Article originally written by Carina Avila
Being the newbie has it’s perks. I get to call dibs on doing the Friday Recommendation for this week and I have chosen it to be about one of my favorite comic books by what seems to be an author all the contributors and readers of this blog enjoy.
Through his seminal stories for Starblazer, 2000 AD, Animal Man and Doom Patrol, Grant Morrison had established a formidable reputation as a writer of seriously dark and adult comic books to rival Alan Moore and Frank Miller. The series that he had always wanted to write–a fusion of every conspiracy theory, counter-culture rebellion and political plot ever–finally became a reality when DC Comic’s Vertigo imprint launched the first installment of The Invisibles.
Part of Morrison’s sheer genius was to take familiar conspiracy and disinformation culture memes – Philip K. Dick’s Vast Active Living Intelligence, Terence McKenna’s 2012 Omega Point, the Rennes le Chateau mystery, Situationism: and re-shape them into new scenarios. The Invisibles series is full of encyclopedic cut-and-paste references to films, pop music icons, tabloid controversies, historical figures, fringe science theories and even more. If this already sounds like Morrison at his finest, you’d be right. The series was broken up into three separate volumes for it’s original Vertigo run. The thing with these volumes is you couldn’t really begin a volume without reading the one prior because the breaks between each one are natural breathing points for the story, much like episodes of a TV series or movie sequels.
The first series chronicled the initiation of Dane McGowan, a troubled teenager from Liverpool, becoming “Jack Frost” (who may very well be a manifestation of Buddha). Offered the chance to join an Invisibles cell led by the enigmatic King Mob, a former horror writer named Gideon Starorzewski, Frost becomes a key part of their battles against the Cyphermen and the Outer Church. Morrison hints in places that these two opposing forces fighting to control humanity may simply be two sides of the same coin. The Invisibles continued to break new ground with characters like the trans-gender Brazillian sorceress Lord Fanny and the time-traveller Ragged Robin, but his attention to historical detail (featuring author Mary Shelley, libertine the Marquis de Sade, George Byron and Percy Shelley as characters) and unusual locations perhaps alienated a target U.S. comic-phile audience unfamiliar to multi-layered complexity and ambiguity.
Changes were made for series two positioning The Invisibles cell as a classic DC Comics team. The Dionysian rebels were transplanted to more familiar X-Files settings like UFO-lore’s Dulce military base in New Mexico with powerful results because Morrison still played with audience expectations. Set a year later whilst the Invisibles recuperate in America, the series answered many questions and filled in the relevant backstory to our heroes. Somehow, the stories still retained a dark edge: Invisibles members are manipulated by subversive mind-control technology from the Outer Church, and are torn apart by tension and betrayal. Travelling across multiple time lines, the Invisibles uncover the multi-dimensional horrors unleashed by Robert Oppenheimer at the Trinity atomic bomb tests that signifying the original Biblical Fall. Virtual assassins, tantric sex rites that warp space-time topography, reslity viruses, immersion tank fiction-suits, Monarch butterflies and aggregate languages spread by alien anti-bodies all feature in a dizzying story arc. This vast scope features an alternative cosmology to the Big Bang where our universe is the phase boundary between an ailing and a healthy universe (suggested by Michael Grady and Hannes Alfvens).
With the third and final series, Morrison again surprised fans by choosing to count down to the millennium. While the issue itself had been scheduled to be released in time for the year 2000, publishing issues caused it to get pushed back until April. Self-referential and playfully ironic humour underlies references to Moonchild coronations and British Royal Family conspiracies, which are but minor details in a perpetual war. And hopefully, the prodigious Morrison will reveal the identity and purpose of Barbelith: a mysterious satellite relic/alien stone orbiting behind the Moon.
This series itself can cause me to write 10,000 word dissertations about it. I feel like I have done the impossible in successfully (at least in my terms) describing each volume to you. This blog has become what Matt, David, Gil, and I like to call the “Grant Morrison fan club” and I’m only doing my part in hoping that some of you will pick up at the very least the first volume and enjoy it as much as I have. It’s one of the most funny, outrageous, weird and occasionally rather poignant comic books I have ever read and it’s a good example of what the comic book medium has to offer. The fact that it will never reach the kind of audience it deserves is a terrible shame and if I have somehow influenced at least a handful of you to at least consider picking it up I have done my job.