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23 October 2012

Into the Supercontext part 3: The Invisibles Vol. 1 No. 2

(Image stolen from ComicVine.)

The Invisibles Vol. 1 No. 2.
"Down and Out in Heaven and Hell Part 1"
Written by Grant Morrison.  Art by Steve Yeowell.
Cover by Sean Phillips.
A Vertigo comic published by DC Comics.

"'s a comic book which is kinda my attempt to explain what had happened to me after I'd been abducted by aliens in Kathmandu in 1994 and the only reason I was abducted by aliens in Kathmandu in 1994 was because I went to Kathmandu in 1994 to be abducted by aliens!
The first four issues I knew it was gonna be a boy's initiation in to this occult secret society. Then in issue 2 I went to Kathmandu and had basically an alien abduction experience. And that changed the entire series because what I then wanted to do with the series was to make something that was alive rather than just tell a story, I wanted to do something that was a spell, that actually moved, that people who'd read it would be changed by it or would be led in to situations whereby they might be changed." -Grant Morrison

For Morrison it is never enough to make a really sexy hand grenade.  He needs YOU to pull that pin.

Let's start again with the cover.  I'm not a huge fan of this cover.  Sean Phillips does a great job with the colors and design of the thing and I like the idea but Dane looks too old.  He looks like he's in his 30s when he's just a kid.  But I'm nitpicking.  Let's look inside the thing.

In the first issue our boy Dane McGowan is set free from an oppressive system and meets King Mob but it is not an initiation.  It is just a hint that there is something else beyond his known reality.  It is in this 2nd issue that the real initiation begins. In the 1st issue King Mob tells Ragged Robin that they will have to put the boy through the ringer and in issue 2 we start with Dane doing a really lousy job being a homeless person.  He thinks King Mob has abandoned him but what he does not know is that members of Mob's group are all around.  Even the reader does not know it at this point.  There is a lot of slight of hand in this comic which becomes obvious on a re-read after all of Mob's friends have been revealed.

Morrison is going to use a familiar structure in Dane's education.  It is a two master structure.  We see it in Star Wars.  Luke has Kenobi to introduce him to the larger world then Yoda to train him how to master it.  Dane's Obi-Wan Kenobi crazy old wizard appears in this issue in the form of Mad Tom O'Bedlam.  Tom appears at first as just a mad homeless person.  He is a trickster teacher like Juan Matus in Carlos Castaneda's books.  A jovial comical character singing and dancing about.  He has a solid crazy old wizard beard and his baggy homeless close are a close enough appropriation for a wizard's robe.  If you're going to go on a magical quest as a part of a secret society you need to have some wizard time and that's what Tom O'Bedman is here to cover.

Dane is starving on the streets and can't take it anymore so he smashes a trash can through a window to smash mannequins draped in expensive fashions.  There is a lot, and I mean a ton of class anxiety stuff going on in this series of comics.  I'm not a sociologist so I won't get into a lot of it but for now we will just say that Dane has a lot of anger toward those in the classes above him and the police and systems that protect and serve them.  After the window smashing Dane is on the run from the police when Mad Tom shows up to save him.  Tom demonstrates his ability to make the policeman think Dane is not there.  Or invisible.  Tom explains his trick as magic but Dane is unimpressed.  Tom also knows about Dane's demon, "Jack Frost" but Dane ain't talkin'.

Dane is an angry and cynical young kid so if Mad Tom is going to get through to him he's most likely going to have to do it the same way Juan Matus got through to Carlos Castaneda.  Drugs.

There is a weird scene where a group of men dressed for a fox hunt are chasing a young girl like an animal. (The huntsmen are led by an enemy named Sir Miles but we don't know that yet so shhhhh.) Tom and Dane witness this and Tom pulls Dane out of the way.  The girl's attempt to flee ends brutally.  Rich Brits chasing humans for sport?  Again with the class warfare.  Tom and Dane flee to the underground abandoned subway tunnels.

There is talk of it being a place of initiation and then Tom introduces Dane to some blue mold.  They smoke the mold.  Even though it sounds gross this is an easy sell for Tom because Dane is anxious to try anything to get a high.  Anything to escape if even just for a moment.   This is Luke's blue lightsaber, Alice down the rabbit hole and Carlos Castaneda doing peyote.  It is not Billy Batson yelling Shazam and gaining super powers.  It is the moment of changed perception that facilities a journey toward knowledge and becoming what Dane will/must become.

