Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey’s “Injection” #6 spotlights Vivek Headland, a character that had previously only been seen in short interludes. The plot is tightly constructed and almost self-contained, requiring no rereading of previous issues, which is a smart move on Ellis’ part, since the title has been on a short hiatus since September. This latest chapter makes it easier for readers to get back into the story.
Among an already eccentric and powerful cast, Vivek still distinguishes himself. Like Maria, his speech patterns are clipped and full of sharp turns, but he’s far more verbose and mannered. Vivek’s dialogue is gleefully fun to read, but Ellis may be enjoying himself too much; his prose is so sure and distinctive that the style is part of the substance, but Vivek’s eccentricities are in danger of upstaging the other elements of the story.
“Injection” #6 has the feel of a “Sherlock” episode. Vivek is obviously modeled on the Great Detective, as he’s a quick-acting, easily bored genius who is a master of observation. Bellaire’s color work makes timeline changes clear, but she also highlights Vivek’s thought process.
Shalvey’s art has greyhound-like speed, tautness and angular leanness, even in an issue where the main character is more cerebral and verbal than physical. His page and panel composition are a joy to follow. Every line and object is thoughtfully placed, either to maximize visual tension or to guide the reader’s eye. Every page has something sharp or surprising on it that serves the atmosphere or the story. Like Ellis, he barely lets the reader pause for breath.
There’s full frontal nudity in on the first page of “Injection” #6, but Shalvey’s composition and pacing is matter-of-fact and non-sensationalist. It’s meant to be a visual jolt, but it’s also meant to show Vivek has a normal morning routine. On the second page, this impression is quickly undone. Vivek is in a room covered wall-to-wall with television screens while he recites the phrase “so ‘ham” and quoting Jacques Derrida to himself. The first page serves as a way to make the second page less intimidating, as the reader has been invited in.
Shalvey’s art doesn’t achieve the emotional depth he’s been capable of before, but that’s more a limitation in the character of Vivek, not the art. It’s a smart move for Ellis to fill out the story with some of Vivek’s employees (and later on, a grumpy police detective) to give the readers some more relatable, less intimidating company. “Red,” Vivek’s combination of butler and henchman, is immediately likable. His mixture of respect and resentment towards Vivek provides an emotional anchor for the reader. When Red kvetches about his employer, this provides a cozy patch of familiarity right before Ellis opens a flashback with a brazenly ridiculous line: “Well, if nothing else, we can all now satisfy ourselves that the Cyclopean Pigdog of Sumatra is not a myth, can’t we?”
Ellis’ world building blithely demands the reader eat and run at the same time, and he’s a funny and skilled enough writer that he gets away with it. In the flashback to Red’s past, he dresses up the old trope of turning a loyal agent with staccato blasts of information, peppering the dialogue casually with “flesh cyclone,” “gene-editing,” “hive operator” and “hogspawn.” Shalvey’s linework also layers on more detail in this scene. Combined with Bellaire’s dramatic oranges, the landscape of Red’s memory is funny, shocking, beautiful and grotesque. These verbal and visual novelties make what is old new again.
The big plot twist about the ham is in the same vein; it retains its inherent shock value, but without the pathos that gives horror even more force. In “Injection” #6, the ham just accentuates Vivek’s eccentricity, particularly in the over-the-top second flashback.
Half the time I make my way through an issue of “Injection,” I end up thinking “What?” or even “Huh?”, but it’s undeniably a blast to read, like catnip to readers who like wordplay and dark humor.