28 December 2004

The Invisibles


The Invisibles is a difficult comic to write about but because I know almost nothing about comics I thought I'd give it a try.

For one thing it's sort of about Everything and Nothing, only Everything isn't as far reaching as you thought and Nothing seems like a crowd. It's also weird because the main characters aren't really the point; often they're annoying stereotypical, sometimes spectacularly dated - one of the 'heroes', King Mob, mostly looks like the planks who used to Socialist Work and then spend hundreds of $$$ on fetish wear and urban-primitive chin-spiking chic.

No, The Invisibles works because of the bits inbetween and the characters that circle the main fray; the gaps between the stories are where Grant Morrison really opens up. One segment humanises the nameless baddy hordes with a slice of life from one of the Conspiracy foot soldiers... imagine seeing a Stormtrooper coming home for tea, wifely kisses and grief over his autistic children.

Equally, the minor characters are by far the most interesting; they seem to act around the main heroic ciphers, adding subtle ambiguities here and there and highlighting themes that only emerge issues later (interestingly, was the Invisibles a hit in comic form? Psychbloke? I can't imagine many people would have the patience - or the memory - needed to take all this in month by month).

Characters shed identities like snake-skin boots, clues are everywhere. People emerge in one time-suit, dissolve and then re-emerge in another. They swap sides even when there are no sides to swap, when the natue of Good vs Evil, the bloody Manichaen revenge-suites, is pulled apart and pasted on a Moebius strip.

Some parts are ripped from 70s cop series - not always consciously - with Sweenyesque gut punchers, busty broads and Austin Powers silliness which then somehow transmutes beautifully into deep-set metaphysics, mysticism (East and West - the gang's all here) and gnostic musings. To have the most powerful Invisible dressed as uber 60s mexican moustachioed Jason King is a thing of genius.

There's thin strings of seriousness through the whole affair but it never quite seems to get bogged down - given it's attempting to pull together a world view that includes Satan, Reich, Superstrings, Masonic rituals, Mayan sorcery, Time-Travel, Voodoo, Wittgenstein, Buddha, 1930s Anarchism, magic(k), drugs, alien abduction, utopian dreaming and telepathy that's no mean feat...

And all the above is treated with such matter of factness that it never once descends into the future-world sci-fi that normally allows comics free rein and a get-out clause; it's amazingly grounded and internally consistent, even if you get the feeling that not all of the themes were planned at the off. If anything, I guess this thematic coherency emerges itself as part of the synchronous reality that eventually dominates the action: you know how it's going to end - anything else would have been a Fatal Attraction style let down - but that doesn't stop you going back and re-reading and trying to work out how it gets there. It forces you to work at it and sends you searching; references beget references, which in turn open up further reality tunnels, some of which undoubtedly aren't worth scurrying down but still...it's no bad thing to find yourself suddenly full of triple-yous.

Morrison wears his influences heavily on his sleeve - Pop culture permeates (Grant Morrison seems to have a disappointingly prosaic musical range), the Illuminatus! trilogy looms large - but his writing is fresh enough to prevent the story becoming a 'Best of Technocculture' list and the numerous sly references are generally subtle (or skewed) enough to avoid the feeling that he's trying too hard.

Buy this. You've always wanted a copy of Foucault's Pendulum that is actually good, haven't you?


R. Piggy said...

Damn straight! The Invisibles kicks mucho visible and invisible ass. Good choice in reviewing one of the five best comics ever. Which issue is the rope picture from?

Psychbloke said...

Successful? - depends if you mean loads of cash successful or critically acclaimed successful - I would guess the latter.
To make loads of cash it would have to have been called "X-Invisible"
I think half the time comics are treated as loss leaders to keep characters in the public domain long enough for Marvel / DC to spin film and merchandising deals off from them.

kek-w said...

Spot on about Grant's taste in music: at worst, it's shite; at best, it's pedestrian...

God, I love this job.

johneffay said...

It certainly wasn't initially a success. In one of the issues, Morrison encourages his readers to wank over sigils with regard to encouraging further sales. I'm sure the TOPY/Coil boys amongst you are familiar with the technique...

I gleaned this information from Infinite Thought, whose main claim to fame is that she had an incredibly sycophantic letter published in the comic. If I tell you which one it is though, she will probably break my legs.

Still, if The Invisbles are cool, Morrison's Doom Patrol is a work of absolute genius

kek-w said...

I'll dig out and post the wanking sygil that he put on the letters page sometime.

Yeah, Doom Patrol's my favourite too. It really hits a spot.

R. Piggy said...

That issue! That one issue! Where we find out the Chief is the cause of all of Doom Patrol's problems, whew! Almost everything Grant does is to big and great for the other artists to continue. Ya' know they proclaim 'What a crazy dream that was!' Sea Guy blew my mind. And WE3 is blowing my mind in a different way. His run on JLA was inspiredly Lovecraftian and in the run on XMen he finished up he started with killing millions of people, and proceeds to destroy New Yawk at least one, oh and the entire Shii'ar space system is crippled. Enough geekery, goodbye.

Anonymous said...

You know who King Mob really looks like? Grant Morrison himself. Check it out:

King Mob: http://www.robertjpetersen.com/invisibles/one/v1_19.jpg

Grant Morrison: http://www.grant-morrison.com/images/BLUEFLOWERS.JPG

Coincidence? No such thing.

Dale Cruse

kek-w said...

Re: GM/KM auto-analogues: Yeah, he claimed he'd actually 'entered' his own comic by wearing a Fiction Suit...

Lucas Krech said...

Nice Review.
There's a talk Grant gives on a Disinfo DVD where he explains The Invisibles as a large spell, or complext bit of Sigil Magic. The man is a nut case, but brilliant despite the fact. Or perhaps because of it.

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