Tom and Dane begin a psychedelic trip.  Dane sees "Barbelith" written on the tunnel walls.  (Invisible fans claimed it was really there back in the day.)  Dane sees a jumble of images.  Aliens and the red Barbelith dot from Doom Patrol 54.  Is Barbelith calling to Dane?  Has he seen it before?  Are the aliens the past, the present or the future?

They emerge from the tunnels into an alternate London.  Great giant airships are in the sky.  Still, Dane is unimpressed.  The thinks that it is just the drugs.  Tom then proves his magic by turning off every light in London.  When the look at they stars they are Jack Kirby crazy dot stars.   Just as Dane finally gives in, Tom is gone and Dane is back in real London and now the huntsmen are after him.

This issue is one of the more formulaic of the series.  I think Morrison wants the reader to relate to Dane and feel familiar with the initiation to the quest he is about to dive into.  A wizard, running from hunters, hiding in the underground tunnels, the magic stage prop that triggers an awakening.  It's all standard stuff.  It is in issue 3 that the training begins.

Annotations available at The Bomb.

Side note:  My copies of these comics are really starting to smell great.  1994 was a good year for stinky comics.

But before we look at issue 3, Let's take a look at what crazy old Grant had to say in Invisible Ink.

"Ladies and gentlemen, by overwhelming demand, we start with everyone's favorite... Chocolate Sandwich"


Writing this month's space filler on the roof garden of the Hoyel Vajra in Kathmandu, looking up towards the great Buddhist stupa of Shwyambunath. The sun's going down in a big watercolor wash of pale bronze and old ivory and there's nothing to do but fill up my notebook with whatever comes to mind. This hotel is built on the old execution ground, west of the Bishnumati River, and they say that hungry ghosts still prowl the polluted riverbanks, spooking the pigs which root around in fuming heaps of garbage and frightening the people who construct makeshift shanties and live on refuse. This is cursed ground but i haven't seen anything more scary than a half-naked kid squatting in a puddle of infected water to play with the corpse of a huge black rat.

Me and my pal Ulric went walking through the choked streets, past sindur-daubed shrines to Hindu and Tibetan gods, through narrow alleys with reeking open sewers and flowery statues, past the bitter, drifting smoke of the funeral ghats, through the endless clatter of auto-rickshaws and sputtering cars and painted buses. Everywhere, the centuries-old smell of piss and spice and sun-baked dust, soaked into the timbers of the crumbling houses. By the time we reached Durbar Square, the medieval heart of Kathmandu, we were dead on our feet; the thin, sick whining of a carbon monoxide hangover and the relentless tide of crippled beggars and touts becoming more than just culture shock, becoming instead a kind of cultural electroconvulsive therapy. It was such a relief to finally make it back to the hotel, armed with a chunk of Afghani hashish, and to just lie down, crash out and try to make sense of the pandemonlum.

Now, golden clouds are piling up like the towering heads of bewigged Louis Quatorze aristos, massing for a ball in the presence of the old Sun King himself. Dogs bark without stopping, all over town. The goats down below in the scrubby, balding patch of ground that passes for a meadow are muttering and moaning, probably well aware that every Tuesday and Saturday they're ritually sacrificed to the Dark Mother.

'Vive l'Anarchie!' screams the goat as the grinning devotees of Kali slit his throat and empty his blood into a stone bowl.

There are four hundred or so steps leading up to Shwyambunath and, apparently, if you climb them all without stopping once, you're guaranteed enlightenment in this life. Well, I'll try anything once if it promises the fast lane route to illumination, and four hundred steps, even at altitude and in the heat, turned out to be a lot easier than it sounds. We practically ran up the stairs, with only a slight shortness of breath to show for it when we finally reached the top. Now where's my enlightenment?

Up there, under the painted eyes of Buddha, there is the smell of charcoal and sewage and candle smoke. Threadbare dogs and ducks fight with families of monkeys for scraps of rotten food. Traders have set up stalls, selling postcards and religious knickknacks and it's almost too obvious a collision of the sacred and profane to even merit comment.

