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22 October 2012

Into the Supercontext part 2: The Invisibles Vol. 1 No. 1

  The Invisibles Vol. 1 No. 1.
"Dead Beatle$"
Written by Grant Morrison.  Art by Steve Yeowell.
A Vertigo comic published by DC Comics in 1994.

It is 1994.  Clinton is president in the US.  Yeltsin Prime Minister in Russia.  Nelson Mandela is President in South Africa.  Ronald Reagan has Alzheimer's.  Newt Gingrich and the GOP take over the House of Representatives.  George W. Bush is elected Governor of Texas.  Al Gore presides over the Super Highway Summit.    NAFTA is about to destroy manufacturing in the US.  Israel and Jordan sign a peace treaty.  OJ Simpson cuts off Nicole Brown Simpson's head.  MS DOS is dead.  The comics speculation market dies taking with it numerous publishers.  Marvel purchases Heroes World Distribution.  Keanu Reeves keeps a bus going at over 50 mph.  Forrest Gump is running.  Zed's dead baby.   Woodstock 94 happens. (It is mostly awful.)  Pink Floyd have their last tour.  The three surviving Beatles reunite to turn one of the late John Lennon's demos into a hit single. Everyone looks just like Buddy Holly except for Oasis and Blur.  Kurt Cobain, Charles Bukowski and Jack Kirby are dead.  Barbelith is still on the dark side of the moon.

"...all I wanted to do was a William Burroughs version of Jack Kirby's The Boy Commandos because I thought it was such a cool name and DC owned the characters so you had Boy Commandos that just sounds like a Burroughs story, so it started out as this basic notion of psychic boy scouts and Baden-Powell was involved in it at one point but, it just completely changed and they said well this is so far from the original that why should they leave the title and why don't you just make something up and I went through Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable and found the 'Invisibles'. So that was it.  The first four issues I knew it was gonna be a boy's initiation in to this occult secret society."  -Grant Morrison.

(Steve Yeowell on the left.  Grant Morrison and his hair on the right.  Image stolen from Pop Cons.)

 In 1994 I'm in college, in a band, in love and all that good angry young dude stuff.  I buy a stack of comics every week but The Invisibles was not on my radar.  I'm buying  a lot of Dark Horse stuff and some Image comics.  A room mate of mine is a huge Batman fan.  We'll call him Judas.  He's into all the noir stuff so he picks up Sandman Mystery Theater and then starts picking up more and more Vertigo books.  Judas picks up The Invisibles and really gets into it.  He tells me to read it but it's a while before I give in.  I'm busy ya know.  Guitar, my girlfriend, parties, a part time job at Burger King and the occasional trip to class.  It really was not until I saw the cover for the 5th issue of the series that I thought my friend might be on to something.  The brown paper bag DIY punk looking cover was really something different and I thought I might need to check this business out.  So, I borrowed the 1st four issues of The Invisibles from Judas and gave it a shot. 

The next morning, bright and early I went to the comic shop and bought my own copies of The Invisibles and never missed another issue.

Let's talk about that cover a little bit.  It was created by Rian Hughes. The logo is fantastic.  I don't know if Hughes came up with it or not.  If anyone knows who came up with that logo let me know.  It's great because it is not there.  It is just the outline of a logo.  A ghost logo.  Which is perfect for a comic book about a secret societies and conspiracies.  Like a whole lot of pop art in the 90s it has a 60s vibe to it as well.  We'll see the influence of the 60s pop culture again and again in this series.  When I first saw this cover I really had no idea what it would be about but it certainly stands out.  A an explosive purple and blue hand grenade on a mind piercing neon orange background.  It looks like a punk rock album cover and sets the tone for volume one of The Invisibles where everything is always on the brink of explosion. This volume is very much about being an angry young man witnessing harsh realities and reacting in a very violent way.  Most all of the characters are hand grenades just one pull away from an explosion.

And speaking of violence, the back cover of this comic book is an advertisement for the Oliver Stone movie Natural Born Killers.   Story by Quinten Tarantino.  We are fully emerged into the 90s and there is no escape.  The "hero" of Natural Born Killers is a bald pierced cyber punk looking guy.

