“Take control of your world.”
Injection is a fascinating experience, to say the least. Hailing from the talents of Jordie Bellaire, Declan Shalvey, Fonographiks and Warren Ellis, it was always bound to be special. But what is truly remarkable about it is how it surpasses all expectations to become wildly unexpected, while being so familiar. It stars five popular British character archetypes we all know and understand, but manages to put a fresh spin on all of them. We have The Spy (Simeon Walters), The Scientist (Maria Kilbride), The Sleuth (Vivek Headland), The Shaman (Robin Morel) and The Smith (Brigid Roth).
Drawing from classic archetypes of the past to explore new possibilities is intriguing. But furthermore, within the context of the story being told, this choice grows to become far, far more interesting. Injection is an ambitious science fiction story about the past and the future and how we attempt to use one to get to the other. But more importantly, it’s an examination of what happens when such attempts go awry.
Years prior to the story, our five leads are assembled. Forming the Cultural Cross-Contamination Unit, they are a think tank for future progress. The unit soon reaches the conclusion that, in the near future, humanity’s development will come to a standstill. Unwilling to simply accept this conclusion, the team resolves to find a game-changing alternative. They realize that the only real solution is to create an A.I, but one that is non-biological; one that doesn’t operate like us and thus can help bring about new potential futures, ones we, ourselves, never could. Robin, the modern shaman, suggests that if they want to create a non-biological consciousness, they could just implant one. Robin provides Brigid, a brilliant technologist, with a summoning ritual that can be turned into code to bring about the consciousness. And thus The Injection is born.
The Injection is very much a product of its masters; its parents. It possesses the strategic thinking of Simeon, the reasoning skill of Vivek, the scientific prowess of Maria, the magical essence provided by Robin and the technological and building talent of Brigid. It is an Artificial Intelligence unlike any other and the CCCU injects it into the internet in order to let it do what it was created to do, change the future. And it all goes horribly wrong, as one might expect, setting the stage for the book.
Injection opens in media res. The five protagonists now lead their own separate lives, whilst dealing with the mad, crazy world they’ve helped create. It’s a world much like our own, except The Injection is out, so everyday things only get stranger and more unpredictable. The Injection, as an embodiment of the past haunting the future, is very much at the heart of the book. The feeling of constant uncertainty, the guilt that our past is responsible for it: This burdened struggle is the central conflict. The opening page of the book perfectly encapsulates this while setting a great tone to invite the reader in. We see Maria at Sawlung Hospital, coping with her past ordeals. Sawlung means ‘giving up the ghost’ and it, once again, ties back to the core theme. What is a ghost if not the most literal embodiment of the past? The first words we see on the page are ‘There’s not much left of Maria’ in big, bold yellow lettering. They speak to the past, what once was and perhaps isn’t anymore. The words that follow are ‘The wind from tomorrow is scouring her away’. These speak to the future and thus set up the core theme at the heart of the book–the dynamic between the past and the future. It’s minimalistic, but through a few simple images and words, the creative team manages to convey a lot. Fonographiks’ striking lettering choice is very important here, though more on that later.
The story is essentially split into three 5-issue story-arcs, each in the vein of a different British classic which inspired the series. The first centers around Maria Kilbride and channels Brendan Quatermass. The second is built around Vivek Headland and takes from Sherlock Holmes. The third arc revolves around Brigid Roth and draws from Doctor Who. The currently unpublished fourth and fifth arcs are set around Simeon Walters and Robin Morel respectively, with the former being modeled after James Bond and the latter after Thomas Carnacki. Bellaire, Shalvey, Fonographiks and Ellis clearly have a plan here and it shows.
The first arc sees Maria come out of the hospital to try and deal with an out of control scenario involving a rock, an archaeologist and creatures from old folklore. We’re slowly introduced to all the major players as the mystery of the archaeological incident unravels. Meanwhile, the story is interspersed with flashbacks that provide context and show us what occurred to get us to this moment, once again playing into the theme of the past and the future. By the end of it, we get a gigantic reveal in regards to the narrator of the book. It was The Injection all along, from the very start. Fonographiks really comes through here and the reveal suddenly re-contextualizes the entire story in a way that is nothing short of mind-blowing.
The second arc deals with Vivek trying to solve a mystery involving the ghost of a man’s lover, which unravels into something a whole lot more. Much like the first arc focused on Maria, the second delves deeper into Vivek and his life. We get to see how his past informs his future trajectory and it fits beautifully into the macro story while standing well on its own, enhancing its characters.
The third and concluding arc of the collection, about Brigid, delves into a murder at an ancient stone circle, crazy rituals and a dimension of creatures from old folklore. We get to see her perspective, history and we even see her get her own companion by the end, in the vein of Who. What’s worth discussing is how the central antagonist or subjects, beyond the leads, are all brilliant people obsessed with the past and are, in some fashion, haunted by it. In the first arc, it’s an archaeologist. In the second, it’s the man obsessed with his ghost. In the third, it’s the professor who hopes to see the world return to an older time. All of these people are, not unlike our leads, brilliant people. But the past haunts them and drags them down in ways it doesn’t necessarily with our leads. They haven’t give up on the future like these people, not just yet. And so these mirrors serve to highlight and help us examine our core cast, imbuing them with greater richness.
Each arc’s conclusion also sees a progressive growth in the story of Robin Morel, who in many ways best embodies the core struggle of the series, being a legacy shaman unwilling to accept his past. Over the course of the story, he grows to finally accept his place and past and as the book says, attempts to ‘take control of his world.’ He’s a fascinating realization of the past haunting the future, a true contrast to The Injection, which is the engine propelling the story and the characters forward.
Ultimately, Injection is set across an incredibly well realized world populated by resonant characters who speak to our greatest fears and aspirations, as the world moves forward into scary new places. Much like us, their futures are haunted by their past and we get to see them wrestle with this bitter truth and aspire higher. The series manages to not only stay true to its thematics consistently, but builds on them effectively with every issue. All in all, Bellaire, Shalvey, Fonographiks and Ellis have created an astounding work of science-fiction that is deeply relevant to today and has a lot to tell us.
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