We took some photographs and left. An ancient withered monk in faded saffron look at me, then smiled. It was like getting a grin from the alien at the end of Close Encounters.

Another night at the Blue Note beatnik bar in Thamel, Ulric and I, infamous libertines, are full committed to drinking ourselves mad. Later, he lights a candle and props it up against the telephone in the room we're sharing. We drift off for a while, deep in reverie, and the phone catches fire and begins to melt. It looks like a painting by Salvador Dali. We both have diarrhea.

And I'm writing this, bit by bit, line by line, and also coming up with ideas for THE INVISIBLES (Just worked out most of issue ii, which features the Haitian hougan Jim Crow. The longer story arcs for this series, I ought to explain, will feature the five principal characters, while one-offs and two-parters can and will be about anything and anyone vaguely related to the large-scale Invisibles concept), and reading "The Shaman's body" by Amold Mindell, which suggests that we ought to listen more to what our bodies are trying to tell us about our psychological health. I'm listening and my body is saying, "Please, in the name of Buddha, find somewhere to lie down!" People are cheering offstage; the Kathmandu soccer team are playing Bhaktapur on the wasteground below and a goal has been scored.

Imagine the cheering getting louder and louder warping into white noise then nothing then back down into the sound of a orchestra tuning up, fading into the distance and birdsong and barking cars. In between the last paragraph and this one, I had one of the most profound and fascinating "spiritual" experiences of my life. Whether or not the structure of the Universe and the meaning of Life and Death were actually explained to me over the past few hours by higher dimensional entities made of liquid chrome remains open to question but i now know exactly what THE INVISBLES is all about how it will end. Nobody ever believes me when i tell 'em that so-called "weirdest" bits of my comics are actually the most autobiographical. And, of course, the strangest imaginings, by some which then pay the electricity bill and buy food. Like Dane McGowan, in this month's story, some of you begin to see exactly what "magic" is and how it works.

Needless to say, I've still got diarrhea though.


This issue introduces Sean Phillips as regular cover artist. I don't know Sean well enough to tell lies about him. You may have seen this brilliant cover work on the late, lamented KID ETERNITY series, which he also drew. He's drawn loads of stuff in Britain and his carving out a niche for himself in America with projects like the above-mentioned K.E., THE HEART OF THE BEAST and the new Eddie Campbel-scripted incarnation of HELLBLAZER. He may even do some interior work for THE INVISIBLES if i can convince him... Christ! I know this is boring but, like I say, if i describe him as a club-footed sex offender or notorious transvestite assassin he's probably take me to court.

And while we're here, it's only fair that the other stalwarts of Team Invisibles are introduced but I barely know any of them and must leave this section to Stuart or Julie...

Hi- Stuart here- we're approaching the bottom of the page, so I'll make this quick. Daniel Vozzo is one of the fines colorists on the planet Earth; his work can also be seen in SANDMAN and SHADE, THE CHANGING MAN, as well as in old, yellowing copies of KID ETERNITY, WITCHCRAFT, and many other top-quality comics. Electric Crayon is couple of guys- Marc Siry and Steve Buccellato-who are just beginning to set the world on multicolored fire; look for their color separation work in several new DC books in the months to come. And Clem Robins is a terrific letter whose recent credits include BLACK ORCHID, HELLBLAZER, VAMPS, KID ETERNITY, and (just for variety) JUSTICE LEAGUE AMERICA. I think that's it, so close your eyes now and return with Grant to the magical land of Kathmandu...

I'm too exhausted to write anymore. I've been mugged by ET and this pals and fain would lie doon. I leave you with a plea; for God's sake, keep thos letters coming or I'm going to have to do this every issue.

NEXT MONTH: The shit hits the fan, the fan hits the rotor blades and the helicopter hits the oil tanker Dane McGowan's life takes another turn for the unusual as he learns where cities come from, finds out what it's like to fly and faces the uncanny terror of the Blank Badge. Be here, be there, by anywhere but buy, buy, buy THE INVISIBLES #3!

-Grant Morrison Nepal, may 1994 
(Image of Grant Morrison and his hair stolen from Grant Morrison.)

One of the lessons to take away from Grant's writing in Invisible Ink is that if the truth is boring go with fiction.  And if life is boring, make life fiction. 

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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