*Spoilers for the issue follow*
Image Comics has been pumping out hit after hit in the past year or so. Gathering top creators to make comics that they themselves have complete and total creative control over, Image has become one of the key places to find compelling stories that don’t feel recycled or have been overused countless times before.
From such period piece hits by Ed Brubaker like The Fade Out and Velvet to Scott Snyder’s terrifying horror comic Wytches, alongside Jason Aaron’s compelling crime masterpiece Southern Bastards and Kieron Gillen’s gods-meets-pop tour-de-force that is The Wicked & The Divine, Image has slowly but surely brought together a stellar group of writers and artists under their publishing brand. The most recent addition to the Image crew is the same creative team the redefined Moon Knight for Marvel (which received a stellar review here a few months back), Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey.
Their new book, Injection, sees the creative team take a complete one-eighty turn from their previous work together at Marvel. But that isn’t a bad thing at all. The plot of the book is still vague and uncertain after this first issue, but a few things immediately jump out that gives this book a unique feel and a strong start.
The book’s main focus is on Professor Maria Kilbride, a strange figure who is locked away in a run-down mental hospital, but who appears to be the only patient there. She is brought out of the hospital to investigate a new “actionable” for her old (or perhaps current) employers, a company by the name of FPI. Along the way, the reader is shown a brief flashback to her past and also meet some of Kilbride’s old associates, including fellow scientists Robin Morel and Brigid Roth. It’s clear something bad has happened to England (and conceivably, the entire planet), but no mention of these events takes place in this first issue.
This is arguably the biggest point to make when talking about this new book from these creators; it is structurally completely different from their earlier work on Moon Knight. One of the positive things about that series was that each issue served as its own individual tale, being able to be picked up and enjoyed without needing to know what came before it. This series already feels much more dense than Moon Knight ever did. A heavy sense of world-building is occurring in these pages, laying the groundwork for what is later to come in this series. This can be seen as both an advantage and a hindrance to people who just want a fun tale like what Moon Knight was.
While Moon Knight was very loose and segmented in its structure, Injection already feels like it will be a dense and mythic story. The world that is being built up in these pages is dark and foreboding. Despite the creative team keeping their cards close to their chest when it comes to what is actually happening, the reader can already tell that something isn’t right in the pages of Injection. A heavy cloud of mystery hangs over the events of the issue, making the little clues and hints Ellis and Shalvey drop appear all the more menacing.
It’s the little things that set off this feeling of dread. From having masked nurses guarding Kilbride in the hospital to the mysterious tattoo that every one of Kilbride’s associates has on their forearm (and which appears in a gruesome image at the end of the issue), both Ellis and Shalvey are able to intimate to the reader that something bad has happened to everyone the book focuses on. Even little, throwaway lines like “I don’t know that I’m healed up from the last one” and “Dr. Morel, we administer The Breaker’s Yard now” make these unspoken mysteries seem much more mysterious and formidable. By the time the reader sees a woman with a disfigured face standing on the street, they know something is terrifyingly wrong in this world.
The fact that Ellis doesn’t come out and say any of what happens may put some readers off. That is arguably the biggest complaint I have about the construction of this book. That’s not to say the creative team needs to lay out every single plot point they’ll be covering out on the table, but so little information is given it can be just as frustrating as it is compelling. Like other Image books that rely heavily on mystery and world-building to tell their tales, such as East of West and Intersect, Injection relies on the notion that fans will want to follow these big name creators on a long and winding journey through the world they’ve created. For some, that may just mean picking up the collections and reading large chunks of the story at a time, as opposed to getting little, tantalizingly frustrating bits each month.
But that’s just a small point that takes away from the overall fascinating debut of this new series. Just like on Moon Knight, Ellis and Shalvey work strongly together to create a book that both reads well and looks gorgeous. Ellis brings his dark sensibilities to this book in spades, weaving the narrative through the present and past to give readers a compelling tale to follow (if they stick with it, that is).
Perhaps the most fun part of this book is seeing the focus put on a character that many perceive as “crazy.” Seeing Kilbride talking with Control, the head of the mysterious Cursus Office of FPI, it’s clear something inside her has snapped. Switching focus between being lucidly in control of her thoughts with Control and saying how she desperately wants a sandwich and can taste copper in the air, Kilbride is a fun character to read. She also can be quite menacing when she wants to be, threatening a staff member of FPI with a beating from her cane should he keep talking down to her. All of this makes her a unique figure, and it will be interesting to see where Ellis takes her, as well as finding out what happened to her in the past.
Alongside Ellis is Declan Shalvey, whose stark and minimalist art that made Moon Knight such a hit is still on display here. His line work is crisp and stark against the strong colors that make up these pages. He doesn’t overdo his work with excess details and lines, leaving a lot to be handled by the colorists. Yet all of the pages on display feel slick and unique to the eye. From the way the water flows under a bridge to how he is able to differentiate between the past and present versions of characters with only slight changes to their body composition, everything feels strange and familiar at the same time.
Perhaps the most evocative scene Shalvey is made to present is when Kilbride is sent in to a mysterious cave to find several missing members of an FPI investigative team. From the opening shot of stark white light against the dark of the cave to the eerie green fungi growing inside, Shalvey’s art portrays a strange world that looks really cool. Fans of his previous work will love what he’s able to do here to bring the story to life.
It’s impossible to say where Injection is heading. It might be that Ellis and Shalvey will eventually get to smaller, done-in-one-issue tales once the main narrative has been established (like they had going on Moon Knight). It could also continue the trend set down in this issue and keep building on what previous issues establish, making it a series that’s impossible to read without going back and starting at the beginning. Regardless, it’s safe to say that this latest release from Image Comics will soon be considered a fan-favorite alongside their other current hits.