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24 October 2012

Into the Supercontext part 4: The Invisibles Vol. 1 No. 3

The Invisibles Vol. 1 No. 3
Written by Grant Morrison.  Art by Steve Yeowell.
A Vertigo comic book published by DC Comics in 1994.

 "It's really simple. The truth of that one is that design staff on The Matrix were given Invisibles collections and told to make the movie look like my books. This is a reported fact. The Wachowskis are comic book creators and fans and were fans of my work, so it's hardly surprising. I was even contacted before the first Matrix movie was released and asked if I would contribute a story to the website.

It's not some baffling 'coincidence' that so much of The Matrix is plot by plot, detail by detail, image by image, lifted from Invisibles so there shouldn't be much controversy. The Wachowskis nicked The Invisibles and everyone in the know is well aware of this fact but of course they're unlikely to come out and say it.

It was just too bad they deviated so far from the Invisibles philosophical template in the second and third movies because they blundered helplessly into boring Catholic theology, proving that they hadn't HAD the 'contact' experience that drove The Invisibles, and they wrecked both
'Reloaded' and 'Revolutions' on the rocks of absolute incomprehension. They should have kept on stealing from me and maybe they would have wound up with something to really be proud of - a movie that could change minds and hearts and worlds.

I love the first Matrix movie which I think is a real work of cinematic genius and very timely but I've now heard from several people who worked on The Matrix and they've all confirmed that they were given Invisibles books as reference. That's how it is. I'm not angry about it anymore, although at one time I was because they made millions from what was basically a Xerox of my work and to be honest, I would be happy with just one million so I didn't have to work thirteen hours of every ****ing day, including weekends.

In the end, I was glad they got the ideas out but very disappointed that they blew it so badly and distorted all the Gnostic transcendental aspects that made the first film so strong and potent. If they had any sense, they would have befriended me instead of pissing me off. They seem like nice boys.."
-Grant Morrison.

Hoo boy this issue is a big one.  This issue begins to reveal some ideas that made millions and millions of dollars.  As a series of movies.  That Grant Morrison and company did not get any credit or money for.  But we will talk about that later.

First the cover.  I think it is a winner.  Another Sean Phillips cover.  This time I don't care if the guy looks like the Dane in the interior pages because the cover is so great in color, design and art.  It has that Hitchcock Vertigo thing going but it is not retro.  It is pure modern 90s.  It is not just terror but 90s drug enhanced terror.  It's also important to remember what this cover was going up against on the stands in 1994.  Some very ugly and often gimmick enhanced Marvel, DC and Image covers and some very dark and often horror based Vertigo and Dark Horse covers.  The Invisibles covers really stood out for me.

Let's also talk for just s a second about Steve Yeowell. I've not said a lot about the art so far in this series of posts.  One of the big criticisms of The Invisibles is the inconstancy of the art.  When I worked at Borders, The Invisibles was a hard sell at times because of the art.  The customer would see those magnificent Brian Bolland trade paperback covers then ask me where to start.  I'd show them the first volumes and the art would be a turn off.  The book's colors were a bit murky for the time.  I look at them now and they look like a technicolor dreamland compared to the 100 shades of mud mandate Marvel and DC are going by now but, for sure, these are not bright happy looking comics.  And Yeowell's art is a little unsettling in parts.  Not rough at all just not as thick and fluid as some people like in their comics.  Yeowell's chops are mighty.  I think his storytelling, pacing, layouts and especially the facial acting going on with the characters are all top notch.  There is a level of pain in almost every face.  Every character gritting their teeth.  His line has an edginess to it.  Not a shakiness but that edginess that fills a room right before the alcohol and drugs kick in and everyone cuts loose.  That right before edginess that The Invisibles is all about.

Also worth mentioning are Daniel Vozzo and Electric Crayon's lovely colors.  Sure they forget what color Mad Tom's beard is from panel to panel but it still looks great.  And notice our boy Dane's color scheme; red, yellow blue.  Just like Superman and Bart Simpson. 

So let's dive in shall we?  We pick up where we left off with Dane and Mad Tom about to be hunted by the folks in the fox hunting get ups.  On first look the natural assumption is that they are the same creeps that killed the girl last issue.  But, if we pay attention we might recognize a certain bald dude with a circular sunglasses fetish.

(Image stolen from DC Comics preview thing.  Notice that arrow in the last panel?  That is not in the comic.  That's my arrow.  Sorry.  I could fix it but where is the fun in that?)

This is King Mob and his Invisibles cell.  They are not here to kill Dane.  They are here to test him.  And surprisingly, he avoids the urge and command to run and stands his ground to defend crazy old Tom.  Who, he never seemed to like all that much anyway.  Tom says "Thought you didnt' care for no one" to which Dane answers "I don't".  I don't know that he stood his ground because it was the noble thing or the right thing.  I think the point is that this is who Dane is.  If there is an authority, he will spit in its face no matter the cost.  Dane simply does not give a single F.  Which, in a totally backwards way, might just be the fast track to all that selfless enlightenment junk spiritual types hope to achieve.