We start with the pyramids with King Mob the leader of the Invisibles.  King Mob is a bald pierced cyber punk looking guy.  He speaks with an Arabic character named Elfayed about an ancient scarab.  A dead beetle.  But the scarab represents more than death, it represents re-birth.  This scene is not just a beginning it is a notice that this is about cycles, about things happening again and again.  

A few pages later King Mob is in Paris with with an old woman named Lady Edith Manning.  She knows King Mob by a different name, Gideon.  She knows him from the 1920s.  Is he a Time Lord?  Does he live forever without aging?  It appears that one of King Mob's associates, John-a-Dreams has gone missing.  This is a classic set up for the action team recruitment drive.

So let's go back a few pages the the number one contender for a starting position on King Mob's team of whatever it is they do that we don't understand yet.  Let's meet the series's primary character Dane McGowan.  Dane is a troubled kid living in Liverpool.  A hooligan if you will.  Or maybe a "Wholigan"?  A deadbeat.  A dead beat...le?  You get where I'm going with this right?  Liverpool.  Beatles.  Beetles.  Carrying on.

In our very first image of Dane we see him posed to throw a Molotov cocktail and yelling "Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck!".  Class act all the way our boy Dane.  He and his friends are trying to blow up or set on fire their school.  Like ya do.  The boys  are drunk and dangerous.  "We are the Boys! We are the Boys!" Dane yells.  There is graffiti reading "King Mob" on the walls.  Dane feels he has seen the name before.

We later see Dane at school where we learn that the kid is super smart but school ain't his thing.  (SPOILER:  We'll see his teacher again later.  He's kinda important.)  Later we get to meet Dane's awful mother who kicks him out of the house into the freezing Liverpool night because she has a boyfriend coming over.  Dane is minding his own business smoking a cigarette when who should walk buy but John Lennon and Stuart Sutcliffe.  Dead Beatles! John and Stew ramble off and Dane calls after them, "Mr. Lennon!" but they don't acknowledge him.  Then a demon appears and whispers in his dear.  The demon is Jack Frost.  The demon is Dane?  He tells it to buzz off.
Dane can't be bothered with dead Beatles and inner demons just yet.  He has angry youth shenanigans in which to partake.  Ecstasy, arson and grand theft auto.  Good times.  Meanwhile King Mob is talking to John Lennon via drug enhanced television.  Like ya do.  Lennon is/was an Invisible?  Of course he is/was!   
(Image stolen from Wired of all places.)

We see Dane in court for his crimes where he is sentenced to a prison school called Harmony House.  And here is where the comic turns into a horror movie. Harmony House turns out to be a place where they are correcting wayward boys by lobotomizing them and turning them into mindless zombies.  It is very much like the movie of Pink Floyd's The Wall with some Clockwork Orange and 1984 thrown in to make sure we don't miss the point.
(Image stolen from tumblr.)

But luckily for Dane, King Mob is thinks he is special and is planing his parole.  How does Mob know about Dane?  An Invisible in the school?  An Invisible in Harmony House?  Trans dimensional John Lennon?  Mob gives his female associate Ragged Robin an apple.  Apple = student and teacher.  Apple = The Beatles.  Apple = the garden of Eden = knowledge.  Apple = apple. 

Someone else thinks Dane is special.  A totally gross monster in the Harmony House commands that Dane should be converted immediately before the other side gets him.  The other side?  The Invisibles?  Dane runs and finds himself in a room full of jars of gross looking guts.  (The baddie's name is Gelt, Hebrew for castration, and the guts look a lot like testicles.)  It is what they take out of the boys to neuter them and Dane is next.  But suddenly bullets explode the bad guy's face.  It is King Mob in an insane gorilla mane gas mask headdress.  They escape and Mob spay paints "King Mob" on the walls of Harmony House.  Mob explains that he is a part of a secret group called the Invisibles and then he is gone with Dane left alone on the city streets.

(Image stolen from tumblr.)

Annotations available at The Bomb.

