Right now, “Injection” artist Declan Shalvey is busy doing back-up stories for “All-Star Batman” and a “Nick Fury” serial for the “Civil War: Choosing Sides” miniseries. I mention this because, while they’re raising his profile, they’re keeping the artist from working on the next volume of this series. While Warren Ellis has said that Shalvey will be starting in on the third volume later this year, THIS IS STILL TERRIBLE NEWS! Vol. 1 of “Injection” was good. Vol. 2 shows that its quality wasn’t a fluke. It manages to do this while narrowing the focus to tell a specific story while not neglecting the uber-plot about the adaptive intelligence five scientists unleashed on our world.
While the first volume was very much an ensemble effort, we learned more about the other members of the Injection team than Vivek Headland. Described as a logicist and ethicist (who is very particular about his sandwiches), these skills are the core of his day job as an investigator. What does he investigate? This time out it’s the kidnapping of a ghost.
John Van Der Zee is a giant in the financial industry who has recently lost his mistress in an accident, and his son a week later. After the death of his son, Van Der Zee started receiving ethereal visits from his deceased mistress via a specific photo that he would look at every night. Then the photo was stolen. Before Headland can start pressing his client for further details, he realizes something about the ham that was used in the sandwiches prepared for them. That would be the fact that it came from a human being. This leads Headland to confrontations with a terrorist organization, the aftermath of repeated ghost coitus, further interactions with his Injection team members, and a facet of the Injection itself.
Ellis has said on his weekly newsletter that this represented his take on updating the “Sherlock Holmes” formula for the modern era. Headland is clearly in the title role as the smartest man in the room who clearly has no problem with leading everyone else around by the nose. He has a partner in Red, a former mercenary who accepted his employer’s offer of employment/servitude for life in the wake of the Cyclopean Pigdog of Sumatra incident. The subject matter is suitably bizarre, as you’d expect from Ellis, but with a rigorous logic holding it all together. It’s also filled with some of the writer’s sharpest dialogue in recent memory. Which is good because there’s a lot of it in this volume.
Though the mystery at the core of the story here is resolved in a satisfying fashion, it’s main purpose is twofold. One part of it is to give us a better understanding of Headland after he was given the short shrift in the first volume. This turns out to be a very good thing because while he’s pitched as the kind of socially maladjusted individual whose quirks help him solve crimes, we find out that the man has a remarkably wide-ranging and varied experience of the weirdness that life has to offer. Aside from showing us how Headland knows what human meat tastes like, Ellis and Shalvey let us know that he got to know the Dalai Lama well enough to know the man likes gin, has confidential informant arrangements with several law enforcement agencies, has issues with bears, and — in the volume’s most bravura sequence — possesses a remarkably diverse sex life.
That leads us to the other purpose of the narrative, which is basically Ellis giving a middle finger to the notion of detectives in fiction being little more than human noticing machines. Prior to the sequence in question, Headland gives his approval for Red to go off for some human interaction (read: a date), to which his subordinate makes the remark that his employer knows little about such a thing. Cue four pages of Headland’s sexual history with various women, men, a “dongzilla,” and one member of the Injection team. As he notes in these flashbacks feelings are evidence, and if you remove yourself from the human condition then you will never have enough information to solve a problem. Not only does this sentiment have the ring of truth to it, this naturally turns out to be a key factor in the case of Mr. Van Der Zee’s missing ghost. While this sequence does feel like it’s Ellis himself talking directly to the reader, it’s easy to forgive due to how insightful and fun it is. Assuming anything involving a “dongzilla” is your idea of a good time.
While Headland is the star of the show here, and it’s a star turn bright enough to make me wish that the series was popular enough to warrant a separate ongoing title around his non-Injection-related adventures, the rest of the team isn’t neglected either. Simeon and Brigid are called upon to utilize their respective talents in this investigation, which subsequently prompts a run-in with an aspect of the Injection itself. Surprisingly, this case does have more than a tangential relationship to the entity’s ongoing efforts to make the 21st Century more interesting and unsafe. Maria shows up briefly so we can see that she hasn’t been forgotten about, which is somewhat understandable given that we experienced most of the first volume through her eyes.
The other member of the Injection team getting the most focus here is Robin “Not A Wizard” Morrell, who has been approached by the British Government with an offer of working in the Breaker’s Yard. It’s a supernatural, ghost-busting position that his family has traditionally worked in over the years and something that he doesn’t want very much to do with. This position, however, would allow access to certain governmental resources that would be useful in the team’s efforts to control the Injection, so Robin finds himself pressured by both Headland and Maria to accept it. The impression we get here, from how Robin’s conversation with Maria is interpreted by the Injection (hey, it turns out that she’s not the only one who can hear it) to his actions at the end of the volume, is that this may not be the best thing for everyone involved.
All of this looks great under Shalvey’s pencils as he has a great understanding of the nuance needed to sell a volume of comics where most of the people are simply talking to each other. The man’s skill with depicting the process of violence is also utilized to great effect here, as a single panel showing the effect of a man getting shot in his elbow is distinctively unsettling. So yeah, I’m a little disappointed that he’s working on other projects right now instead of diving straight into vol. 3. Though I’m sure this break will let Ellis get ahead on his scripts, and the artist’s increased profile may even translate into increased sales for the next volume. Then again, sales for the third volume of “Injection” should increase regardless because this one was really damn good. Featuring a great story contained in a single volume while also advancing the main plot with a great deal of action, humor, and wit, it’s a marvel of how entertaining comics can be when both creators are working in sync and are fully invested in the material.