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31 October 2012

Into the Supercontext part 6: The Invisibles Vol. 1 No. 5

The Invisibles Vo. 1 No. 5
"Arcadia Part 1 Bloody Poetry"
Written by Grant Morrison.  Pencils by Jill Thompson.  Inks by Dennis Cramer.  Colors by Daniel Vozzo.  Cover by Rian Hughes.
A Vertigo comic book published by DC Comics in 1995.  (Or maybe it was on the stands in late 1994.  Periodical time is weird.)

Hi friends.  Some personal real life things came up with the weather and the kids and the job etc. and I got super sick.  I'm still very sick but I have enough over the counter medicine in me to be declared a functional meth lab by the DEA so I'll try to press on.   So, this post is a bit late but don't worry we still have time to get back before the end of the world.  The cold medicine I'm on has me in a state where I can not seem to hold a single thought for more than a few seconds but I'll do my best.  Let's pick up with issue number 5.

It is 1995.  The World Trade Organization is established.  Mississippi decides to go ahead and take the radically progressive step of abolishing slavery.  The House passed The Contract With America.  168 people are murdered in the Oklahoma City bombing.  The Unabomber is at large.  Christopher Reeve is paralyzed.  War in Bosnia.  The DVD is announced.  OJ Simpson is found not guilty (despite being guilty).  Tank Girl and Judge Dredd get movies.   Post-Grant Morrison Doom Patrol and Animal Man are canceled.  Image, Dark Horse and DC all go exclusive with Diamond. Tupac goes to jail, has a number one album in jail and gets married in jail.  Jerry Garcia is dead.  

Okay.  We gotta talk about this cover for a bit first.  There are at least four versions that I am aware of.  They are designed by Rian Hughes who did the first issue.  The image I posted above is the front and back of the version I have.  (Only, my copy has Jill Thompson's autograph on it.  Thanks Jill Thompson!)  There multiple versions of this cover with multiple tag lines.  "YOU ARE NOW LEAVING THE TWENTIETH CENTURY", "CRASH THE BUS", "NEW WORLD DISORDER", "WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON", "BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING LEARN TO BECOME INVISIBLE" and "IN THE DARKNESS WE ARE ALL INVISIBLE" are the ones that I am aware of.  I don't know why there are multiple covers and have only recently become aware of them. It was the 90s and multiple covers was a pretty standard gimmick so I should not be surprised.

The design is fantastic.  It is printed on a brown paper bag kind of paper.  It is a very DIY punk rock kind of cover.  Very rock and roll.  The Who Live at Leeds,  Zepplin's In Through The Out Door... that sort of thing.  That computer font which was not yet over played at that time. It looked both punk and top-secret-government-conspiracy at the same time.  It looked like nothing else on the stands at the time.  And as I said in an earlier post, it was the cover that got me to finally buy in and get my own copies of The Invisibles.

It is a wrap around cover and the inside front and back covers are also part of the design.  Morrison must have really gotten Vertigo to buy into this thing to get them to give up three pages of ad space.  The inside covers read like advertisements for the comic you already bought but also include some get-the-new-reader-caught-up stuff. 
"An organization dedicated to subversive activity in all its forms, it has been implicated in everything from the French and American Revolutions to strange graffiti on toilet walls.  It may be connected to the fabled Illuminati -- it may not even exist in anything but conceptual terms -- but all of its members know that they belong in its ranks, even if they have never met any other Invisibles.  The only rule of the organization is disobedience."

The inside cover goes on to get you up to date on King Mob and his crew as well as hype up the baddie Orlando as a "vicious killer".

So, in a comic book where the bad guys use mind control and propaganda, the comic book itself is using a bit of both to convince you that this thing is a bomb about to explode and make you a part of this incredible thing.   "...even if they have never met any other Invisibles."  See, sometimes The Invisibles work alone.  See, YOU could be an Invisible.  All you need to get started is this handy how to manual called The Invisibles.  And maybe a blank badge. 

But what is actually in the comic?  Well, for one thing there is a lot of really great Jill Thompson and perfect Daniel Vozzo colors.  We'll get to it a bit latter in the Invisible Ink part of this post but Thompson is the Ragged Robin character here.  Or vise a versa.  Her style is more fluid than Yeowell's but it still feels like the same comic series.  The same world.  Which is something because this is a very different comic than the first four issues.  This comic begins the Arcadia story which was a mixed bag for a lot of readers.  This story drove message board debates for years.  And Morrison knew it would.  He was counting on it.  As you will see later (again) in Invisible Ink, Morrison knew this story would be heavy on philosophy and might be a hard sell for those that came for the curse words and Molotov cocktails.  But for me personally it is one of my favorite stories in the series and one of my favorite comics stories ever.

