The US Air Force is working on cybernetics, and Roseanne Berry has created a method of weaponizing domestic pets; she's turned a dog named Bandit, a cat named Tinker, and a rabbit named Pirate into a coordinated weapon with deadly abilities. But the project has moved beyond her; rats working in groups is the latest advance, and the politican behind the whole idea doesn't think he can sell turning people's pets into warriors. So WE3 are supposed to be decommisioned. But Berry has a heart, and she sets her animals free, turning them into a threat, and, away from the medication and support of the base, putting them into a situation they're unlikely to survive.
WE3 works on two levels. The more obvious is the story of animal survival, of the relationship between pets and humans, and it's not hard to see why this graphic novel was a best-seller a decade ago. It raises all the basic questions about the way humans think of and treat the animals they possess, and it appeals to the better side not only of its readers but even a few of the characters in the story.
But it's also a commentary on the callousness of our attempts to de-humanize war itself. I thought of Fred Saberhagen's Beserker series, and I thought also about our drone programs, ways of taking ourselves out of the messy business of killing for profit, power, or ideals. That raises questions about the nature of humans as pets as well.
Grant Morrison's story is, at heart, pretty simple, but it's told in a relatively challenging way by artist Frank Quitely, very much influenced by Manga. I'm tempted to say it tries to work on a non-verbal delivery as much as possible, which helps the reader identify with the nearly speechless main characters. It can be a little hard to follow, particularly in the action scenes (my 11 year old son got lost once or twice, and I had to read very carefully at times), but it is resolved deftly and with great sensitivity, whether you're a kid or adult, whether you come to it from sf novels or from children's tales about pets.
WE3 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely
DC Vertigo, ISBN 9781401243029, $14.99