Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Bonus Review! "WE3" by Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly

Get ready to cry: this is a comic book about a doggy, a kitty and a bunny trying to find their way home.

Writer Grant Morrison and artist Frank Quitely are one of the most popular comics teams working today. Individually, they are masters of their respective forms, but together they're a powerhouse. In the same way that people will line up to see "the new Brad Pitt," comics fans line up to get "the new Morrison and Quitely." Their names alone move the product.

That's just a bit of background for the comics layperson. Actual comics readers may feel like a film buff who just had me explain who Alfred Hitchcock was, but we try to be inclusive on Big Island Rachel's media empire.

Anyway, "WE3" is an original miniseries by Morrison and Quitely about three house pets stolen from their homes who have been fitted with weaponized exoskeletons and given the ability to talk. The military created them to test the possibilities of using animals in war zones instead of humans, and the experiment was successful--so now they're going to kill the animals and move on to the next phase of the experiment with new, more dangerous animals. Our three heroes break out of the laboratory and hit the road, battling their way across town and country to make it home again.

If you aren't already crying, you're dead inside.

Story-wise, the plot is pretty simple and the characters fall in to some basic archetypes. The dog, called 1, is the stalwart leader, the cat, 2, is the ruthless, cynical wildcard; and the rabbit, 3, is plain-spoken and sweet.

I think I just described the make-up of the Powerpuff Girls: head, hands, and heart; brain, brawn, and spirit; Leia, Han, Luke. As I said, this story's been done many times over, but in a case like this, where it's done so well, you can see why the archetype has endured for so long. There's great drama and pathos in the ragtag team of rebels battling the empire while trying to address their internal conflicts; or, if you want to draw from the Eastern tradition, in the master-less ronin wandering the countryside in search of closure and justice.

The fact that "WE3" tells this story with cuddly-wuddly animals instead of humans heightens the emotional impact. Animals are, to draw again from the Eastern tradition, like cherry blossoms: beautiful, but short-lived and transient. (If you're ever watching a Kurasawa film and see cherry blossoms, impress your friends by saying that the blossoms represent mortality and a character is probably about to die.) Animals trip our emotional triggers because their lives are so short and intense compared to our own. Most of us experience the death of a beloved pet long before we ever experience the death of a human close to us, and the knowledge that animals we grow to love aren't long for this world makes them intensely sympathetic characters.

Animals are also very moving because they articulate some of our most basic needs and fears. WE3 have a limited understanding of the human world and are completely outmatched by it, weaponized exoskeletons notwithstanding, and our hearts are moved by their plight because we, too, frequently feel outmatched and confused by the world and just want to get home. It's a primal fear and a primal need, one that taps into the survival instincts we were all born with, so the characters' drive and motivation are instantly understood and embraced.

And then we all cry and cry and cry. Hopefully not on the subway, like I did. This is not a good book to read in public.

God. Damnit.

Final Grade: B+. Required reading for comics fans. Recommended for people who like animal stories, war stories, science fiction, and sadness.

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