Monday, 2 December 2013

Reflections on "We3" by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely

I recently enjoyed reading "We3", a graphic novel by Grant Morrison (writer) and Frank Quitely* (artist). The story premise is that a shadowy branch or agency of the US military and government are using pets as part of covert experiments in clandestine warfare operations, turning them into cyborg killing machines. "We3" are a dog, cat and rabbit (formerly known as Bandit, Tinker and Pirate, kidnapped pets from off the street) who have been 'enhanced' with metallic  exo-skeletal plate armour, powerful weaponry and brain surgery to boost their intelligence. They can now talk, and communicate in a peculiar form of text-speak. The dog is the most self-aware and articulate. They have been transformed into cyborg assassins, trained and programmed to eliminate potential targets.

The reader is also introduced to rats who were clearly the first phase of the experiment- one rat has a drill for a head- and the reader is also shown the next horrific upgrade in the "animal as killing machine project", another cyborg which is eventually sent out in pursuit of We3 once it is decided they are obsolete.

We3's existence within this project begins to fragment when the General in charge of the operation decides that they are to be 'decommissioned', despite their success in carrying out military assassinations on behalf of the US government. However, it dawns on "We3" themselves that 'decommissioning' means their termination. Their guilt-ridden handler and trainer allows them to escape as they embark on a futile quest to find 'home', whatever or wherever that can possibly be for them now. Disastrously, this means that they are pursued by military forces desperate to eliminate them and silence any leaks of their covert operations. This is a pursuit that leads to predictable chaos, carnage and spectacular violence. In their desperation, the military agency send out the latest cyborg-animal 'upgrade' to pursue them, which leads to a devastating climax to the pursuit (you will have to read it yourself to find out what happens, but it doesn't end well).

I did wonder why the military agency and their scientists stole people's pets for their covert operations, rather than taking strays or animals from pet shops/cat & dog homes, but perhaps that detail added to the poignancy of the story.

"We3" asks questions about the nature of warfare; what we willingly allow governments to do in our name; manipulation of our environment and resources; authority and control; the cynical, selfish, exploitative and destructive nature of humanity; and the relationship between human beings and animals. Essentially it is RoboCop with animals, but it also bears some similarities to the work of Richard Adams- most notably the novel The Plague Dogs.

*I've reproduced some plates of Frank Quitely's artwork here in this post.

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