Published on April 9th, 2014 | by Michael


List of Shame – The Invisibles

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It’s fair to say Grant Morrison divides opinion. His comics, usually a mixture of metafiction, chaos magic and stomach churning violence are hailed as either works of conscious-expanding genius or derided as derivative, incoherent and mind-blowingly pretentious. The man himself is the same, is he a self-regarding tosser and plagiarist or slap-headed shaman, taking comics where they’ve never been before?

Even on this very website there is no consensus; fellow contributor Duke described Arkham Asylum: A Serious House On Serious Earth (one of the best-selling graphic novels of all time) as ‘probably the worst Batman comic I have ever read’ and ‘a train-wreck’. There is no love lost between Morrison and fellow occultist and writer Alan Moore, their bickering has proved very entertaining down the years. Michael Moorcock, who has practically an ‘open source’ view of his intellectual property (particularly his signature character, Jerry Cornelius) has accused Morrison of plagiarism:

“I’ve read the work of Grant Morrison twice. Once when I wrote it. Once when he wrote it. As far as I’m concerned my image of Grant Morrison is of someone wearing a mask, a flat hat and a striped jersey and carrying a bag marked SWAG.”

None of this has halted Morrison’s rise to the very top of his profession, however, as he has written classic runs on signature characters Batman (Arkham Asylum, RIP, Batman & Robin) and Superman (All-Star Superman) and has even helmed one of DCs huge crossover events, Final Crisis. He cut his teeth writing for alternative Scottish comics such as Near Myths in the 1980s before graduating to DC comics, where he brought Dadaism to Doom Patrol and told Animal Man he was a comic book character. All this paved the way for what is perhaps his signature title, The Invisibles, published in three volumes on DC’s Vertigo imprint between 1994 and 2000.

The Invisibles does its best to defy description. Even attempting to explain the basic premise can leave you tied up in knots, however I’ll try my best. The Invisible College is a secret organisation which attempts to preserve humanity from the oppression of The Archons of Outer Church, aliens/gods from another dimension who have infiltrated our organisations and hierarchies and want to strip humanity of everything that makes us human. Our protagonists are a cell of the Invisibles, led by King Mob, the charismatic bald action man (and dead ringer for Morrison) accompanied by a Brazilian trans woman witch Lord Fanny, time travelling psychic Ragged Robin and a former NYPD cop, a woman named Boy. As humanity heads down the final furlong towards the end of the world at the turn of the Millennium and both sides prepare their final offensive, a powerful new player appears in the form of tearaway young scouser Dane McGowan who may or may not be the new Buddha. Dane is soon rechristened Jack Frost and reluctantly joins the team. After that, things get weird.

Working on a long term, original creation, Morrison obviously decided that the kitchen-sink approach was the way to go. The title frequently appears to be in danger of collapsing under the weight of its myriad influences and ideas. The Archon creatures have a touch of the Lovecraft about them, while their presence in our world draws upon countless conspiracy theories, from the Freemasons to David Icke to Area 51. Our heroes’ adventures range from such adventure comics standards as raids on military complexes and the obligatory torture/interrogation scenes to sojourns in revolutionary France with the Marquis de Sade and wanderings through the Aztec afterlife. It seems that in every issue, one character or other frames the ongoing conflict in a different way, so much so that the reader never really forms a clear picture. Is the conflict even as real as King Mob would have us believe?

This ‘all-in’ approach extends to the use of collaborators, with each new story arc heralding the arrival of a new artist. The contrasting and often disparate styles complement Morrison’s fractal themes and disjointed narrative very nicely although in the third volume (collected in a single trade as The Invisible Kingdom) the frequent changing of art style can make it hard to be totally immersed.

Behind the scenes, the book’s origins are as convoluted as its plot. The ideas within came thick and fast to Morrison as he drunk, wenched and toured the world on his Arkham Asylum royalties. King Mob was to be a sigil for Morrison to improve his life (and it’s clear that the Kung Fu fighting, time travelling tantric sex warrior is the ultimate in wish fulfilment) and the book itself a Hypersigil intended to jump start popular culture. He claims to have been abducted by aliens in Kathmandu, who told him some of the story. Accusations from his detractors that Morrison is a world class onanist were given fuel for their fire when he suggested that fans engage in a simultaneous ‘wankathon’ to boost flagging sales. This all strikes as Morrison trying to craft his own legend, to wrap his work in its own creation myth and imbue it with mystery and significance. But hell, he’s a writer, that’s his job.

Questions are posed throughout the book – Why do Division X all look like 1960s detectives? What’s with the white suit? Is anyone in the story not John-A-Dreams? Some are answered, some aren’t (or if they are, I haven’t worked it out yet). Two questions, though, stand tall above the others: What is The Invisibles and why should I buy it? In truth, both questions are answered by the quote from Spin magazine that adorns the trades; ‘Basically, it’s about everything’.  If nothing else, it acts as a cipher to all Morrison’s future work.

Whether it hangs together as a whole is a choice left up to each individual reader, but with its swashbuckling action, time-travel, magic, mediations on pop culture and the nature of fiction and ideas taken from what seems like all the world’s major religions, The Invisibles is never less than an absolute trip.

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