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21 November 2012

Into the Supercontext part 9: The Invisibles Vol. 1 No. 8

(Image stolen from Comic Vine.)

The Invisibles Vo. 1 No. 8
"Arcadia Part 4: H.E.A.D,"
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.  

"My public persona was punk to the rotten core. Outspoken and mean spirited, I freely expressed contempt for the behind-the-scenes world of comics professionals, which seemed unglamorous and overwhelmingly masculine by comparison to the club and music scenes. My life was rich, and my circle of friends and family was secure enough that I could afford to play a demonic role at work. Reading interviews from the time makes my blood run cold these days, but the trash talk seemed to be working, and I was rapidly making a name for myself. Being young, good-looking, and cocky forgave many sins, a huge hit British superhero strip did the rest and proved I could back up the big talk." Grant Morrison on 80s Grant Morrison.

First of all, I started typing up this post sometime last week.  Then my kids got sick and other things happened and the next thing you know it is today.  Which, as I type this, is November 20th.  Which happens to be Jill Thompson's birthday.  I've probably not said enough about how strong Thompson's art is in this "Arcadia" story arc.  So, yeah, it is great.  Thompson is great.  (And I've never even really read Sandman.)  I've been a big fan for a long time..  And the good news is she did some more stuff in The Invisibles that we will get to later.  (She was nice enough to autograph all of my issues of The Invisibles in which her art appears and it's a pretty good stack of comics.  She's very nice.)

But, back to issue 8 of volume one titled H.E.A.D.  Head stands for "Hedonic Engineering And Development".  So, there's that.  Our Sean Phillips cover has the head of John the Baptist (or is it?) hooked up to some  steampunk gears and junk.  The head appears to be alive.  It is creepy.

Inside the comic, things get more creepy.  The first thing we get is a page of a guy in bondage gear talking directly to us the reader.  Or at least it feels like he's talking to the reader.  He's looking right at us and we don't see anyone else that he is talking to.  He's drunk and he's talking about the world crashing into the "barrier of the 21st century".  He's talking about a bus and wondering who is driving.  The Magic Bus?  The Further bus?  The bus from Speed which came out probably not long before Morrison was writing this comic?  He talks about how guys in the 60s like Timothy Leary and Ken Kesey could see the road ahead and how he fell for all of it and when he woke up and came down it was 1985.  It is drunken rambling but in six panels it pretty much sums up what it was to be looking at the future while standing in 1995.
(Image stolen from flickr.)

The 60s were a big deal in the 90s folks.  It was hip and cool to get into the music and the movies and the fashion but more than that, the cultural leaders of the 60s were mostly all still alive and they had mostly all sobered up and become pop culture philosophers spreading their ministry through VH1 Behind the Music documentaries, movie cameos, reunion tours, Oliver Stone movies, hardcover biographies and the college lecture circuit.  Timothy Leary was still alive when this comic book came out.  He died just a year later.  Leary spoke at my college around the time this comic book came out.  The 60s were before I was born but it was more like a different country than it was a different time.  It was tangible.  You could meet people from there and hear stories about it.  You could get souvenirs from there.  You could touch it.  It's different now.  It's like that different country is still out there but you can only access it via a very expensive Disney cruise ship.  The souvenirs are harder to come by and all that is left is the cheesy mass produced junk.  Leary is dead.  Half The Beatles are dead.  The Stones  are still going but who can afford to see them?  (A=Rich jerks.)

And this guy in this bondage gear on page one of this comic is telling us about it.  Or at least we think he's talking to us until we turn the page and see him in submission to a dominatrix.  He is in a San Francisco S&M fetish club and he's been talking to our pals King Mob and the Marquis de Sade.  Or at least their astral projections.  (Did Doctor Strange hang out in S&M clubs between panels of his Marvel comics.  I'm going to assume that yes, Doctor Strange hangs out in S&M clubs.)  "He was talking about revolutions, or THE revolution.  I suppose there only is ever one." says King Mob.

