Friday, February 14, 2014

Invisibles Friday: Poor People Gonna Rise Up...

So, every Friday now I am going to post about an issue of the Grant Morrison comic The Invisibles. Part of me wants to just pick issues at random and talk about them, but I'll be good and stick to talking about the run in order. I'm going to be honest, despite having loved comics like The Doom Patrol and Sebastian O, I was not a huge fan of this comic at first. The first story arc  just didn't connect with me like some of Morrison's previous work had done.

I read the first story arc and decided that the book wasn't for me.

Then months later I read about the controversy surrounding the book in the comic press (back in the days when we read magazines to find out about what was going on in comics). DC Comics had some dialog changed in the book, in one case a line spoken by the Marquis de Sade was changed so that it would not sound as if children were being "used" in the story, and in another case a reference to Walt Disney was blacked out. What is interesting is the fact that both bits were restored to what Morrison intended in the collected editions.

However, the article that talked about the censoring also talked about the second story arc Arcadia, and the article intrigued me enough to pick the book back up and start reading it again. I didn't stop until the book ended its run.

The Invisibles has received a lot of press and critical thought over the years. I am not sure what this series is going to contribute to that body of work, but we will see. My intention isn't to be scholarly or to compile annotations. I am just going to go through each issue, give my thoughts and impressions and talk about what I saw in that book. Breaking down all of the magical symbolism will probably take a stronger mind than mine.

Beetles and Beatles play an important role in this first issue. Beetles play an important part in the symbolism of birth and rebirth, and that is the running theme of this first story arc (and most of the run of The Invisibles as well). Dane McGowan must be reborn into his role of Jack Frost in order to save the world from Armageddon. This is a theme that Morrison uses often. His JLA run dealt with the Earth's super-heroes running up against the ultimate Armageddon in the form of the sleeping God Weapon Mageddon. This wasn't an unusual theme around the millennium.

John Lennon is the other Beatle toplay a part in the story. Dane see him talking with Stuart Sutcliffe on the banks of a Liverpool river, a moment of soft time when the past and the future were able to touch. Later in the issue Lennon is adapted in Chaos Magick style into a psychedelic Godshead and summoned by King Mob as an augury of the future.
Is Lennon actually being summoned, or it is just a metafictional trick of King Mob's unconscious mind, telling him what he already knows to be true? In a book like The Invisibles the answer can go either way.

For a lot of people, Grant Morrison is a fairly incomprehensible writer. He certainly doesn't write the typical comic book stories, whether he's working on a book like The Invisibles or comics like New X-Men or JLA. He has a certain psychedelic style (of which the above page is fairly representative) and an enthusiasm for the medium that I find contagious. I may not like everything that he does, but when he is on I think he is one of the best writers in comics.

The antagonists introduced in this issue show two of Morrison's influences writ large: Williams S. Burroughs and H.P. Lovecraft. The reason that I use the more generic term of "antagonist," because I am not always convinced that King Mob and his Invisibles cell are always the hero of this story. Even as the "good guys," they do a lot of things that don't set them that far from the antagonists.

Control is bad. Freedom is awesome. It is Michael Moorcock's Law versus Chaos, D&D great, eternal conflict, done up in comic book form. This isn't anything new, really. DC Comics has used a version of Moorcock's Law vs. Chaos for decades in their book. This won't be the only time that Moorcock's influence will show up in this book.

I think that for me, a big part of the appeal of this book (once it really had my attention) was the fact that it took a lot of the things that I was interested in: Moorcock, Lovecraft, Burroughs; and wrote about them in a new context. Throughout the run we will see visits from the Divine Marquis, Borges and P.K. Dick on the evolving story as well.

One thing that I will likely get to in one of these posts was the Grant Morrison Versus Warner Brothers story that happened, as Morrison claimed that the movie The Matrix took some of the concepts of The Invisibles without crediting him for them. As we will see, the theme of initiation (so important to occult thinking) will be important to this first story arc, and as initiation is a fairly universal literary/mystic theme it is not unusual that stories that deal with the theme will have some points of commonality.

Corridors are an important theme as well, as they are symbolic of journeys and traveling. This is something that will pop up more than once as we go through these comics.

Let's get down to the nitty gritty. How did this comic hold up? I almost wish that I hadn't read these comics in a long while, so that I could come at them with a fresher perspective. That said, I do still think that they hold up fairly well. Grant Morrison's The Invisibles is part of a British cultural "invasion," not all that different from the invasion lead by The Beatles in the 60s. Morrison's work represents a comic/literary aspect, falling in step with musicians like Blur and Oasis, of a movement that took the popular culture of the past and synthesized it into something that was representative of the (then) current times. A lot of the fears and insecurities that The Invisibles comments upon are still plaguing the world as well.

With The Invisibles, Morrison gives us a millennial view of Britian in comic book form, not dis-similar to what Jamie Delano gave us in the 80s with Hellblazer, the first John Constantine solo comic. Both of these comics are an attempt to look into the psyche of the nation of their respective times. In a way, it builds upon the British comics culture started by magazines like 2000AD and creators like Pat Mills.

As we will see, more even than mainstream books like JLA or even Aztek, The Invisibles will show us the heights and depths of Morrison's powers as a creator. Some of his greatest storytelling is going to happen in these pages, and we are going to go along for the ride.

Why should you read The Invisibles if you haven't already? Well, if you like any of the authors that I have listed as being influential on this comic then you might like this comic as well. If you are looking for a comic that makes you think, is more than just a passive form of storytelling, and that deals with more than just comic book super-heroes, you should check out The Invisibles. Sometimes horror, sometimes fantasy and sometimes science fiction, this comic is most likely the story that Morrison was meant to tell in comics. So, even if you have only read his work on Batman, or Action Comics, check out a couple of the early issues of this on Comixology or pick up the first trade from your local comic store (or your preferred internet seller) and give it a try. There's a lot in here for gamers to find as well. If you're looking for something new for your modern horror or adventure campaigns, you could do much worse than to tap into the energies of Grant Morrison's The Invisibles.

Next week we will be back with a look at the second issue.

Now, since music was an important influence on Morrison's writing I am going to close with an unrelated music video. I think that it ties in well enough with the story of Dane that I named this post after a quote from it.

We're talking about a revolution...