“Good dog. Clever little dog.”

We3 #3 (of 3)


I have no idea how or when the script to “We3” was written, but upon rereading the entire series (its three issues just now all released after beginning back in August of 2004), I can’t help but feel that this recently concluded Grant Morrison/Frank Quitely epic stands as something of a corrective force to Morrison’s earlier “Seaguy”. Simply put, “We3” acts as a smashing success on the most purely superficial levels as well as being an engaging story with some interesting notions about man and beast. The action is always up front here, you constantly know exactly what’s going on, the gore is red and beaded and flies everywhere, and Quitely is a master at staging brisk fights. Whereas “Seaguy” gave a considerable portion of its audience the superhero comics equivalent of an ice cream headache, “We3” can be successfully evaluated as nothing more than an outstanding action book, something that can be easily savored for its candy shell alone. This would be ignoring the depth the book possesses, and would perhaps gloss over Morrison’s superb characterizations; I would not recommend such an approach, but I could understand its appeal.

Really, the action this issue isn’t quite as fantastic as that in the last two, where Quitely seemed to be angling to top himself in visual aplomb over and over. There’s a great moment of Bandit (driven doggie) and Tinker (aloof kitty) charging into the appalling We4, their lethal and emotionless mirror image, and smashing him right through the back of the page’s bottom panel, along with a brick wall. There’s a sense of play to this work. I’d not noticed until this issue that the proximity mine weapons of Pirate (hyper and somewhat under-characterized bunny) were based off of nothing other than rabbit shit. Clusters of rabbit shit, each carrying an explosive payload, ruining a lot more than your shoes. That fits in well with the presentation of Our Heroes, highly intelligent talking animals, albeit with much of the ‘intelligence’ tied to the deployment of their fighting instinct. They don’t understand humankind very much, but we’re given little evidence that humankind itself is much better off.

The humans in this story always seem to have another swell idea up their sleeve, but there are misunderstandings at every turn. The purpose of the We3 project (along with the other animal weapons programs, We2 and We4) is decrease the interactions of human beings in war. Dr. Trendle (one of the more interesting characters by the end of the book) even mentions in issue #2 that the whole point of the project was to minimize the human cost of war. Quite a humanitarian there, eh? As Ian mentions in his own fine review of the series, it’s only a Frankenstein they’ve created, and now it’s time for the created to dish out some destruction, the great irony of Dr. Trendle’s intent. Dr. Berry makes several mistakes. From what I can gather regarding the book’s ’timeline’, the We3 animals were abducted housepets crudely hooked to strength-enhancing drugs and armor, who happened to last a lot longer in service than anyone anticipated. These animals recall their prior lives (well, at least Bandit does), and Dr. Berry keeps them going. Contrast this to the We4 project, apparently a (newer) group of identical mastiffs who’ve been bred only to kill. Dr. Berry seems to care for the We3 force, and even gives them the whimsical power of speech; I enjoyed the contrast to the voice of We4, a pure black word balloon with nothing inside, handily visualizing the gulf of empathy between the two divisions, with We3 showing their emotions through human speech, placing them closer to humankind in the reader’s minds.

And yet, Dr. Berry also expects them to kill her at the end of issue #1 (her second mistake); even she cannot understand what the animals truly want: not vengeance, but freedom and/or home. They (or, again, at least Bandit) care for her too, despite what she’s done. I paused when Dr. Berry gives her life for Bandit in this issue; isn’t this just another female character dying to provide a male protagonist (not a human male, mind you) with a reason to get angry and plunge into action? No, it’s deeper; she’s a kind human (in Bandit’s eyes), a force of love, and this becomes very important later on. Even the final battle is packed with a lack of human foresight; Our Heroes don’t kill We4, they lead it into a position where its human masters are forced to kill it for them, because they can’t stand the human (Dr. Trendle) or political (that military fellow) cost any more. Differing motivations, another barrier between the humans and their intentions. Keep your eyes on Dr. Trendle’s face throughout this final issue; it’s a subtle effect, but he gradually realizes What Must Be Done, as he realizes how far his actions have fallen away from his intentions.

All subtlety aside, Morrison also isn’t afraid to get a little cheesy. Or is it corny? I’m always getting my foodstuff metaphors mixed up. Whatever you call it, there’s a fine speech made by Dr. Trendle during the final inter-animal clash, worthy of a giant robot anime (“Look at him go. Even with damage. Bioengineered to emit ten times the normal levels of ‘Top Dog’ pheromone. Remote-controlled via neuro-optic link, steered into battle by trained operators. Targeting lasers to track motion and body heat. Bigger. Better. Stronger. Faster.”). A long-haired fellow slams the police as “Fascist pig assholes,” totally without irony. And what’s the end here? What’s home?

Love, of course.

I believe it was Morrison himself who alluded to this book as “Disney with fangs,” and the immediate moral of it all is certainly reminiscent of a Disney animal journey. Home is where the heart is, and all that. The thing is, the ending is well-earned here. It doesn’t feel like a cheat. There’s real power in seeing Bandit (who starts calling himself ‘Bandit’ for the first time, having learned his own name) stripping off his armor as he stumbles through a construction zone (his old home? did he find it?) declaring that he and Tinker nee to break free of their ‘coats’ and live on their own. And naturally (emotional button pushing ahoy!) it’s Tinker, the uncaring one, who finally declares that they’re ‘home’ when they’re together as themselves. I hadn’t even noticed the connection with the human guy who picks them up until Abhay pointed it out; he’s homeless, get it?

The denouement perhaps requires a bit of reader rationalization; I guess their voice hookups were crude enough that some guy with a toolbox could disconnect them without damaging their brains unto death (unless… and this is really stretching… when the bum is walking toward the police we suddenly see the same tilted panels we saw in issue #2 when Tinker used her super reflexes to leap around her foes; does this mean that the bum has advanced intelligence or perception or something and that he’s just as unassumingly special as the animals are at the end of the book? no, probably not). And there’s also the matter of the animals’ withdrawal symptoms from their drugs, which was supposed to kill them in a few days. The ending to the book has to have taken place at least a week or so after the rest of it, so either their 'sickness' was connected to their armor (maybe that 'Top Dog' stuff would overwhelm their bodies without medication and its no longer an issue without their abilities) or they’re just dying at a slower rate than expected (Bandit doesn’t look terribly well on the final page, I have to say, but that might be due to his going without much food).

But these qualms are small, while the book’s impact is fairly large. I’m glad the most immediate ’message’ is a simple one, because it fits in with the book’s success on the most simple action level as well. “We3” is an ideal ’pick up and read’ book, excelling in whichever way you want to approach it, offering substance as deep as you want to look, with a minimum of convolution, with emotions balanced with gore to a careful degree. I'm not sure you can call it a model for what fast actions comics in the 21st century should be, since this sort of thing can so easily go awry. But if "We3" must stand as a marvelous aberration, then let it be as it is.