The Marquis loves the 90s.  "Look at them!  I was sent to the bloody Bastille for doing in private what these bastards are free to do publicly."  Later, Mob and de Sade are on the golden gate bridge and Mob explains that they need the Marquis to help them create the blueprint  for the future of humanity.  The Marquis says he only wants his own perfect world.  Mob explains that in the future they are building, everyone gets what they want.  "Everyone including the enemy."  (Alan Moore would give us a similar future in Promethea years latter.)  Mob lets a silver balloon free to rise into the night sky.  It looks like a sperm cell swimming among the starts.  (I think this is what the literary types would call foreshadowing.)

After that, Mob, Boy and de Sade get their 90s rave on.  Much talk about smart drinks, the world speeding up and spinning out of control, virtual reality and much dancing.  Mob and Boy have to get back to the rest of the gang but they are going to leave the Marquis in San Francisco.  The Marquis is happy to stay.  "And I'm making so many wonderful friends."

Back in the Rennes-le-Chartre Cathedral, Ragged Robin still has to deal with those nasty Cyphermen and the head of John the Baptist. The head sings "You Spin Me Right Round" by Dead or Alive.  It talks about things speeding up also.  But Robin is too smart for all of this.  She knows that the head is just speaking glossolalia.  Speaking in tongues.  You hear what you want to hear.  Robin does not need the head so she leaves.

In the other way back times Percy Shelley is still a mess over the loss of his child. He's talking to Byron but Byron turns out to just be his imagination.  Percy realized that utopia exists only in our minds.  When last we seek Percy, the throws his writing to the wind and runs to the embrace of his wife, Mary Shelley.

Back in the T.A.R.D.I.S. windmill  Lord Fanny and Jack Frost still have to deal with that Orlando creep.  Jack manages to shoot Orlando but it barely hurts him.  Orlando is equally surprised that his slash of Fanny's chest did no harm.  Fanny shows that all he hit was the latex and silicon of his fake breasts.  "I'm not half the woman I used to be.  Thanks to you."  says Fanny.

Fanny summons up the powers of Aztec god, Mictlantecuhtli.  This actually terrifies Orlando.  He is a demon and knows when he's outmatched.  Jack knife's Orlando's hand to a wooden beam.  Orlando explodes and melts into beams of light and is cast into hell.  Don't mess with Lord Fanny.

Mob, Boy and Robin finally make it back to the windmill.  The gang has all made it through this "Arcadia" story arc alive but Jack has had it.  Jack thinks time travel and getting your finger clipped off is bad biscuits and he wants out.  "You can take your fucking Invisibles and shove them up your arse!"   Meanwhile, outside, some unrevealed baddies have the windmill in their sights.

In the last two pages we are under a bridge.  There is a troubled young man (who reminds me a lot of a similar young man from Flex Mentallo) contemplating an offer.  The offer is from the Marquis de Sade.  The Marquis pulls up in Mercedes with a teenage girl chauffeur dressed in black vinyl.  "She smells of fresh rain and sex."  He gets in the car with the Marquis to join his brave new world.  He is offered the blank badge.  "He tells me that I have left the houses of the dead and entered the land of the truly living.  I am to be no particular age, no particular sex.  I am to be fluid, mercurial.  He tells me I must slough my name and my past as a snake sheds it's skin."

"Mercurial".  Just like exactly like Negative Man on the moon back in Doom Patrol in 1992.

And with that we end the "Arcadia" story arc and what I think would be the first The Invisibles trade paperback "Say You Want a Revolution".  It was a hell of a ride.  It literally took a lot out of me.  I think this is at least the fourth time I've read it and it still lays a smackdown on the brain.  It is a challenging work.  The time travel plot with Orlando as the baddie is really just a frame through which to view four comics full of philosophy.  The first story arc introduced us to the world of The Invisibles through Dane's eyes.  Now, in this second arc, Dane is Jack Frost and he is given a horrific education.  This arc was too much for a lot of people.  It was too much for some people at DC Comics as well. We will see the repercussions of that in our next few Invisible Ink columns.

