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25 October 2012

Into the Supercontext part 5: The Invisibles Vol. 1 No. 4

The Invisibles Vol. 1 No. 4.
"Down and Out in Heaven and Hell Part 3".
Written by Grant Morrison.  Art by Steve Yeowell.
Cover by Sean Phillips.
A Vertigo comic published by DC Comics 1994.

 "We are perceivers.  The world that we perceive, though, is an illusion. It was created by a description that was told to us since the moment we were born.  We, the luminous beings, are born with two rings of power, but we use only one to create the world. That ring, which is hooked very soon after we are born, is reason, and its companion is talking.  Between the two they concoct and maintain the world. So, in essence, the world that your reason wants to sustain is the world created by a description and its dogmatic and inviolable rules, which the reason learns to accept and defend."  -Don Juan Matus.

Another big issue here.  Much like issues 2 and 3, issue 4 is mostly exposition because Morrison is introducing young Dane McGowan and the reader to the world of The Invisibles.  This issue is basically the conclusion to Dane's recruitment and initiation.  The three part Heaven and Hell story has mainly been Mad Tom O'Bedlam giving Dane a crash course on the transcendental, occult, conspiracy theories and the invisible war in which The Invisibles are fighting.  And for the most part it is the standard story of a wise old teacher with a young aggressive pupil.  And while there is very little action in this three part story, it is still very interesting.  Morrison himself is playing the role of trickster teacher (like that Juan Matus guy I keep going on about or Yoda, you know Yoda).  He gives you just enough information to make you say 'wha...?"  And them promptly moves on to the next panel before you can catch up.  As Tom said in issue 3, he is teaching the subconscious and the important parts will make sense when you need them.  

I suspect that if Morrison had written this today he would have cut in a parallel action adventure thing with King Mob and his team to break up the exposition.  Just a guess.  It is a bit odd that we meet Mob in issue 1 then barely see him for three issues.  Morrison certainly takes his time in this story arc.  Very different than the hyper speed style he uses today.

One kind of interesting info that Morrison drops in nearly every page is the conspiracy theory.  This comic would have hit the stands near the end of 1994.  (Periodical time is weird.)  The mid to late 90s were a conspiracy crazy time.  The X-Files was a phenomenon on TV.  Oliver Stone's JFK movie had came out in 91 and would trigger steady stream of conspiracy theory movies.  The conspiracy movie was to the 90s what the Cold War spy movie was to the 80s.  And millennium fever was beginning to creep in everything.  The Invisibles is/was very much of that time.  Going through this re-read I chuckle at some of the conspiracy theories Morrison is salting this thing with.   The Internet existed, sort of, but I never owned a computer before 1998 so I would read these things Morrison is throwing out there and wonder about them.  Was he just making them up?  I'd ask around about them.  Look them up in the library or bookstores.  And the funny thing about conspiracy theories, or really any kind of knowledge, is that you remember it a lot better when you have to work at it.  When you have to track it down.  If The Invisibles came out today, I'd probably just pull things up on Google, read about them for a minute then never think about them again.  But in the 90s these ideas kept you thinking and wondering at least until the next issue. 

And while I'm rambling on and on about things this comic makes me remember rather than actually talking about the comic itself... I don't think that at any point in the previous posts have I talked about this being sort of a British comic and what impact that has.  It's a comic from an American publisher of course but it is a Vertigo comic and in the 90s you just about assumed every Vertigo comic was from an English writer.  Neil Gaiman was still writing Sandman.  Dang, in this age of the bookstore trade paper backs and the hard cover Omnibus it feels insane that there was a time when you could just walk into a comic shop each month and there would be a new issue of Sandman.  But yeah, this comic is written by Morrison from Scotland and many of the artists are from the UK and it takes place mostly in the UK and a lot of the things it is referencing are out of UK pop culture.  The people, the places, the clothing and especially the slang.  

All of which I at the time, young American dude, knew nothing about.
But it never really mattered to me as far as the reading experience goes.  It could have been set on Krypton for all I knew.  The differences did not make it confusing, they just made it more interesting.  Reading this in the mid to late 90s I did not have anyone to ask about these differences.  I'd seen some James Bond movies ya know but we didn't even have Harry Potter back then.  All of our lead TV and movie actors were still Americans speaking with American accents.  For all I knew, Morrison was making this stuff up. But the point, and hang in there, I swear I'm trying to get to one, is just to say that for the American reader this comic, along with several other Vertigo comics of the time, was like looking at a make a believe world even when it was only showing us the mundane parts of UK life.  And it was fascinating.  For me personally, I was also going through a (pretty long) phase where I was obsessed with 60 Brit rock.  Listening to The Who, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and Pink Floyd every day and watching old VHS tapes of documentaries and concerts every night.  And of course the Brits were re-invading America with Oasis, Blur, Radiohead etc.  It all bled in to what it was to be reading this piece of "anarchy for the masses" as we were stumbling toward the end of the century.

