Tradewaiting: Warren Ellis’ Injection

Tradewaiting: Warren Ellis’ Injection

This time around, Tradewaiting is reviewing Image Comics’ Injection Volume One, from writer Warren Ellis and artist Declan Shelvey. Ellis is a kind of comic book injections_1_cover_ellis_shalvey-minmad genius, peppering his imaginary landscapes with shotgun blasts of decayed magic, hidden science and dirty politics. Although he has done mainstream work – most recently a revival of Moon Knight for Marvel – he’s at his best when he’s able to play with his own toys. And with Injection, he’s definitely at his best…

Ellis’ plots always defy the elevator pitch, and Injection is no exception. A fractious partnership between a multinational corporation and the British government leads to the creation of a team of disturbed geniuses working at the border between science, technology and magic. Of course, this is not the noble magic of Tolkien, or the pretty magic of Harry Potter. Instead, Ellis revels in the gritty, grimy magic of the street, and the amoral ancient magick of farm and field and ancient path. The team breaks up after unwittingly (or perhaps wittingly?) unleashing a sentient artificial intelligence into the digital realm, ushering in the technological Singularity a few decades ahead of schedule. In typical Ellis fashion, though, this is mere sideshow to a series of catastrophic events that lead the government to try to get the band back together, plucking  the members from various crime syndicates, spy agencies and insane asylums to do so. To be fair, a lot of Injection Volume One is set up rather than story, but an intriguing framework has been developed for future stories.

To my mind, the most intriguing character is Robin Morel, perhaps the last “cunning man” in Britain. With this one phrase – “cunning man” – Ellis creates an entireInjection-1-Panel-min back story for the character. The Cunning Folk are a genuine anthropological feature of British folk magic… for centuries, the Cunning Folk served as practitioners of healing arts and white magic at the village level, using ceremonial folk magic to maintain community cohesion, resolve disputes, and care for the ill. And while witches and warlocks and other purported users of magic could be persecuted or killed, the Cunning Folk found a cultural accommodation with the dominant society that gave them acceptability in the eyes of both Church and community. In fact, the Cunning Folk were regarded as such an important part of village life, that they remained a feature of rural Britain until the 1940s. In many communities, the Cunning Folk claimed a kind of hereditary power, a sort of magical genetic legacy that neatly captures Ellis’ fascination with the interface between magic and modern scientific knowledge.

In the character of Robin Morel, Ellis brings the book’s many themes together, with Morel becoming a final (and reluctant) cunning man, both cursed by and fascinated with his own power. Morel’s abilities – hinted at, but never defined – tie him to uniquely British magics linked to standing stones and ancient trackways. Medieval chroniclers talked of the “Matter of Britain” – the collection of poems and legends and lore that tumblr_nn63zz8FCU1u5shugo1_1280-mincomprised the soul of British culture. In Morel, Ellis has found a way to weaponize the Matter of Britain.

There’s not much else out there that has the same feel as Injection, but I was reminded of the classic 300-issue Hellblazer run at vertigo Comics. In that series, John Constantine was a miserable bastard who used a kind of lazy magic to repeatedly face down evil, but often at a painful personal cost. Injection is not Hellblazer, but there’s a common feel to parts of it. The characters share an achingly painful past, and while they are (mostly) good people, the horrors of that past prevent them from being as good as they could be. They are broken, and cautious, and wholly human as a result. Injection, like Hellblazer, also does not wear its magic on its sleeve. There are no flashing colours of spellcasting, or ancient invocations in laughable made-up languages; Dr. Strange would be wildly out of place in this world. Instead, magic is a kind of creeping, invisible, subterranean force, both powerful and terrible, and to be accessed only sparingly. It’s an approach that is matched beautifully my Declan Shelvey’s clean, affecting art.

Ultimately, it’s hard to know where Injection is going as a story… but for the most part, I don’t really care.  The characters are so well-drawn, and the ideas so intriguing, that I want to go along for the ride wherever it ends up. I have this sneaking suspicion that Injection will do a slow burn… at first glance, it’s intriguing and welcoming and entertaining. By the time it really gets going, it may be a new classic.

Final Rating: I’ll give Injection Volume 1 an 8 of 10, and invite you along for the ride, too.

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