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23 November 2012

Into the Supercontext part 10: The Invisibles Vol. 1 No. 9

(Image stolen from Comic Vine.)

The Invisibles Vol. 1 No. 9
"23: Things Fall Apart"
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.  

Let's talk about this comic as it existed in its original print form for a bit.  First of all, the cover.  Another strong cover by Sean Phillips.  Looking at it again I'm noticing for the 1st time the weird texture in the red border of the comic.  Like a Bible cover?  I'm also noticing that border on the left side of the cover which appears to be on all of the first volume covers, most of the volume two covers and a few of the volume three covers.  Were all Vertigo books like that in the 90s and why am I just noticing that Marvel stole that design with it's Ultimates line?  But back to the cover itself.  We see a hand missing a finger tip just like Jack's hand  and Mob is in a cool pose shooting at us but he does not look confident and sexy like normal.  He looks scared.

Inside the comic we notice that the series is now being printed on a nicer paper stock.  It is whiter than the first 8 issues.  The colors are brighter.  The printing is clearer.  The paper stock is thicker.  I'm a proponent of using the cheapest materials possible but this comic looks good.  And it better because DC jacked up the cover price from $1.95 to $2.50 between issues 8 and 9.  This comic has an advertisement for new music from Mike Watt and Chris Duarte Group.  There is an ad for "DC Comics Online" on America Online.  "If you have a computer and a modem, order your free DC Comics Online starter kit..."  1995 everybody.  There is also and ad for Grant Morrison's great Kill Your Boyfriend.

This comic is the first of a short run of what are basically stand alone comics.  Evey issue of The Invisibles has hints and details that build the overall universe but these next four issues are not a part of any one story arc like the previous eight issues.  But we are still going to read them with both eyeballs.  This first issue of that run wraps up some lose ends form "Arcadia" and gives us a flash back to flesh out the world.

 The comic starts in the past of 1992 with King Mob and the John-a-Dreams character (Remember?  The one we were told Dane/Jack was replacing?) in a Philadelphia church.  Mob has fuzzy hair.  They are looking for the Hand of Glory but they find these gross plant monster things.  John says that they are just vehicles.    That "they build them from Earth plane matter to allow themselves some kind of physical presence here".  Who are they?  Then John opens a door never to be seen again.  (Well, never say never in a James Bond movie or in comics.)

Then we are back in the time travel windmill.  Jack is still ranting about his finger and quiting but no one takes him seriously.  Mob is worried and has a sense that something is wrong.  Mob is worried about there being a traitor that has revealed their time travel codes.  Could it have been John-a-Dreams or someone in the group?  (Subplot alert!)   Fanny and Ragged Robin lament the ruination of Fanny's dress at the hands of Orlando.  But Mob was right, something is wrong.  Ragged Robin's psychic powers confirm that there are Myrmidons outside planning an attack.

The attack sequences here are really neat and unconventional.  On one side, we see the Myrmidons planning their attack and they are not standard action movie dudes.  They actually seem amateurish and clumsy.  And Morrison shows Mob's team in a different light as well.  Normally in action movies or comics, you don't see how the good guys are going to turn the tide until they do it and it makes them look like gods.  Here, Morrison shows Mob's cell try to figure out what to do.  They are actually on the brink of panic and Thompson gets to draw some really funny faces as the gang stresses out.  It makes Mob's team seem like amateurs but more importantly it makes them seem real. Like real people that signed up for this crazy war for the future of mankind.  And like real people, they can freak out when the threat of getting dead shows up.

In the chaos, Jack steals Mob's car and takes off.  The bad news for Jack is that Mob has booby trapped his car and it will blow up in a few minutes.  Mob and his crew get the upper hand on the Myrmidons by playing dead and Mob pretending to be Orlando.  By the time they get through the baddies and find Mob's car it has exploded.  When Mob instructs the gang to look for Jack, Fanny says "What are we looking for darling?  A little lump of smoldering charcoal that says 'fuck' every five minutes?"  Don't be silly Fanny, Jack says fuck every five seconds.

But Fanny has mad skills and finds Jacks trail.  Mob says that they will have to call in The Wolf  Mister Six.  But the baddies have already gotten to Jack and to save himself he is forced to kill a man for the first time.  We end with Jack soaked in tears yelling "AAAAAAAAAA!"  We feel ya bro.  Now Jack is a killer.  Can he leave The Invisibles now?

Annotations at The Bomb.

Next we meet Jim Crow.

But first, letters in another Invisible Ink column.  In this one were are getting into some of the fallout from "Arcadia" including an editorial rebuttal from Stuart Moore.