Oh, and one more thing.  My copy of this comic has a trading card packaged in it because it was the 90s and comics were just trading card delivery devices.  My card has what I think is the Death character from the Sandman comics.  I have no idea why.  Pieces of cardboard people paid money for.  The 90s everybody!

So where were we?  What were we talking about?  Oh yeah, comics.

We pick up again with Tom and Dane who have stolen a car and are having some fun.  They go on to have some outdoor fun.  Frisbee.  Cartwheels.  Crazy talk about death.  Good times.  Tom talks about the huge electricity transmission towers that litter the countryside and about how after mankind is gone they will be "old steel skeletons marching..."  I've always seen those things as slow walking giants.  Tom is trying to tell Dane that he is leaving.  He is talking about death but Dane is not paying attention.  "Sorcerers have to be warriors, Dane.  "We don't lie in our beds, waiting for old death to come sidling up in his cap and bells when we least expect it.  No, we go a-knocking on the bugger's door and when he opens it all surprised and sleepy-headed we leap past him and out."

Obi-Wan is warning Luke that he has grown old and the boy will have to carry on without him.  Dane blows up the car and the next day they are ready for his final lesson.  Tom gives Dane an address and has him smoke the blue mold again.  The little blue smoke.  They travel to the top of a skyscraper.  Tom tells Dane to imagine that he is a puff of blue smoke and prepares him to jump.  

"Look at it, Dane. Look at the city and the world in its proud array, like a cask of jewels laid open for you. It'll offer you everything you ever wanted but it's just pictures on billboards; dream cars, dream women, dream houses.  Time to wake up now and say goodbye.  Goodbye Dane.  You never trusted anyone in your life before.  Trust me.  Jump out of the dream.  Trust me now and jump.  Do you trust me?  Give me thy arm. Poor Tom shall lead thee."
(Image stolen from IGN.)

The Invisibles 1994.

The Matrix 1999. 

Dane does not go splat.  Dane awakens in a strange hallucination like field.  All the colors are wrong and there is a big red circle above his head.  Barbeltih.  A read planet floats in the sky.  Dane is alive and more importantly he feels alive.  Dane McGowan is dead.  Jack Frost is born. He cries tears of joy. 

Dane makes his way to the address Tom had given him where he finds King Mob and his Invisibles cell.  Dane is introduced to the group but he has met them all before without knowing it.  Lord Fanny (action transvestite), Boy (New York City police woman) and Ragged Robin ("Hi, I'm Ragged Robin -- I'm nuts.").

Mob explains that Tom is dead and that so is Dane if he wants to join The Invisibles.  He must be Jack Frost now.  Dane wants to know if it was all just the drugs.  Mob tells him that there is no blue mold.  That it was must moss.  Not a drug trip at all.  Everything is real.  Dane must decide whether to join or not but he does not have much time.  The bad guys are sending Orlando.  We don't know much about Orlando at this point other than that he takes his orders from rich guys too busy with ritual sex orgies to chase Mob themselves. ("Cabinet ritual... up to our knees in blood and spunk")  And that he will kill Mob's team if he gets to them.

The baddies bust in and all that remains of the team is a chalk board reading "BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU.  LEARN TO BECOME INVISIBLE" and a pink hand grenade that reads "SMILE".  The pin has already been pulled.

Annotations at The Bomb.

Next issue: Arcadia.

And now for this issue's Invisible Ink column.  This time we actually have letters.  I'm not going to post the full letters unless there are bits I'm really interested.  I'll post a brief summary of what the letter was getting at in parentheses.  I'm mainly just going to post the interesting bits from Morrison.  This is partially because I can't find this stuff anywhere online and I'm typing it in all by myself.

'...people are wondering why there is no rebellion.  I think there is no rebellion , not because kids are stupid or slothful, or whatever, but because the dark side of America is now in charge.'  -Hunter S. Thompson

Quote of the Month from the Doctor.  Thanks to everyone who wrote letters or posted E-mail in response to the first issue of THE INVISIBLES.  Here's some of 'em:

(The 1st letter talks about something called THE HACKER FILES and how excited the letter writer is about subversion and junk.  And glory be to goodness we have an example of what made letters columns in the 90s so great.  We have an example of a letter writer taking shots at a prominent letter hack from a letters page that does not even have a damn thing to do with this comic book!  Letters pages everybody!)

