Saturday, December 18, 2004

The Filth: Issues 1 and 2

In 1994, ten years ago, Grant Morrison began the comic book series The Invisibles, which concluded in 2000. I've been over that series countless times, and it gave me hundreds of ideas to think about. Incredibly layered, with great characters, dazzling concepts, and spectacular action, it's my favorite story of all time, any medium. Well, in June 2002, he began his most important series since The Invisibles, something that would continue his "sigil trilogy," as well as further explore the cosmology created in The Invisibles. I read the series as it came out in monthlies, and then did a reread last year, shortly after the last issue came out. But, it's been a year since I touched the book, and after picking up the trade, I felt it was time to return to the world of The Filth. So far, I've read the first two issues, but already it's a series awash in interesting concepts.

The Filth is a deconstruction of the fantasy world of The Invisibles. Over the course of Volume I, Morrison realized that what was happening to King Mob in the book was happening to himself in real life. So, starting with Volume II, he made King Mob into an even cooler assassin, gave him a girlfriend, and better clothes. Morrison had turned King Mob into a fantasy figure of what he could be. In the first pages of The Filth, Morrison completely deconstructs this figure, and presents us with an alternate version of the archetypal Morrison bald hero. Greg Feely is stuck in a depressingly real world. When we first see him, he's being laughed at by kids as he buys porn, spends the night home alone, except for his cat, then heckled by his boss at work. Feely is essentially cutting the cool out of King Mob, and placing him into this pathetic world. During 'Black Science II,' King Mob is shown an image of his worst nightmare himself overweight, sitting on a couch, watching TV, and that's exactly who Greg Feely is.

However, Morrison doesn't make Feely an entirely unsympathetic character. He retains a part of King Mob's more sensitive side. When Mob confronts the magic mirror in 'Black Science I,' all his worst memories come rushing back to him: "When Jacqui left me, when my cat died." All that Feely has is his cat, Tony. It is that emotional connection that keeps him going through all the crazy, bad stuff that happens later in the book. Tony is Greg's anchor to reality.

One of the most important things about The Filth is the concept that we cannot eradicate darkness, instead we have to confront and try to use it for our advantage. This is explicitly represented in the story of Soon Li. "She wondered if intead of trying to kill diseases we could befriend them. She dreamed that personal I-Life helpers could eliminate disease and repair damaged tissue. Here are I-Life microbots pacifying a throat cancer cell and persuading it to evolve into a non-malignant helper T-Cell." This one page encompasses the most important theme of The Invisibles, the idea that we have to befriend people until they beg for mercy, it's love as a weapon.

We all have to be like I-Life, and confront the darkness. This is why the book has such an aura of nastiness. Right from the title, you can tell this isn't a pretty book, it doesn't have the pop sheen of most of Morrison's work. Instead, it's got a very nasty, organic feel, with a constant focus on bodily fluids and nasty sex. Greg's porn obsession, the porn that is delivered to Greg's apartment, which features "White men with black dicks...fucking your wife." That about sums up the flavor of the series, it's concerned with nastiness that exists beneath humanity. The garbage filled waters the dolphins swim through, the bizarre orgy Simon has over the bonsai planet, necro-pornography and much more to come. The Hand works out of the crack, and that describes both the fact that the stuff they deal with has fallen through the cracks of society, and the fact that they are basically dealing with the shit of the world.

Ok, so it's a nasty world, one Greg discovers when he confronts Miami in his shower, naked except for a combover, a pretty nasty image, that recalls Aphex Twin's Windowlicker video, with its juxtaposition of the attractive and the repulsive. After meeting Miami, a colored liquid leaks out of Greg's nose, something we eventually realize is the liquid formula for Greg Feely. Miami is trying to de-Greg Greg and return him to his previous state, as Hand superagent Ned Slade, except Greg sticks, and is clearly reluctant about being Ned. After being used in issue two, he quits, an indication that perhaps the parapersonality Greg Feely is the real one. Except, that Greg is being replaced by a double who is exactly like him. Ned, formerly Greg, is forced to look at a new Greg getting ready to take over his life, and with him, a new Tony. Ned threatens the new Greg, and saves Tony as a result. To him, the feelings he feels for Tony are real, and are unique to this Tony, they could not be replicated with a double.

The first issue ends with the appearance of Sharon Jones, someone whose body has been taken over by Simon, "the world's richest and most perverted man." She serves as a camera for Simon, and is completely under his control. At one point do we cease to be ourselves? The body of Sharon is gone, and she's been replaced by the mind of Simon, so she she more Sharon or Simon?

One of the best pages of the entire series is in issue two, where Ned stares out into the murky waters and ponders his existence. "This has to be Hell or some Tibetan Bardo experience. And I keep thing...if I was going through some sort of weird after-life purgatory, would I know it?" This ties into David Lynch's movies Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive, which explore those very questions. There's a really interesting series of panels where we see Greg in heat vision, x-ray vision and negative vision. Which one is the real Greg? The ending exchange is brilliant. Miami asks Greg, "Everybody needs you to be normal...can't you just act it?" To which Greg responds "Act? Act? What's my fucking motivation?" Is Greg now playing the role of Ned, or is Ned still stuck in having to play the role of Greg, so that being Ned becomes a role? This ties in with The Invisibles idea that you can control reality through action, if Greg starts acting like Ned is supposed to, does he become Ned?

The I-Life tie in with many of the themes later in the series. One of Morrison's favorite concepts is "as above, so below," and he is constantly playing with the difference between individuality and collective thought. In interviews, Morrison has discussed the idea that just as I am not just a bunch of cells, when the cells work together, they become an entity known as "Patrick Meaney." The cells alone could not do what I do, but together they become something more. Morrison presented the idea that each person is like one of the individual cells in the body, and that when we join together, into the supercontext, we can become some kind of new entity. He feels that humanity is now in its larval state, and will eventually leave a cocoon and become a completely new entity, the journey from caterpillar to butterfly. The I-Life are what it would be if each of our individual cells has consciousness. The humans try to use them for assassination missions, but that doesn't work. Instead, they work for their own survival, as when they consume their founder Dr. Soon. With the creation the bonzai planet, the I-Life have their own world, just like the Earth. As above, so below.

What the I-Life creatures do to the Hand investigators sent in to regulate them is idiotize them, make them into "retarded children." They have taken away the functions of higher consciousness, so these people are now just a collection of cells, rather than the higher thought functions. Later, the I-Life take over Sharon Jones, and turn her into the bio-ship Sharon Jones. This is a literalization of the idea that we are just a carrier for a bunch of cells. The I-Life use Sharon Jones as a vehicle to travel around in. In some ways, this is what all humans are, just a vessel for cells to travel in.

The issue ends with Ned confronting Spartacus Hughes. Ned beats him because Spartacus was expecting a better foe, the "real" Ned Slade as opposed to someone who is just acting like Ned Slade. When Spartacus Hughes dies, he says "Anyone can be Spartacus Hughes," which is explained later when Spartacus turns up in a different body. Spartacus is just a parapersonality, a role to play, much like Ned Slade is.

As he is dying Spartacus sees an entire civilization of I-Life in front of him, an image that parallels what Greg sees in the puddle of milk towards the end of the book.

So, Greg confronts LePen, and says that he wants to know what he was before he was Ned, to which LePen responds "what was your face before you were born?" The real person is irrelevant, all that matters is the role you've been programmed to play. That's why Ned choosing to quit represents such a rupture to status: q.

So, that's the first two issues. Lots of interesting concepts, and even more to come.

Related Posts
The Filth: Issue 3 (12/20/2004)
Seaguy (4/9/2005)
We3 (6/22/2005)

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