Best Shots Advance Reviews: INJECTION #1, STARVE #1

Image Comics June 2015 solicitations
Credit: Image Comics
Credit: Image Comics

Injection #1
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire
Letters by Fonografiks
Published by Image Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

In true Ellis-ian fashion, the first issue of Injection doesn’t give away much, but what it does is pretty compelling stuff. Re-teaming with his Moon Knight cohorts Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire, writer Warren Ellis debuts their new Image series with little pomp but with a whole heap of dry wit coupled with an intriguing premise. Injection #1 introduces us to three former teammates who may or may not be responsible for the recent state of strangeness that has descended onto the world - and who also may be quietly enhanced by something of their own design called the Injection. Injection #1 isn’t the most accessible of titles, nor does it hold the reader’s hand and guide them on their merry way; what else would one expect from the Internet’s favorite angry Englishman? Injection #1 is a dreary, dense, but ultimately compelling debut issue from one of the most consistently great creative teams around.

Injection #1 tells the story of Professor Maria Kilbride, a disgraced scientist who has been remanded to a mental institution for the second time in her life. She is approached by a shadowy government representative who tasks her with recovering something called an “actionable” as well as finding the missing people associated with it. This scene, and its accompanying flashback to Maria’s days as the head of something called the Cultural Cross-Contamination Unit, is absolutely packed with exposition that cleverly doesn’t say much at all.

Ellis carefully constructs each interaction in Injection to flow and engage the audience without ever completely tipping his hand. Aided by a few subtle visual cues by Shalvey, we are left with a huge degree of uncertainty about these characters and the situations that we find them in. We don’t fully know if these characters have abilities, but Ellis plants enough evidence in the text that we can infer it. We also aren’t made fully aware of the state of the world now, post-whatever scientific breakthrough Maria’s team made, but strange and uneasy clues are planted throughout, giving Injection #1 a sort of hazy Black Mirror-esque feel. Warren Ellis presents the world of Injection as established and cares not if he fully explains it enough. There is simply the story that him and his team wish to tell and that, in of itself, is pretty bloody interesting.

Handling the artwork for this new debut are the ever-reliable artist Declan Shalvey and colorist Jordie Bellaire. Shalvey and Bellaire’s styles fit into the dreary darkness of Injection like a hand in a glove with Shalvey’s rough hewn lines and Bellaire’s earthy color palette complementing the script perfectly. Much like Moon Knight, Injection #1 is rendered as normally as possible, even when the visuals start to get a bit out there. Also, much like in the pages of Moon Knight, Declan Shalvey’s character design is a standout point of this debut issue. Shalvey’s Maria is bent, beaten, but not fully broken just yet, informing her actions better than a full page of exposition. Shalvey’s take on the rest of the cast is just as engaging, but never feels manipulative or overdone. Each of these characters have presumably been through the ringer so Shalvey depicts them as such, putting them in sharp contrast with how they look in the issue’s single flashback; a welcome change from the shining paragon stars of other titles. Add to the damp, overtly British feeling of Injection #1 are the colors of Jordie Bellaire, who once again proves to be the glue holding everything together with a few choice brush strokes. Bellaire’s mossy greens, fluorescent purple hues, and drab grays give Injection #1 a stylized, yet down to earth feel that slots in perfectly with the tone of the script. Injection #1 is printed proof that the visual dynamism of Moon Knight was not just a flash in the pan and that these artists are capable of so much more than just tights and fights.

A new Warren Ellis series is always something to get excited about, but Injection #1 holds the special distinction of showing what a creative team can accomplish when completely untethered. Ellis, along with Shalvey and Bellaire, absolutely go for it with Injection and while the purposeful withholding of narrative information might turn some readers off, dozen more will be sucked into this new tale of science gone wrong. First issues are designed to serve as the benchmark for the series as a whole, a touchstone for the audience that will determine if this world is one they want to return to next month. Injection #1 may not knock the needle off of anyone’s quality barometer, but it still succeeds in being an enigmatic first installment from a tried and tested creative team.

Credit: Image Comics

Starve #1
Written by Brian Wood
Art by Danijel Žeželj and Dave Stewart
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Image Comics
Review by Oscar Maltby
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The Hunger Games meets Iron Chef in Starve #1, a black-hearted satire of the class and economical divide. Although Starve #1 initially seems like a gimmicky spin on a tired premise, it soon unravels into something much more compelling.

The world is a hellhole. The economy has collapsed and the entire world has descended into a libertarian's wet dream. Every service has been privatized, the rich and poor divide is staggering, and furious citizens are tearing each other apart. Once a celebrity chef, Gavin Cruikshank used to present Starve: an informative travelogue show that enjoyed some popularity. After Gavin flees that world to live a life of dangerous hedonism in Southeast Asia, the network perverts Starve's premise to turn it into something a little more lurid. When the shadowy and omnipotent network arrive on Gavin's doorstep, they carry an unfulfilled TV contract with them. Unluckily for him, it's iron-clad. Unluckily for them, he has plans to take down the whole damn network.

Writer Brian Wood keeps a tight handle on his premise, slowly but surely pulling the curtain back on the hideously distorted capitalism that makes up the foundation of Starve's sick world. This slow drip of information makes for a compelling opening issue, as Wood ensures to fully establish the dog-eat-dog nature of his world before finally showing us what Starve the TV show actually is. Indeed, the world that Wood prophesies here doesn't seem so far-fetched, especially in this world of economic instability and lack of trust in our own governments.

Artist Danijel Žeželj depicts a world of contrast; populating a mood-lit and dream-like world with thickly inked creatures of excess and moral decay. This is about as black and white as a full-color comic can be, which gives Starve #1 a simple but striking tone that fits its simple but striking premise. Zezilj's ink-work is about as thick as is physically possible, turning a world that should be recognizable into something cloyingly filthy.

Overlaying Žeželj's thick inkwork, Gavin's life of drugs, food and fighting is tinted in a swampy green, whereas the glitz and glamour of Starve: the TV show is eternally back-lit with the harsh yellowy-white of stage lighting. The evolving hue of the issue divides the book in three distinct parts: Gavin's self-imposed exile, his capture by the network and life back in the spotlight.

Despite Starve's rock-solid composition, there are a few inelegantly delivered slivers of world-building here: “Who flies into Newark?” asks Gavin as the network flies him back to the United States. “We do, because John. F. Kennedy is under about twelve inches of water. Global warming,” comes the reply. “Ah. I've heard about that,” replies Gavin, rendering the entire panel redundant. The entire script suffers from little moments like this, with characters stiffly “reminding” each other of certain important plot points. Starve is a very specific story set in a world that demands explanation, and a less ambitious writer would have just crammed all the important points in narration boxes. Still, not every creative decision works, and the artwork and character on show are of a high enough quality to overcome that slight niggle.

Starve #1 certainly is an evocative first issue. Brian Wood, Danijel Žeželj and colorist Dave Stewart have produced a striking comic book that'll stick in your mind long after you put it down. Although this first issue isn't narratively without fault, there's a sense of cohesion and forethought to Starve #1's pages that place it above and beyond the rest of the rack. Starve #1 hits on June 10, and it's well worth a look.

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