-- friends laugh as she turns into fireball--"
The Sun - Jan 24, 1995

Quote of the Month courtesy of Britain's liveliest newspaper.  Ahhh - seems like only moments ago I was welcoming Jill Thompson and Dennis Cramer onto the book and now here I stand, waving a snot-stained hankie, as they up sticks and disappear over the horizon for a while, leaving Hotel Invisibles to stand untenanted until the arrival of a guest number four, the Grand Old Duke of Madness, Chris Weston,.  You have have seen Chris' work on the recent "Twilight of the Gods" issue of SWAMP THING and, if you have, you'll understand my own enthralled anticipation.  Meanwhile...
This is The Letters!

(The first letter mentions seeing a The Invisibles poster on the Roseanne show.  In the 90s, Roseanne was like Big Bang Theory but only with quality.)

I made it onto Roseanne!  Subversive or what?  Glad you're enjoying this comic, Brian.  (Couldn't make out your second name, so I've called you "Mercer."  Hope you like it.)  I don't remember putting in any Led Zeppelin reference, so it must have been pretty durn subtle.

(Next a long one with some questions.)

And he's still standing, I'm afraid.   What will you do now...?
King Mob is a master assassin, yes.  Ragged Robin and Lord Fanny are both "witches" for want of a better word.  Boy is a martial arts expert and other-wise quite normal, and Jack Frost is more important than anyone is even aware.  It's true I havent' gone into depth with the characters yet, Jay.  This first year of the book has been set up as a rapid tour around the world of The Invisibles; the opening story arc, for instance, showed the induction of a new member, the second concentrated on an atypical team mission, and the next three one-off issues, will shine spotlights on various other aspects of the Conspiracy, before we return to the trails and tribulations of King Mob's team.  The second year will feature interlinking stories focusing on each of the core cast in turn.  You should know them all fairly intimately by then.

(Then a letter from a dude that really liked Animal Man.)

More of my guts, and everyone else's, I hope, Marc.  Interesting point about ANIMAL MAN.  It occurs to me when I read it that in a team book on breaks one's personality into little pieces - one for each of the main characters - whereas the protagonist of a solo book tends to get a bigger slice of the cake and slightly more depth.

I felt the "cultural walk through" of the "Arcadia" storyline was necessary in order to set up the historical and thematic framework of the series, but I agree with you that it's time to spill some innards - which is why the next major storyline will be pushing our heroes to the physical and emotional limit.
The Shelley/Byron debate surprised me because I started out on Shelley's side but ended up siding with Byron.  Some combination of both would seem to be the sanest response to living and dying in the modern world, whether that's the modern world of 1818 or 1995.

(The next long letter asks about Bluebeard.)

Ah!  Lovable old Gilles de Rais - rapist, child murderer, necrophile, black magician...

(The next letter talks about the "Mature Readers" logo on the cover and what it all means.  He talks about hearing that Vertigo editorial had objected to the Marquis de Sade material in "Arcadia".)

I know how you feel, Alex.  I can't think of any genuinely mature comics published regularly by a mainstream company.  Some of the Vertigo one-shot books have reached beyond the usual strictures but, by and large, comics are still written and drawn for children and young teenagers (which isn't necessarily a bad thing).

And I'm not happy about the changes made to the Marquis de Sade story, but I chose to publish THE INVISIBLES through Vertigo because I like the editorial staff, I like being paid for my work and I like reaching a much wider audience than I would if this were a small press or self-published venture.  The trade-off against that is that I'm bound by the rules and regulations that govern what is and is not acceptable to be a mainstream comics publisher.  I knew that when I went into the deal, and, in the case of INVISIBLES #7, I decided that a little compromise was worth it to get the story out to a mainstream audience.  those of us who have elected to work with big companies as opposed to the small press can only push at the barriers.  I don't think we can be expected to represent the cutting edge of comics.  Let's face it, even the best of the mainstream "mature" books are simply glorified super-hero comics.   That's okay -  I'm very fond of super-heroes and I like to see them done with a little wit and intelligence.  Having said that, you can now read the word "fuck" in a mainstream comic, and who knows what walls may yet come tumbling down in the future?

[ADDITIONAL EDITORIAL NOTE: Just to give a little perspective from the other side of the fence - the "mature readers" label has never been a license for DC to publish absolutely anything.  We have to be confident that we can stand behind the material, especially when it's of a controversial nature and might cause a risk to stores that support us.  In the case of INVISIBLES #7, there were some questions that were settled with, in my view, fairly minor changes.
It's worth noting, Alex, that your letter was written before the issue was published, in response to an article in the fan press.  Why not write us again and let us know what you thought of the story itself?
And, of course, Grant's opinions regarding the relative maturity of today's comics don't necessarily reflect those of the management.  Or the mgt, for that matter.

Ah, so good to see that there through good times and bad, DC comics editorial will always be there to tell the customer that not only are they wrong but their opinion does not deserve to exist.  Gives ya warm feeling right where the heart ought to be.

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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