My dictionary defines "politics" as "the art and science of directing and administrating states and other political units; government."  Based on that definition, I'd say that far from being an honorable adventure, politics has proven itself time and time again to be little more than large-scale, licensed banditry.  The only difference between the Government and organized crime is that the Government  has the power to make arbitrary laws that place its own criminal activities beyond prosecution.  One of my intentions in THE INVISIBLES is to examine possible alternatives to the type of government we've been coerced into accepting.  I don't know whether Charles J. Sperling would agree with your description of him as an "authoritarian" in need of curing, but while he's thinking about it, here are his thoughts on INVISIBLES #1.

(So next letter is from the Charles J. Sperling guy the first letter was taking shots at!  What a world.  And Sperling is taking shots at Morrison and The Invisibles along with some back handed compliments.  Yes, Virginia there was snark before teh intronets.  Sperling closes with taking a shot at Morrison writing from Tahiti saying "Is it still the sort of place a Paul Gauguin would escape to?")

Not since Catholic missionaries hammered the concept of sin and made the Tahitian people embarrassed about their bodies, Charles.  (A couple of the girls working in the hotel where I was stying didnt' even dare get into the pool, in swimsuits, a night, so fearful were they that I and a couple of other men who were present might catch sight of even an inch of naked skin.  I found the place bland and sick with French Colonialism.  Paradise has moved to Fiji, as far as I'm concerned.)

I'm not convinced by you objections to Dane's cavalier use of the word "fuck".  His vocabulary is appropriate to his upbringing and social status.  It's as simple as that.  If you want more of a "young man who knows who Kropotkin was," then you'll have to stick around for a while.  Of course the "F-word" isn't all he can say.  He wouldn't be here otherwise"And "Gelt" = "castration."

(The next letter is mostly praise and is very long.  I did not read all of it.  I mean, I probably read it two or three times between 1994 and 2000.  Just not today.)

This letter was so rational, so careful to state only personal preferences and avoid sweeping generalizations, until you got onto the subject of surrealist masturbating, David.  "It doesn't do a thing for the rest of us"?  How can you be so sure?  The fiction I enjoy reading, for instance tends to be non-linear, stream-of-consciousness stuff and I know for a fact that the so-called "surrealist" material in DOOM PATROL was immensely popular with a  lot of people.  I also prefer art that is abstract and provides space for me to add my own input (I get more form an Yves Klein blue canvas say, than I do from a photo realist painting of a swimming pool) and I'm sure I can't be the only one.  If you do prefer less avant-garde material, why don't you write it yourself" It's go to be better than some of the crap out there.

As for THE INVISIBLES, you'll be pleased to know that in general, the seemingly irrational occurrences here- such as Dane's UFO experience this issue- will all be explained somewhere down the line.  It may well be, however, that the explanations will be more mysterious than the original events.

(Ah, 90s author on fan letter smack talk.  The good ol' days.  The next letter is full of words.)

You're definitely taking me too seriously.  Anyone who can be bothered to sit down, write a letter and send it all the way to America is clearly taking things seriously.  While we're being serious, however, I want to know who wrote the rule book that tells us we must say only "genuine" things?  I like talking shite and I like posing.  is my writing Romantic foppery any more or less contemptuous and offensive than your transparently self-conscious "I've got your number, matey" proletarian prose?  We're all posers, Lee, and why shouldnt' we be?  Whats wrong with "pretension"?  Life in the late 20th century is a supermarket stocked with appealing self-images.  Why not shop instead of hanging around outside, trying to maintain a cool, cynical "detached" attitude?

Glad you like the comic, though.  That's the main thing.I'll see you at UKCAC and we can pose together.  Oh, and you can be sure that if I'm shagged up the arse by some burly wrestler or sex-crazed Malaysian rent boy, my beloved readers will the the first to know.

(Well, thank God for that!  The next letter asks if Morrison is related to a Craig Morrison who apparently makes crazy King Mob like clothing.)

No relation.  No coincidence.  No more space for letters.   Thanks again to everyone who made the effort.  This issue we bid farewell to Steve "Manchester" Yeowell for a while as over the horizon comes flame haired Jill Thompson, who'll be joining us for "Arcadia."  See you there.  Meantime, check out The Starry Wisdom, edited by Dave Mitchell and just published by Creation Books, 83 Clerkenwell Road, London EC1, UK.  It's a volume of stories inspired by the work of H.P. Lovecraft and features contributions from William Burroughs, J.G. Ballard, Ramsay Campbell, Alan Moore, me and numerous other people you might be into. Cutting-edge freakbeat weirdness guaranteed.


See ya next time.  Don't forget to practice being invisible.

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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