By J. A. Micheline
I told my friend Shea the other day that my cat Stelmaria and I are a fated pair. This is mainly because she never looks happy and only ever looks (1) tired, (2) annoyed, or (3) disgusted, which are, of course, my top three emotions. Or, so I say. Stelmaria and I are both more complicated than that.
The cat in We3 – Tinker, or, 2, depending on your preference – mostly seems like the cultural idea of a cat. Tinker is a natural killer, untrusting, and generally salty – which, you know, same. Even the way Tinker is used, as a counterpart to Bandit, feels similar. The good, personable dog and the bad, needs-to-trust-people-more cat. I feel compared. I feel annoyed, mainly, which is my #2 emotion, as you’ll recall.
I think the root of my annoyance – both as a critic and as a cat owner, I realize – is the cheapness and boringness of it all. We3 is a boring comic. Tinker is a boring cat–at least insofar as being exactly what I’d expect a cultural depiction of a cat-as-written-by-a-dog-person (or even worse, as-written-by-someone-who-would-write-All-Star-Superman) to be. And Bandit’s not much different. I am bored by the dog who blindly trusts humans, has that trust betrayed, but then renews his faith just as much as I am bored by the cat who doesn’t trust anyone but learns to trust slowly. I am bored.
And yes, of course, you can simplify any beloved narrative to terms as such, but what I find to be different tends to be the presence of idiosyncrasy and nuance, of which this comic largely had neither. Bandit was the way he was because This Is What Dogs Are Like and Tinker was Tinker because This Is What Cats Are Like. So then I find myself dissatisfied by the notion of This Is What Cats Are Like precisely because no animal, no person, no entity is so culturally (or individually) simple. And while I am not a cat or even find my relationship to Stelmaria to be applicable to the way that I read Tinker; -I feel the tug of annoyance as the person who is, in her life, read as a unforgiving and untrusting natural killer, when things are always more complicated than just that. I say again: I am not this cat, but I also very much am.
Standing back to look at it, I also wonder who this comic is for. I’ve only been a pet owner for a little over a year, but I don’t think my opinion would have changed with or without Stelmaria’s presence. Is it for people who love how trusting dogs are? Is it for people who love tsunderes? Is it for people who don’t know that government agencies do bad things? Is it for people who don’t know that people do bad things? I don’t know.
And also: what about the rabbit? I am bothered by the rabbit. Pirate, the rabbit, seems like the biggest signifier of all that this is just about generic cultural ideas, if only because: I am perplexed by the rabbit’s role in this. And really, it’s Emma’s essay that everyone should read because… what is Pirate doing in this comic? Why is he there?
He seems to be the balancing force between Bandit and Tinker – he interrupts their fights – but also, just generally, a very value neutral presence. He is the least overtly articulate of the three. He is also the only one who, first, is injured to the point that he’s unable to communicate (a result of trusting humans), and then second, dies (possibly as a mode of self-sacrifice, though it’s not entirely clear.)
The neutrality almost seems to correlate with the value-neutral signifier that rabbits seem to have for the West, culturally, which only serves to tell on We3 more, so to speak. While dogs are understood as Man’s Best Friend and cats as the more standoff-ish companions, a similar script does not exist for rabbits. And to that end, the creative team does not really seem to know what do with one, beyond curtailing his speech and killing him. The comic trades on cultural understandings of items without venturing beyond them and Pirate seems to show what the comic does in their absence – essentially nothing.
As is always the way when I read a comic written by Grant Morrison: I am perplexed by the cultural cache We3 seems to hold. Even artistically, while I am impressed by Quitely’s ambition, the storytelling does not quite follow with the grand attempts, and the narrative communicated has very little ambition at all. That said: writing about it makes me feel tired and annoyed, though not quite disgusted — so maybe the text was fairly evocative of a cat after all.
J. A. Micheline has written for most of your favourite comics outlets, including The MNT (of course) as well as ComicsAlliance, The Guardian, WomenWriteAboutComics, and many more. You can find her online on her Twitter page here. Her cat Stelmaria is The Grand Duchess of all cats.
We3 issue #2: Tinker
Written by Grant Morrison
Pencilled by Frank Quitely
Inked and Coloured by Jamie Grant
Lettered by Todd Klein
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