Sometimes the best experiences you can have with a pastime are when you stumble upon something magnificent that was always there, waiting for you to find it. This is greatly the case with the three issue comic mini-series, WE3 written by Grant Morrison and visually brought to life by Frank Quitely. It was originally published in 2004 by Vertigo with the the trade paperback being released in 2005. That being said, you be hard-pressed to notice any luster lost in its over decade long existence.
The story is centered around a group of three animals which have been cybernetically enhanced for a research program in which they carry out secret military operations. Each animal is renamed with a number and encapsulated in a robotic suit. Starting at "1" and ascending, you have the dog, "Bandit," the cat, "Tinker," and the rabbit, "Pirate." Every animal has a weapon set specific to them and complimentary of the others, filling the roles of main assault, stealth attack and tactical support. Besides these enhancements making them deadly effective in their missions (which you are privy to in the first collection of pages), they also have the ability to verbalize basic thoughts on par with each animal's own personality and intelligence.
On the surface, this may all sound like some super villain's plan for world dominance (sharks with frikin' laser beams!), but it actually makes sense based on the continuing military technology push of removing human soldiers from the field (drones etc.). Besides the technology aspect, humans have used animals in warfare since ancient times. That being said, depending on what their role in combat is, it can often be viewed as cruel. The animals obviously have no choice and wind up suffering from mental and physical trauma more often then not. War is hell, though, and all options to prevent the loss of human life are constantly considered.
Whether intended or not, I feel that it is hard not to think about these themes as take-away messages or points that the author was trying to make, especially after the real story kicks in. Even though these creatures have been extremely successful in their missions, they are still technically just prototypes without any personal connection to the higher-ups in the military-industrial complex. Prototypes are just that though, the first renditions of something greater along the way, often discarded or taken apart after their purpose has been fulfilled and the proper information has been gathered.
The pages that follow this initial insight into the world of these animals document their struggle to return to their former lives. By utilizing the gifts that their pursuers gave them and the unlikely dog-cat-rabbit bond that has been formed, the squad will stop at nothing to keep their newfound freedom. That is as far as I will go story wise, as this mini-series is one that needs to be experienced with as little prior information as possible.
Outside of the actual plot, something that really made me care for the main characters was their ability to only construct broken sentences and thoughts. This definitely tapped into something deep within my psyche. Whenever they were in a rough situation or something bad happened to them and they verbalized it, my heartstrings were tugged on big time. It was the feeling of watching a child or disabled person in trouble reaching out to you, but there was nothing that you could do to help them. Don't be surprised if some dust gets in your eyes from time to time.
Even with such strong writing in this series, if the art didn't hold up its end of the bargain it truly could have been a missed opportunity. That being said, the art does plenty of heavy lifting on its own. It comes across as realistic without being too stylized in any way. The coloring follows suit as well. It is one of those situations where there really isn't too much to say because its straight forward without being simple or generic – it helps to tell the story and doesn't distract from it.
Another nice touch in this series are the black borders that can be found throughout. A good deal of comics follow the default white outline around each frame, but I feel that the opposite is much more effective. With the subject matter being what it is, there is plenty of death and destruction, all of which is expertly drawn out by Quitely. These black borders keep you focused on the images and seem to help keep a serious tone throughout as well. On top of the borders, another stylistic choice is the absence of onomatopoeia. You will not find a “BOOM” or “SHHKKTT” anywhere in this series. I didn't really notice it at first, but in retrospect it was another tool used to help reflect the seriousness of the situations taking place. It adds even more gravity to the images – things that could happen in real life.
If you couldn't already tell, I highly recommend this three issue tour de force. It will be a read that you won't be able to put down and will stick with you for long after. That being said, it will probably be a long time before I read it again. For lack of a better comparison, its a piece of media like Schindler's List – something that can be hard to get through, but you should and you will be happy that you did in the end.