But I think Morrison was selling himself short.  There is plenty of action in this story and tons of suspense.  Down right horror actually.  But yeah for sure, this story is cray cray bananas.  This is a story that features King Mob and his Invisibles cell time traveling and a supporting cast that includes Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley, Lord Byron and the Marquis de Sade.  So strap it on tight.

We start with King Mob in India (?) watching a shadow play.  "The dalang is more than a puppeteer.  His skill makes us believe that we see a war between two great armies, but there is no war.  There is only the dalang."  Metaphor alert!  Who is the puppeteer then?  The Outer Church? (The baddies.)  Morrison?

The next page is a full page of text from Shelley's "Julian and Maddalo".

Then we are on to three pages of perfectly drawn and colored drunken philosophy debate between Lord Byron and Percy Shelley.  Like ya do.  They talk about the Arcadia painting by Poussin.  They drink to the skeleton that mocks "our dreams of a perfected world".

Then back to King Mob in the east talking with a local about Ganesh, the Hindu god "who breaks down obstacles".  But Mob is from the west.  "Yeah, our god is bigger than your god".  There is an aside about Mob having sex with an American girl.  Because that is what The Invisibles do.  They have sex with Americans in exotic locations.  Mob is asked if he will fly back to London and responds that he will take one of his "shortcuts" instead.

Next, back in London, former New York City policewoman Boy is training our boy Dane Jack Frost in kung fu action fighting.  He's gonna need it.

Jack: "So like, I was one of The Invisibles before I even knew about it?  Well, how do I know I'm really one now?  If nobody knows who's working for who, how do I know I haven't joined the other side?"
Boy: "Jesus!  Good question Jack.  Good question."

Then we have King Mob walking through one of his "shortcuts".  He is in some sort of post apocalyptic dream world under a blazing yellow sky.  King Mob can walk between worlds?  Through alternate realities?  There he speaks with a woman who appears to have suffered some radiation damage.  "That's one good thing about the war; it's always sunny now."  The lady has a one eyed baby.  It is a very odd Twilight Zone kind of scene but Mob is actually lovely in the thing.  It is one of the scenes from the comic that has stuck with me the most.   He fusses over the baby and plays with it.  He's just a big pierced up teddy bear in his leather.  The lady says he reminds her of Gandhi as he walks way into the sun.

Then we get down to the nitty gritty.  Orlando.  The crazed killer sent to hunt down King Mob's cell.  A father is buying his kids ice cream in the park but when he comes back it is not daddy anymore.  It is Orlando wearing daddy's face.  Gross and creepy.  Did Hannibal Lecter wear other peoples faces?  I think the Joker in current DC Comics has taken to do that as well.  It for sure is very creepy.  Orlando is sick ya'll.

King Mob's gang are all waiting for him in London.  They are having dinner and getting drunk.  Some conversational exposition explains a few things to Jack and the reader about how the Invisibles work.  (Ragged Robin has psychic powers.  Does Jill Thompson?)  By the time Mob shows up Jack is hammered.  Mob gives the team the new mission.  "Orders have come through.  One of our agents is being relocated on the spacetime super-sphere."  Spacetime super-sphere everybody.  Now we're in a proper Grant Morrison comic book.  But Mob also has bad news.  He shows them a postcard with this image...
... and tells them that it is signed "Xipe Totec".
"Orlando.  It's Orlando.  He's here, in London.  We're in deep shit."

And with that they are off to hop into the TARDIS a time travel windmill to go rescue their man in the spacetime super-sphere.  Yes.  A windmill.

In the windmill they sit in a circle (or is it a pentagram?) and hold hands.  Jack does not want to hold Lord Fanny's hand.  In the early issues, Lord Fanny weirds the crap of of Jack.  Lots fear of the transgendered in Jack at this time but, spoilers, he grows up.  Lord Fanny enjoys it.  "It's not my hand sweetheart, it's a satin evening glove from Harrods."  The ritual beings, the windmill's blades start spinning and they all do the time warp again.

They arrive in France in time to see a guillotine sever a head.  "Welcome to the revolution, Jack".

Annotations at The Bomb.

Next:  Mysteries of The Guillotine!

But first, letters in another Invisible Ink column.

Thanks once again for the roaming herds of letters and E-mailings.  Response to THE INVISIBLES has been gratifying and gloriously inventive.  If I could print every one, I would, but they'll only give me this little space at the back and I'm forced against my will to make 'Sophie's choice'-style decisions.  Needless to say, I love you all and my chiffon is wet.  I'm, particularly interested t o see what you make of this and the next three issues which are a little different from the first four Dane McGowan chapters.  Remember in the first issue text piece when I sketched a partial rundown of things I wanted this comic to deal with?  Yeah?  Well, the "Arcadia" storyline shines a spotlight on the "philosophy" part of the deal.  The theoretical scaffolding for the entire INVISIBLES series is revealed herein, but I'm still not sure whether people will actually want to persevere with page after page of rambling historical bullshit.  There's no going back now , though, so fans of modern-day swearing and violence will just have to put up and shut up until #9, #10, #11, etc.

