enhanced war machines by the government. They are:

  • a dog, called “1” who functions as the leader and mini-tank;
  • a cat, called “2” equipped with flechette weapons and a very poor attitude; and
  • a rabbit, called “3” who specializes in dropping bombs and poison gas.

All three animals have brain modifications that allow them to speak — but not very well. Most of what they say looks like very simple leet-speak, with the rabbit only able to manage very simple words, never sentences. They’re just animals — they’re not as smart as people, they don’t think like humans, so their speech is strange and bestial, while still retaining emotional resonance.

After a very successful testing program, the government decides that the We3 project is to be decommissioned and the animals killed. Their trainer releases the locks on the animals and lets them free, but they’re pursued by the military and other animal-machine hybrids, including a bunch of cyber-rats and a terrifying mastiff killing machine. And for the most part, the We3 animals tear through everything that comes after them. They massacre the soldiers who chase them, they blow up a train, they kill civilians who have the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But they can’t run forever. They run out of ammunition. Their health deteriorates when they don’t get the drug treatments they need to stay healthy. The military gets smarter, and their opponents get deadlier. The odds are stacked against them, and they may never manage to find the fabled land they long for — “Home.”

I think this is an amazing story. I love how much Grant Morrison obviously worked to get into the heads of the animals — 1 prizes loyalty above almost everything else. He loves helping people, and obsesses over being a good dog. 2 is perpetually bad-tempered and sarcastic, challenging 1’s leadership and intelligence, and gleefully using his advanced weapons to shoot down helicopters — or just songbirds. And 3 is simple and direct — he wants to be fed, he wants his equipment fixed, and he wants someone to take care of him. He’s slow to anger, but is more than capable of dishing out the violence when his team is threatened.

Morrison’s emphasis is on the animals, but he also writes empathetically about the humans as well. Dr. Roseanne is We3’s trainer and advocate, loyal and loving to her animal charges, willing to sacrifice her career and more to make sure they’re happy and safe. The lead scientist spends most of the story trying to capture or kill We3, but when he eventually sees the error of his ways, it’s a great moment — heartbreak, sorrow, love, compassion, all in one or two beautiful panels. And the bum the animals encounter is a great character, too — ultimately, I think he’s Morrison’s viewpoint character, in that he believes the best thing you can do for an animal is to love it.

And Frank Quitely’s art is absolutely amazing. When the animals escape, we watch it happen through dozens of different security cameras. When We3 attacks the military or blows up a drug cartel, we see it through a prism of tiny windows, each showing a brief second of action, all the details we’d never be able to make out in a full page — an eye getting pierced, a finger being severed, a bullet exiting a skull. The effect is very much like watching a movie that you can rewind, that lets you zoom in on small details.

It’s a very violent book. It doesn’t glory in violence — it’s depicted graphically, but not with glee or romance. We3 are war machines, and what they do is commit violence, not for fun (well, the cat probably thinks it’s fun), but because violence is part of their functions and programming. It’s the violence of the battlefield — not a good thing, but not something that can be glossed over and prettied up.

Amazon’s actually out of stock of this right now, but it looks like they may be expecting more. It might help if you contact your local comic shop or bookstore and ask when they expect to have them in stock. The hardcover is going to run you about $16; a Kindle edition is $10.

We3 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. Go pick it up.

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