For me, I love it.  It's great fun.  Time travel, demon assassins, 90s rave culture and just crazy ass stuff in general.  But mostly I love it and I return to it because it makes me think and makes me ask questions.  Questions I still don't know the answers to 17 years later.  But I still enjoy asking them.

Annotations at The Bomb.

Next, "Things Fall Apart".  Like they do.

But first, letters in another Invisible Ink column.  In this column, Morrison hands over some of the responding to someone named Magdalena.  Like ya do. 

(The first letter is from a dude that calls Morrison, "Grant, m'luv".  He asks grant to never devote himself to normal serious storytelling.  Congratulations dude writing a letter in 1995!  Mission accomplished!)

Not surprisingly, I suppose, I tend to concur with your comments on "weird stuff," Joshua.  all I can do is write about the things that delight, amuse or scare me senseless.  If those things seem "weird" to people then... umm... funny, I totally agree with you but I can't really seem to think of anything else to say...
[Hi Josh! Magdalena here - Grant's just gone to feed the cats so I'm briefly taking over the helm.  Actually, dahling, you've really put us on the spot -  you're so nice and intelligent and well-read that all we can say is, "You're fab, we like you."  Please write again, but promise to be more contentious next time because Grant likes the bad boys best.  Back to Mr. Sensitivity for the rest of the replies...]

(The next letter is all hugs and kisses and a guy named Mickey writes "Chin-chin". Recreational drug use was pretty rampant in the 90s people.)

My pleasure, Mickey.

(Then a long letter about how some people don't get Morrison's plots but of course the letter witter does because he is super clever.)

I'm no philologist but... I believer that the charming and poignant word "arse" is one of those original, shamelessly earthy Anglo-Saxon words, like "fuck and "c**t" (we still can't say that one), which seem to cause so much distress these days.  "Arse," as far as I can figure it, was streamlined to the harsher Mass by Americans drunk on the heady wine of Revolution.  Like you, Matthew, I don't give a fuck about the overuse of so-called swear words.  IN hsi wonderful book Quantum Psychology, Robert Anton Wilson deals very effectively and amusingly with the inexplicable taboos surrounding "fuck" and its brothers ans sisters in the despised family of "filthy" words.
As for traveling across the globe, it can be done very cheaply and certainly isn't the exclusive province of the rich.  Round-the-World air tickets start at around $1000 but it's possible to cirumnavigate the Earth on a great deal less money if need be.  I also tend to stay in inexpensive hostels or nightmarish, bug-infested hovels, which keeps the costs down and ensures that you meet more interesting people.  In places liek India or Southeast Asia, you'll find that you can live like a bleedin' lord for a few dollars a day.  Cheap holidays in other people's misereeee!  Which is to say, I'd advise anyone to make the effort to travel.
E-mail?  No idea.  I just got a modem at Christmas and it's still in the box.  I can tell you loads of great things to do with boxes, if you like.

(The next letter is from a lady who is not impressed with the drub use in the comic.)

Right on, sister!
The case of John Lennon is an interesting one since (and I think most people would probably agree with me) Lennon's most disciplined, inventive and musically revolutionary work was produced during a period when he was either high on speed, cannabis or LSD (with the real fireworks happening when the and the other Beatles discovered acid around the time of the "Revolver" album).  To portray him as a psychedelic deity seems to me to be a perfectly appropriate tribute to the man who wrote "Tomorrow Never Knows,"  possibly the most psychedelic song ever (and that tow-page sequence was, as I've explained before, largely autobiographical.  That's how Lennon appeared to me during a specifically-designed ritual and that's how I chose to portray him in what is, after all, a work of fiction.)  I certainly don't think that drug use can make a person creative or rebellious, but if that person is already creative, then some drug experiences can provide new ways of looking at things and new inspiration.  It doesn't happen all the time, but to deny that it happens at all is to rewrite the history of art, music and literature.

(The next is form another lady who is more supportive and talks about agreeing with Morrison's ideas on choosing who one wants to be.)

Definitely.  Why be one person when you can be two, or a hundred?

Seeya in thirty, pilgrims!


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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