Meanwhile, i fall the talk bores you, you can always look at the priddy pictures.  This issue sees the comet like arrival of Jill Thompson and Dennis Cramer.  I expect most of you will be familiar with Jill's vivid work on SANDMAN and BLACK ORCHID, but you probably don't know that I was to Jill as Dylan was to the Beatles vis a vis consciousness alteration.  Comics Babylon, or what?  Jill also has the distinction of having her likeness appear in more comic than just about anyone else, including me.  She's been the Queen of the Night for P. Craig Russell, she's been, depending on who you believe, various characters in SANDMAN and she's currently turning up regularly in this very title as Ragged Robin.  With all that on her plate, it's amazing she manages to get any work done, but she does because she believes in clothes!  She believes in dancing!  And she believes in Pop!
An Dennis Cramer is 17' tall and lives on the moon.
Letters Explode Into Action Now!

(The first letter is just a bunch of words and not sentences to which Morrison responds...)

Stephanie!  Dear!  Antipodean airmail artistry * secret starmaps * something.... ummm... Next!

(The next letter is full of praise and wants more of Morrison's text pieces.)

I enjoy writing the travel pieces, Jeff, but I'd probably rather have the dialog of the letters pages.  On the subject of cities, places like Kathmandu, say or Delhi are different form Western cities in that they wear their souls on their sleeves.  The gods are living presences everywhere, despite the traffic noise and pollution.  Modern, cities seem at first to be disconnected from the "uminous" as Jung called it - that sense of awe and uncanny significance which objects possess in dreams and trips - but what interest me is the way in which the gods, or archetypes, or whatever you want to call them, refuse to be suppressed and can be found, wearing some very unusual disguises, in even the most clamorous of 20th-century metropolitan areas.  People are hungry for sacredness, and none of the reasons we glamorize serial killers and are attracted to murder sites, for instance, is I believe, because they actually empower and mythologize the secular landscape. But, hey, I could go on all day...

(The next letter is very long.  He compares the comic to Oasis and I stop reading his letter.  Morrison responds...)


(Another long letter.  The writer talks about longing for the day when Morrison will be a serious writer.  Like Pete Milligan.  ?????? Letters everybody!)

You win "Address of the Month", Damon, but I think we'll have to disagree on our definition an d use of the words "weird" and "weirdness".  Literal soul-bottling aside, brainwashing and conditioning techniques like  those depicted in the Harmony House episodes have been in operation for a number of years in this the "real" world, and little research into the current state of military application of microwave radiation for mind control purposes reveals the work being done now on weapons that can produce specific thoughts and emotions in human subjects is far in advance of anything I described.  Also, you're making the assumption that the figure in the "bowels" of Harmony House is an "insect god".  The story hasn't actually dealt with exactly, who or what the King-in-Chains is yet.  Apart from that, I'm still convinced I was making a serious point, but the jury remains out on that one, I suppose.
And perhaps I will cock-up THE INVISIBLES.  So what?

(And then a very, very, very long letter full of praise and some questions about possible connections between Morrison and Morrissey.  The 90s everybody!)

Strange that after so many years of me acting like Morrissey, he's now begun to act like me.  Did you see the Select cover where the recreated Big Dave's knuckleduster pose from 2000 AD Prog 869? ("Big Dave," for the benefit of American readers, is a strip I co-write with SWAMP THING's own Mark Millar for Britain's 2000 AD comic.  Racist, homophobic, sexist - "Big Dave" has been describes all of these things, but top duck art living legend Carl Barks saw it and laughed like a stuck pig.)  All of your questions should be answered as the series hops along towards its conclusion some 70, 80 or 100 issues down the line.  It's all one big story- in ways I can't even begin to describe- and what seem like throwaway lines in issue #1, for instance, will fold into whole story arcs later.  "Who are the Invisibles?"  will, however, be the last question answered.

Duncan Fegredo's doing a King Mob 6-pager for the next VERTIGO RAVE thang (now called ABSOLUTE VERTIGO), and hopefully , I'll convince him to do some work on the actual book.  As for Gorgeous Glyn and Peter, I'd love it, but i havent' spoken to them yet.

(Image stolen from ComicVine.)
(Image stolen from eBay.)

Morrissey everybody!  All the good ol' days.  Morrison a fan of Morrissey.  Morrison and Millar still pals.  Good times.  Good times.

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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