What an issue huh?  It feels long.  So much in that comic.  In the writing style of today's decompressed comics it would be at least five comic books.  Morrison however in the past decade or so has gone to a hyper compressed style and could possibly tell this story in eight pages now.  Either way, there is a lot to absorb.  Some of it is standard.  Talented outcast kid is thrown into an oppressive system then recruited to play for the good guys.  But there is a lot of neat mystery about the Invisibles.  What are they?  Time traveling super heroes.  Occult police?

In our post 2011 world what do we call small groups that blow things up to strike at their enemies?  Terrorists?  The Invisibles are psychedelic time traveling terrorists? I guess we will have to read the next issue to find out.

But first, let's take a look at the letters page!

WTF is a letters page?  See, back in the way back times comic books had letters columns and editorial pieces.  (They also had advertisements, newsstand distribution and profits.)  (Does the omnibus have the letters pages?)  The Invisibles letters page was called Invisible Ink and it started off with this message from the author:

*********

"You've just come at the right time. We're having a bit of a party. D'you like... you know what?"

DESTROY THIS COMIC!

That's my advice. When you've finished reading THE INVISIBLES #1, tear it up, burn it, feed it to your lizards, lock it in the tank of a stolen car and push it off a bridge. You'll feel good, believe me. It's only a comic, after all. Do you really need more of these things cluttering up your life? Do you really need to be chained to a mountainous dead weight of paper? There'll be another one next month anyway, and chances are your memories of this comic will be much better than the real thing.

So go on. Do it. And when you've done it, go do the rest of your comics. Death to "speculators"!

EXCEED THE STATED DOSE

As usual, with no letters to fill the first-issue text pages it's up to me to ramble on a bit, provide some background material on the creation of the item you now hold in your hands and introduce the creative team. Ever conscious of the writer's duty to project at least the illusion of glamour and sophistication, I'm making these notes on the Boulevard Pomare, downtown Papeete, trade winds rattling the palm leaves, a fresh spray of warm rain, white surf on green water, clouds blurring the jagged volcanic outlines of the island of Moorea off in the background.

Slow Sunday in paradise. Drinking espresso with the left hand, screwdrivers with the right, in an effort to disconnect the hemispheres of my brain. The vodka and orange don't seem to be mixing very well. Tastes funny and smells like something shit in my glass.

Only thing to do, I suppose, is keep on drinking until I lose my sense of smell altogether. The best thing about writing is that it can be done anywhere and anywhere is, of course, my favorite place.

Since finishing up DOOM PATROL in '92, I've spent much of the time travelling and recharging my batteries with new sights, new sounds, new gastric upsets. (And now it's really raining, coming down in heavy drifting veils, drops as big as raisins spattering on the wooden rails. Ten minutes later the clouds have passed and here's the sun. Ionized air smelling of baked dust, saturated with oxygen. Drenched and refreshed, the foliage is a vivid surging green now and big yachts bask in the harbor, just waiting to be infiltrated by James Bond.)

These travels in what's generally recognized as the "real" world, were balanced and enriched by extensive... um, Internal voyaging, designed to engender what Rimbaud so aptly dubbed "the systematic derangement of the senses."

During this period, I was also, to be brutally frank, shattered by the response to DOOM PATROL, which I loved as a parent loves a gifted and misunderstood child, but which was either relentlessly panned by critics or completely ignored. So, I felt I needed time away from comics, time to recover and to rethink my approach to work I emerged from this alchemic crucible with several little black notebooks worth of ideas--the forthcoming FLEX MENTALLO, for instance, and also THE INVISIBLES, which you've got right here.

Freewheeling madly across the globe in states of howling delirium may be highly instructive in a number of ways, but I found that I missed the simple discipline of writing a monthly book and the buzz of readers' feedback. Which brings us right to where we are now.

THE INVISIBLES is what I'm going to be concentrating on for the foreseeable future, and I think I've at last found a concept wide-ranging enough to accommodate all the ideas I've had which would otherwise be spread through a succession of one-shot books and specials.

Although we have a core group of characters, anyone can belong to or oppose the Invisibles, giving me the opportunity to tell stories ranging across time and genre, stories that will eventually come together and be revealed as one large-scale, shimmeringly holographic tapestry.

Generally, the longer stories will feature the activities of our five principal players, while one shots will explore the lives of various ordinary and extraordinary folk drawn into a web of conspiracy that extends from the back streets of your home town to the dark blue-green planet circling Alpha Centauri and beyond, out past the horizon of the spacetime supersphere itself.

This is the comic I've wanted to write all my life--a comic about everything: action, philosophy, paranoia, sex, magic, biography, travel, drugs, religion, UFOs... you can make your own list. And when it reaches its conclusion, somewhere down the line, I promise to reveal who runs the world, why our lives are the way they are and exactly what happens to us when we die. In the meantime, send us your comments, your dreams, your recipes, your love letters, crank mail, whatever. I'll read 'em all and answer as many as I can here in "Invisible Ink."

KILL RAVE

I have a dream: Somewhere out there, fourteen-year-old kids are beginning to look around, beginning to get angry and strange and wild. Soon they'll be cutting their hair with blunt scalpels, taking drugs that haven't been synthesized yet, making music that will terrify everyone over twenty-one. I have a dream. And I'd like to be the first to salute les enfants du siecle.

"NO! I'M SPARTACUS!"

GRANT MORRISON is five feet eleven inches tall and has dark brown hair and hazel eyes. His favorite color is turquoise. His favorite foods are chocolate, salt and vinegar crisps, salads and spicy foreign muck. He has an appendectomy scar. His mum is called Agnes, his dad is called Walter and his sister is called Leigh. His favorite animal is a cat and his favorite girl is called Magdalene. He is single, heterosexual (with possible latent homosexual tendencies), and is currently quite wealthy. His work has been described as "gibberish." That's all there is to him.

STEVE YEOWELL is one of the world's greatest comics artists and a close personal friend of the author. He's in love with the modern world and lives with his girlfriend Jill in a neon-hazed, strobelit world of endless parties. Other than that, there's not much to say about Steve.

RIAN HUGHES, first-issue cover artist and designer of THE INVISIBLES, is the sort of well-mannered, typically British young man you'd confidently entrust with your teenage daughter's virtue, but you'd be wrong, Professor! Dead wrong. For Rian is sex mad! He is a sex maniac! This Don Juan worships sex in all its forms. The priapic appetites of this Casanova, this leering Lothario, would exhaust even the most enthusiastic of Tantric love godesses. No man's daughter is safe with Romeo Rian Hughes. Heed the warning!

NEXT MONTH: Dane McGowan, lost and homeless in London, encounters Mad Tom O' Bedlam and takes a mind-wrenching peek under the skin of the world we know. PLUS Your Humble Narrator and, like, droog returns with more pointless travellers' tales designed to fill up the space before the letters come in. "Invisible Ink"- the place to meet new people!  -Grant Morrison Tahiti, March '94

*********

 I obviously did not destroy my copy.  I love all the bombast in that piece.  This is Morrison as not only writer but as showman and huckster selling to the world his number one product.  Which is of course, Grant Morrison.  It seems sill now but at the time it had a lot of impact.  It was the author speaking directly to the audience and encouraging them to be a part of this thing.  Just like Stan Lee at his best in the old Marvel editorials.  I personally think it is a lost art that we could use a lot more of.  And about that "currently quite wealthy" line.  This is after the trade paperback version of Arkham Asylum made Morrison rich.  Well, at least rich enough to travel around the world, do a lot of drugs, hang out with aliens and write The Invisibles.  The trade paperback or "graphic novel" made a lot of guys relatively rich.  Some went on to be novelists, screen writers, movie directors or just lazy jerks that dropped out.  Through it all, Morrison continues to make comics.  He's still at it right now.  

Tune in next time as we look at issue two,  "Down and Out in Heaven and Hell part 1".


Your best pal ever,

Shannon Smith

p.s. Say you want a leader but you can't seem to make up your mind. I think you'd better close it and let me guide you to my twitter feed.
p.p.s. Let's pretend we went to high school together on facebook.
p.p.p.s. Google + is another place you can read the same thing I posted here.
p.p.p.p.s. I'll tumblr for ya.
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