And that is what this issue is all about.  Tom O'Bedlam is training Dane without even knowing it.  An unconscious education.  This issue is a crash course in The Teachings of Don Juan by Carlos Castaneda.  Tom is teaching what the sorcerers knew.  What Juan Matus would call becoming a "man of knowledge".  Tom smacks Dane in the back to alter his perception.  Tom gives Dane the eyes of a bird to see the world as the birds see it.  To see the true nature of cities.

All of which is straight out of Carlos Castaneda.  Which, opens up a can of worms about how do you justify Morrison's initial anger with The Matrix when he is lifting Castaneda?  I don't want to play apologist here but this how I see it;  Much of the point of The Invisibles is to use a narrative to introduce the reader to a lot of supernatural/magickal/occult/gnostic/spiritual/religious/ect. ideas from all around the world and from all around history.  Castaneda presented his ideas as truth not fiction.  Castaneda presented his first Don Juan Matus book as anthropology.  Castaneda literally produced how-to manuals complete with photo demonstrations for many of his ideas.  Castaneda meant for people to use his ideas.  Now, some say Castaneda's books are fiction.  Either way, there is no question that Morrison is using ideas or knowledge from pre-existing works.  The difference between what Morrison did and what The Matrix did is that Morrison is not lifting a plot or characters.  Morrison is just lifting the tools and the tricks.  And I'm glad for it.  Personally, there is a world of knowledge I may have never looked into without it having been presented to me in The Invisibles.

(Side note:  The Empire Strikes back owes as much or more to Castaneda than The Invisibles does.  Yoda is closer to Don Juan Matus than Mad Tom is.)

Speaking of knowledge.  Tom drops this bomb on Dane.

"Our world is sick, boy. Very sick. A virus got in a long time ago and we've got so used to its effects, we've forgotten what it was like before we became ill. I'm talking about cities, see? Human cultures were originally homeostatic, they existed in a self-sustaining equilibrium, with no notions of time and progress, like we've got. Then the city-virus got in. No one's really sure where it came from or who brought it to us, but like all viral organisms, its one directive is to use up all available resources in producing copies of itself. More and more copies until there's no raw material left and the host body, overwhelmed, can only die." 

(Side note:  In looking for this video I find several versions.  The best is when Agent Smith speaks French.)

We could talk on and on for days about cities and humans as a virus.  It is certainly interesting.  As far as importance to the story goes the main point is that Dane is learning that the world is not what it seems and that there are forces and systems at work that are beyond his awareness.  But certainly there are some interesting ideas here.  Tom is reinforcing the ideas presented in Doom Patrol 54, that the for the human race to take the next step (into space or wherever) it will need to leave its bodies.  The Negative man on the moon without a space suit.  Humans ascending into heaven without bodies.  Much of what The Invisibles is about is mankind taking that next step and guessing at what it will look like.  Arthur C. Clarke on Ecstasy at a rave.

This issue is mostly exposition.  It is the point in the story where Morrison fesses up to Dane and to the reader about what is going on.  That yes, of course, there is a war going on because isn't there always one.  And that The Invisibles have been training Dane to be a soldier in that war without him even knowing it.  They have even given him a badge to wear.  A blank badge to wear.  Welcome to the team!  For your next part of the initiation, Tom is going to make you jump off a skyscraper.  (Where have we seen that before?)

A few other things to talk about this issue.

The blank badge:  There is a scene where Tom is forcing info out of Dane.  Emptying him.  Forcing him to talk about his past.  His father.  He forces Dane into a stream.  Baptism?  Tom forces Dane to look at the blank badge and what he sees is nothingness.  Morrison uses a clever trick here where we are shown what Dane sees by giving us an entire blank page.  Probably the first time I saw a trick like that in a comic book.  Its a bit like The Monster at the End of This Book.  Dane must be empty to be a good warrior in The Invisibles occult war.  "Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void, It is shining, it is shining." John Lennon wore a blank badge too.

Grant Morrison produced a bunch of blank badges and had them sent to comic shops to promote the comic.  Only they were not really blank.  They had The Invisibles logo printed on them very faintly.  You would have to be close enough to shake someones hand to notice it.  I have several of them.

The Hand of Glory:  There is a little bit of distraction and sleight of hand in this issue with a couple wearing clothes from the past walking through a scene talking about The Hand of Glory.  Is this dimensions and time lines going in and out of phase?  Time travel?  The Hand of Glory will be a big deal later and we will talk about it then.

Jack Frost:  We finally hear from Dane about what his Jack Frost demon is.  It is the imaginary figure his mother threatened him with when he was bad.  A boogey man that is just in his head.  But it is not just in his head because Tom is also aware of it.  Tom's view is that Dane is Jack Frost.

In the next issue we jump off skyscrapers and other exciting things that will inspire movies and several years of nerd on nerd message board battles throughout the late 90s and early 00s.

Oooooooooooooohs.

Annotations at The Bomb.

Now let's take a look at what good ol' Grant has to say in this month's Invisible Ink letters column:

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Psyche!  There was no letters column in issue three.  Made ja look!

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See ya next time as we jump off a skyscraper.  Like ya do.


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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