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04 December 2012

Into the Supercontext part 13: The Invisibles Vol. 1 No. 13

(Image stolen from ComicVine.)

The Invisibles Vol. 1 No. 12
"Best Man Fall"
Written by Grant Morrison.  Art by Steve Parkhouse.  Colors by Daniel Vozzo.  Cover by Sean Phillips.
A Vertigo comic book published by DC Comics in 1995.  

This comic man.  This comic.
This comic is a soul crusher.

This issue is another of the stand alone comics and there is really no indication that it has anything to do with The Invisibles right up until the end when you find out it is connected to King Mob's group in the worst possible way.

This comic is a slice of life story that takes slices from one man's entire life.  The comic is about a man named Bobby Murray.  Morrison uses non-linear storytelling to show bits from his whole life and to move them around like jig saw pieces only to reveal the full image at the end.  And by non-linear, I don't just mean that he has moved scenes around, I mean that the narrative changes time and place in some cases from panel to panel.  Parkhouse's art is perfect for this thing.  His style is realistic and understated but the main character's face has exaggerated features (more like an Archie comic than a Vertigo comic) making it easier for that good ol' reader-onto-character projection that the good comics do so well.  They use some brilliant panel arrangements including black and blank panels for pacing.  It is one of Morrison's most powerful single pieces of storytelling.

The story is about the life of Bobby Murray.  He's from a working class English family.  We see him playing soldier as a boy.  We see him fighting as a real solider as a young man.  We see him as a sick young boy.  We see him as a wounded soldier.  Fireworks as a boy.  Bombs as a solider.  Bullied by his brother as a boy.  Shunned by his brother as an adult. Cared for by his mother as a baby.  At his mother's funeral.  We see him as a boy frightened by a gas mask.  We see him comforted by his teddy bear.  We see him fall in love.  Get married.  Have a child.  The child is ill with cerebral palsy.  There are good times with his wife and bad times with his wife.  And the bad times leave bruises.  It's the best of times and worst of times from panel to panel.

I've always thought that storytelling is at its most powerful when the story is told the same way we remember our lives.  That is how this comic works.  Thought inspires thought and they are all juxtaposed on the canvas of our memory in the theater of our mind's eye.  Morrison gives us the whole of this guy's life in little slices.  And you feel for him.  Or at least I do.  This guy is a good guy.  He's trying his best.  He has played by the rules.  Served his country, worked hard etc.  And life is still a mess.  Life is hard.  It's... well frankly, it is damned depressing.  I personally can see so many of my own life's disappointments in this thing that it's hard to read.  But they are every one's disappointments.  We all live, we all fall, we all die.

If this story were told in a linear order, it would end like this;  Our man Bobby is out of the army.  He's desperate.  His marriage is in rough shape.  He has a daughter that needs a lot of care.  He needs a job.  It seems like a great opportunity when he gets a job as a security guard.  Things might just get better.   But unfortunately, his security job is at Harmony House from the first story arc of The Invisibles.  And unfortunately, his fear of the gas mask image is realized when he crosses the path of King Mob in his crazy gas mask headdress.  And we see that poor Bobby turns out to be one of the guards King Mob kills in that first story.

Not a bad guy.  Just a guy trying to get by.

But this is not a linear story so we end not with a dead soldier or dead security guard.  We end with Bobby as a young boy playing soldier and playing at getting shot down.

"It's only a game."

Annotations at The Bomb.

So there we have issue 12 of volume one completing a year's worth of The Invisibles.  We've established the world.  The good guys.  The bad guys.  Next we look closer at some of the characters.  But first, letters in Invisible Ink.

Here endeth the first year of THE INVISIBLES, with the magnificent artwork of Steve Parkhouse to play us out and into the coming Apocalypse.  And now, a Public Service announcement:

Best Man Fall, for those of you unfamiliar with the game, is played by children in Scotland and possibly elsewhere.  The rules are savage and simple- one person takes the part of a soldier and the other players represent his opponents.  The soldier is allowed to choose the imaginary  weapons used against him.  He then runs wildly at his opponents and is cut down mercilessly by gunfire or shrapnel or whatever.  The object of the game is to "die" in as spectacular, theatrical or brutally realistic a manner as possible.  When the original "soldier" has been killed, one of his opponents takes over, while the soldier gets to join the team of killers and the process repeats itself.  When everyone has had the opportunity to be killed by his peers, the winner is judged on the basis of his performance.  The winner is the player who "died" most convincingly.  Herein lies wisdom.
As usual, there were so many good letters that it seems criminal not to be able to print them all.  Rest assured that, even if you don't get a reply, every letter is read, reread, lovingly sealed in Mylar and buried in lead containers, to be read and enjoyed again at a later date by the hair-raising inhabitants of a nightmarish future world.  Meanwhile, here's this month's madcap selection.

(The first letter is a series of words.  Some of them in all caps.  Few of them are sentences.)

I'm so glad I'm not the only one, Jesse.  Yes, it is White, isn't it?

(The next is from a lady named Nina who claims THE INVISIBLES is the first proper comic she's read.  And she liked it.  Let's just take a moment t acknowledge that a lot of the letters that came into THE INVISIBLES were from women.  Whatever that means.)

Do I deserve such kindness?  Answers on a postman, please...

(Next we have a guy from Victoria University of Wellington's Dept. of Psychology.  Because of course.)

I thought I could be a real smart arse if I started off this reply by saying"thank you" in Maori, James, but my Lonely Planet guidebook to New Zealand has betrayed me and doesn't have "thank you" in its lists of useful words and phrases.  I can, however, now say "mangarakau" which means "plenty of sticks,"  apparently.  Join me now as we try to envisage the cavalcade of situations wherein that particular phrase would be more useful than a simple and courteous, "thank you"...

(The next letter asks Morrison if it is the crack or the heroin and if what they say about Peter Milligan is true.)

It has to be the crack.  All the way from ceiling to floor.  
P.S.  Generally, yes.

(The next letter is from another lady and talks about I Ching and stuff.)

You weren't the only one who noticed the incorrect hexagram, Nerissa.  I'm sure this embarrassing slip couldn't possibly have been my fault, so we'll lay the blame squarely on the doorstep of design wizard Rian Hughes, with his cavalier disregard for the purity and sanctity of ancient tradition.

(And finally a long one from London talking at length about the madness of issue number 9 and Ken Kesey, Terrence McKenna and... Oasis?)

Curiously enough, Anthony, my thoughts on heroic mythology, drugs, evolution and Spandex costumes are explored at length in the ever-upcoming Flex Mentallo series, which attempts to create a post-post-post-modern theory and practice of Transcendental Superheroics.  THE INVISIBLES will also continue to deal with the forward surge of the Evolutionary Current in all of its multicolored manifestations, of course, so I can guarantee plenty more shite where the first load came from.
As for the stuffed dog, I'm afraid that's a sensitive subject with me; my work on stuffed dogs has been callously overlooked in the past and it hurts to pick at those old wounds.  Where were the awards for the heartwarming portrayal of Sheba, the stuffed German Shepherd in DOOM PATROL #45, for instance?  And no one even got to see my stuffed dog magnum opus GORILLAS A-GO-GO, in which Rex the Wonder Dog, trundled obliviously through a story of treachery, psychedelia and lost love.
Oasis?  They're The Rutles of the 90s, arent' they?  Which is fine by me.  


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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