Well it had to be, really, didn’t it?
There’s a lot to be said about We3. From a purely technical point of view, it’s one of the most astoundingly brilliant comics of the last decade or more – easily the most perfect fusion of the sensibilities of Morrison and Quitely (yes, even moreso than All Star Superman), as the former provides an open canvas for the inventive (and really still to be replicated) storytelling techniques of the latter. It’s quite easy to argue that it’s the high point even of Morrison’s career (there’s no question that it’s the high point of Quitely’s) – it’s that good. Perfectly concise in its construction, and making the point about the author’s views on animal rights far more effectively even than the often-preachy Animal Man managed. By any measurement, it’s a towering achievement.
But of course, what it all comes down to is this: unless you’re a very special kind of heartless bastard, it will make you bawl your eyes out.
It doesn’t start out that way, mind. Reading issue #1 is rather more about enjoying the technical and visual achievement – you’re slightly detached from the fate of the three fuzzy lead characters. It’s hard to think of a way that it can all end happily, but at this point reacting to the action dominates more than the emotional engagement.
That all changes with issue #2 – and I won’t go into detail about what happens for the sake of avoiding spoilers for those that have still yet to read it (as a comic that I believe just about everybody should read, I do feel it’s one worth saving). But the issue goes much further in making characters out of the three – not anthropomorphised animals, but an actual dog, cat and rabbit, articulating actual dog, cat and rabbit thoughts. And that makes a certain moment involving #1/Bandit all the more tragic – you feel awful for him, knowing he’s violated the trust between man and dog, but more importantly, it lays out the plot of the rest of the story as heartbreakingly inevitable (although – and again, I don’t want to say too much, but – the final few pages of the story end up being tearjerking for entirely unexpected reasons).
Both issues #2 and #3 utterly wrecked me upon first reading (and can continue to do so – more than anything, it’s the wonderfully inspired covers that get me, particularly issue #3), and I have vivid memories of those occasions. The events of issue #2 upset me so much that I found myself seriously thinking about whether or not I was going to go on and buy #3 (although, of course, I did); and I was reading #3 in McDonald’s in Liverpool city centre (just around the corner from Worlds Apart, where I’d bought it), and actually had to put the issue down and stop reading partway through, because I didn’t want to be seen crying in public (though I think eventually I composed myself and finished it – I couldn’t wait until getting home to find out what was going to happen).
Like the best entries in Pixar’s canon, though, We3 almost gives you a good kind of upset. It’s gut-wrenching at times, and sometimes just talking about it can make you start to well up – but having read it is not an experience I’d ever want to trade in, as it’s a staggeringly beautiful piece of empathetic work. While it makes you despair for what humanity can be capable of doing to other creatures, it also gives you hope that there are people out there who think like Morrison does (and who act like a certain unnamed character in the third issue does). I’m no animal rights activist – I’m not even a vegetarian – but We3 is one hell of an argument.