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Grant Morrison (Author), Frank Quitely (Illustrator)

DC Comics/Vertigo (Publisher)


The “absent referent” can be defined as a thing being so conspicuously absent from a situation that said absence is rendered obvious. In the revolutionary text The Sexual Politics of Meat, Carol Adams takes the idea into the realm of animals and animal rights, saying that “the function of the absent referent is to keep our ‘meat’ separated from any idea that she or he was once an animal…to keep something from being seen as having been someone” (13). We3 posits that a secret military experiment has created three superpower-outfitted laboratory animals (a dog, a cat and a rabbit) that exist within complicated suits of armor, capable of deadly warfare in places deemed unsuitable for humans. The animals escape from the facility and meet a host of enemies bent on destroying them. Quitely’s close-up, needle-through-the-eye illustrations are merciless, but the absent referent reminds us that whatever the book’s humans go through, countless animals have suffered invisibly—but just as badly—for our benefit. Morrison and Quitely’s book is unique because it performs the interesting task of rendering the usually absent animal subjects of experimentation intimately visible, not only foregrounding their oft-forgotten sacrifices, but humanizing them to such a degree that they become impossible to ignore. The reader is made to question the historical undervaluing of animal contributions to our health and well-being, especially because the experiments have outfitted all three with speech capabilities that show us they simply do not understand what is happening to them. Full of both gut-clenching gore and heartbreaking innocence, We3 is a brutal book because it shows us the terrible, inhuman sacrifices that we expect from our animal friends.

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