Warren Ellis has often written books with an air of excess. The charm of Spider-Jerusalem lay in his seemingly bottomless well of vulgarities while the wonder of Planetary lived in its free-for-all approach to adding disturbing twists to every kind of fictional world. It may seem a little odd then, that I find issue eight of Injection faltering mainly when Ellis allows the book to be as crazy and crass as his past masterworks. The problem is that Injection has been defined by a surprising sense of discipline up until now. The book deals with weird science and magic with an approach that has consistently been subtler and more stayed than anything Ellis has done since Fell. But this second arc in places feels like a different, less intelligent book, especially when focusing on the well-travelled Vivek Headland and his pulpy adventures. Issue eight follows Vivek's continuing investigations of his ghost-sex case which remains hugely amusing, if at times a little disturbing. Meanwhile Brigid and Simeon continue to banter like siblings as they prepare to leave for New York. Their brief scene is a light but telling sequence that does a lot to flesh the characters out. Beyond the pop-culture references (Simeon thinks Idris Elba, whom Declan Shalvey modeled him on, should play James Bond), it's nice to see two character who care about each other in a way that is warm and believable (as a counterpoint to Vivek's constant strangeness). And of course, Shalvey's uncanny ability to light scenes via glowing scientific orbs doesn't hurt.
After the Brig and Sim scene, the problems set in as the issue detours to a steadily more ridiculous tour of Headland's sexual history which ranges from the creepy (he apparently had sex in grade school with his much older teacher) to the, well, weird and creepy ('dongzilla' the sex toy). I will admit I am not often a fan of graphic sex in comics. As with graphic violence, the use of explicit sex more often than not is a journey into gratuitousness for its own sake without adding anything much to the story. But even with my personal tastes aside, the central section of this issue feels like a different comic entirely. While it is in keeping with what we know of Headland that he would have a bizarre sexual past, I don't think the sequence added anything to my understanding of him as a character. And more unforgivably, Ellis establishes four of the central characters as sexual partners. While there is a separate discussion to be had about the sexual politics of the scene (apparently most members of the cursus are bisexual), it doesn't fit with anything we know about the characters or their relationships to each other.
But exactly when the book was at its weakest (a double bedmate reveal that reads like a very odd rom-com scene), Robin Morel comes to the rescue. In a cast with so much diversity, I feel a little guilty that I like the white male lead the best (Maria complains about just this sort of behavior), but Robin is a fascinating, fully-realized character in a way the others simply aren't yet. Ellis has experience writing a more famous run-down British magician, but Robin Morel is a far more humane, moral man than John Constantine. As the cursus members engage in 'human interaction', Robin confronts literal ghosts from his past, and, later, confronts the series big bad in what is the better of the issue's two cliffhangers. His subplot is so strong that despite it's entirely different tone from the main plot, it made the issue most palatable.
All told, I am more than a little disappointed in Injection #8. The long sequence of sexual excess will likely not bother Ellis' many diehard fans, but for me, it strikes a discordant note in a series that has been sharply unified in its tone. With the format of 'Injection' being one arc for each character, I find myself increasingly hoping that when the focus shifts from Vivek Headland, the series will get back to the grounded, haunting material it began from. While I can only hope the next arc focuses on Robin Morel, I would settle for anything that meant a little less jokey flashbacks, and a little more Declan Shalvey fantasy-scapes.
Injection #8 Writer: Warren Ellis Artist: Declan Shalvey Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.99 Release Date: 3/16/16 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital