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15 November 2012

Into the Supercontext part 8: The Invisibles Vol. 1 No. 7

(Image stolen from Comic Vine.)

The Invisibles Vo. 1 No. 7
"Arcadia Part 3: 120 Days of Sod All"
Written by Grant Morrison.  Pencils by Jill Thompson.  Inks by Dennis Cramer.  Colors by Daniel Vozzo.  Cover by Sean Phillips.
A Vertigo comic book published by DC Comics in 1995.  

First, a few random things about this comic book as it exists here in its original print form;  The inside cover ad is for Mat Wagner's Sandman Mystery Theater.  The copy reads "ALL HE WANTS IS HIS POUND OF FLESH".  Nice.  There is an ad for Beavis and Butt-Head VHS tapes.  "Stick it in.  Press play."  There is an add for new CDs by The Stone Roses and Rancid on sale at Musicland and Sam Goody.  The Vertigo subscriptions ad (remember subscriptions?) includes Animal Man, The Books of Magic, Hellblazer, The Invisibles, Sandman, Sandman Mystery Theater, Shade and Swamp Thing.  And the inside back cover ad is for a new ongoing monthly series titled Preacher.  "IT'S THE TIME OF THE PREACHER.  GOD HELP US."  Indeed.

Let's talk about this cover a bit.  First of all, it is lovely.  And creepy.  A gloved hand holds a branding iron.  We'll see a branding iron in the comic.  A woman's hand holds a rose from which petals are falling.  We will see that inside as well.  This is another cover that is more in line with what we could see in the genre section of a book store than the comics racks of the 90s.  Which, again, is part of what turned out to be a winning strategy for Vertigo in appealing to an audience beyond that which was buying four copies of each new issue of Spawn.

Inside the comic... sweet mammity hambone, this one is a doozy.  In our last issue, time travel went wrong and King Mob's team is split up.  In this issue we get four different narratives.  Mob, Boy and the Marquis de Sade are sent one way, Lord Fanny and Jack are sent back to the windmill,  Ragged Robin is sent to... wait, we'll get to that later and we have a fourth story with the our dear friends the Shelley family.

But the opening pages of the comic are a hardcore brain donkey punch.  We start with four characters.  A banker, a judge, a bishop and a duke.  Money, law, religion and the ruling class.  And they inform us that they have locked themselves up in a castle with twelve women, eight men and another sixteen people they call "lost souls". (The "lost souls" are young and make this exponentially more creepy.)  The four men consider themselves gods and plan on doing every evil, nasty, disgusting, forbidden, taboo and just plain awful thing they can think of to the people they have trapped in there with them.

So, um, who the F are these guys and what the F is going on right?
Well, it turns out that when the time travel went wrong that Mob, Boy and the Marquis ended up inside the "Optic Sphere" which has taken its image off the  postcard of "Arcadia" by Poussin from the previous issues.  But it expands from there and they realize they are trapped in one of de Sade's stories.  Mob explains that there is nothing for them to do but play it out and treat it all like a dream until they find the exit.  The Invisibles are all about finding exits.  So, the group has no choice but to enter the castle of de Sade's story and watch how things play out with the banker, the judge, the bishop and the duke.  And it is going to be horrific.  Even de Sade can't believe his eyes.  What we are seeing is a graphic re-enactment of de Sade's "120 Days of Sodom" but I'm reading this for the first time in 1994 or 1995 and I've never read anything by the Marquis de Sade at that time.  And this is hardcore stuff.  People are branded.  People are raped.  One of the four wants to impregnate a boy.  Another wants to smear his feces across the face of the moon.

The Marquis tries to explain that his story was not trying to inspire this kind of thing but that he was condemning the hypocrisy of his age.  But Mob gives him an elbow nudge and ribs him into admitting that he does kind of enjoy it.  After many horrible scenes are shown, hinted at or spoken about, the four archetypal monsters conclude that none of it has been enough.  That they need more.  That they need a fifth.  They need a general.  Then a box appears.  It is some sort of bomb obelisk with one big red button.  A youth is forced to push the button with their tongue and things dissolve/explode to white.  Nothingness.   The four men represent the evils of the age of reason but the reader is also painted as guilty for just for having been a witness.  This is the worst case scenario ending of a world driven by an ideal of reason and the pursuit of knowledge.  Is this a condemnation from Morrison or just things playing out to a logical conclusion?


Mob, Boy and de Sade find themselves outside in melting snow.  The bad dream has ended.  They find a car and Mob tells de Sade that he is going to love San Francisco.

Jack and Lord Fanny are back in the time travel windmill where last issue ended with creepy evil jerk face Orlando cutting off Jack's finger tip.  Orlando eats the finger!  Oh, man that guy is the worst!  But Lord Fanny ain't having none of that and jabs Orlando in the eye with her high heeled shoe.  Jack finds a gun but it won't fire.  Orlando slices Fanny's chest and we leave that part of our cast with Orlando about to attack Jack.

The Shelley's, Percy and Mary are in Venice.  Their child has died.  Percy is devastated but Mary is strong.  While Percy was dreaming, his child was dying.  But Mary is the link to the future here.  She invented the future with Frankenstein.  She can move forward.  On a Venice bridge a flower petals drop from Mary's hand into the water below.

Ragged Robin finds herself at a strange church.  A strange man is playing chess.  (The Blind Chessman.)  He explains that they are Rennes-le-Chateau.  The man explains that the church was restored with particular attention paid to Knights Templar legend.  This is before The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail was plagiarised into The Da Vinci Code.   An inscription on the church reads, "This Place is Terrible".  But Robin enters anyway.  Inside she finds some Cyphermen baddies.  They have found the oracle they had been searching for.  There on some sort of steampunk machination sits the head of John the Baptist! 

Annotations at The Bomb.

And now letters in another Invisible Ink column.

*********
So that was the "controversial" issue #7.  No big deal, huh?
I'm always surprised by the number of letter writers who want to see lists of my reading/reference material.  I tend to resist these requests, on the grounds that they provide nothing more than the opportunity for me to flaunt my intellectual bona fides, and show off how clever and well-read I an pretend to be.  However, since this particular storyline has been unusually heavy on boring research, since I still only have a couple of letters in on #4 and since so many people have expressed a genuine curiosity about the background to this stuff, I've decided to break my own cherished rule.  Here then, for the interested out there, is the ever-loving' list of books I read, reread or consulted for the "Arcadia" storyline.

The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail - Michael Baigent, Richard Liegh and Henry Lincoln
Poetical Works - Shelley
Shelley - The Pursuit - Richard Homes
Bloody Poetry - Howard Brenton
Ariel - Andre Maurois
The Illuminoids - Neal Wilgus
Aztec and Maya Myths - Karl Taube
Words of Fire, Deeds of Blood - Loivier Bernier
The Guillotine and the Terror - Daniel Arasse
The Marquis de Sade - Robert Del Quiaro
The Passionate Philosopher - A de Sade Reader - Selected and Translated by Margaret Crossland
Dark Eros -  Thomas Moore
The Sedian Woman -  Angela Carter
Sexual Anarchy - Elaine Showalter
When the Whip Comes Down- Jeremy Reed
Mary Shelley - Muriel Spark
Secret and Suppressed - Edited by Jim Keith
Teh Voudoun Gnostic Workbook - Michael Bertiaux
The 120 Days of Sodom - The Marquis de Sade
The 120 Days of Sodom (play) - adapted by Nick Hedges
Coleridge: Early Visions - Richard Holmes
Monsterous Cults -  Stephen Sennitt
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test -  Tom Wolfe
On the Bus - Ken Babbs and Paul Perry
Cyberia - Douglas Rushkoff

So there you go.  Now it's time to let some readers get a word in edgewise.
-Grant Morrison

(The first letter is from a guy from Texas that is clearly on drugs.  He apparently got some stuff signed by Morrison at San Diego in 94 and thought that was rad.  He asks about Moonshadow.)

I imagine the rights to MOONSHADOW probably were and still are owned by the creators, David, and my apologies for not speaking to you at San Diego.  I'm usually jet-lagged and brutally hung over at these events and only speak to people if they speak to me first.  How I long to be capable of turning out the easy chat and carefree bandinage that Neil Gaiman fans are so familiar with, but sadly, I'm destined to live and die as a surly junkyard dog who can offer no words of advice and encouragement to my readers.  Maybe next time...

(I think the record shows that we here in 2012 know that Morrison got better at the whole con thing.  Or at least good enough to be the main event at his own show.   The next letter is from "Spunkmeyer" and is full of words and thoughts on Morrison's previous works like Arkham Asylum, Sebastian O and The Mystery Play.  )

Nice to hear from you again, Spunkmeyer.  It's always heartening when somebody notices stuff like the Joseph Campbell archetypal-patterns material.  Any thoughts on Dane's recently Wounded Hand, then?

(The next letter writer is a bit disappointed but plans to hang around.  What a soldier!)

Two letters in two issues, Mark!  You must be up for one of those acronymic awards Stan Lee used to hand out.  Sorry to disappoint you with #4 but there's no going back now.  I'm pleased to hear that you'll be hanging around, however, and you'll be happy to know that Dane won't always occupy center stage.  Unlike you, however, I'm very fond of the character and still intend that this series will chart his progress towards... um, "enlightenment."  He's only shallow because he's had to be in order to survive, bu surely self-destructive, thoughtless, rude and offensive little yobs are very bit as deserving of information and illumination as anyone else.  More so, perhaps.  Surely you dont' believe that "arcane knowledge" is the sold province of sensitive, well-brought up, middle-class boys with glasses and treasured paperback copies of The Lord of the Rings on their shelves? (Hi, Tim!)

(The next letter is from H. The Wolf.   The Wolf says some words including "No bread, no art".  The 90s Vertigo letters pages everybody!)

The happiest years of my life are right now, Mr. Wolf.  I was poor for twenty-seven years and it was crap.  Nor do I believe souls can be sold.  Who's selling?  Who's buying?  Whats the currency look like?  The most decadent luxury of all is to lie back in comfort, gently flagellating oneself for having sold one's soul.  In fact, I simply must try it later this evening.
Knowing you know all this, saying it anyway, filing up space.

(The next letter is from a guy who is writing his first letter to a comic book in ten years.  And he threatens to write poetry.)

And when you've written it, send ti to SANDMAN.  They can't get enough poetry in that letters column.  There's probably loads of my stuff you've missed but I don't have space for a checklist.  Some kind soul may be able to send you one.

*********

Tune in next time as we wrap up "Arcadia".

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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