Monday, February 05, 2007

The Invisibles: And So We Return and Begin Again

Over on Barbelith, there's been a proposal for a group reread of The Invisibles, which begins here. I'd been thinking about revisiting the series for a while now, and this provides the impetus to finally start it up. Seeing as it's perhaps the most densely layered work in the history of recent fiction, it's prime material to blog about, and in conjunction with participating on the Barbelith thread, I'll be doing extensive posting here, pondering the mysteries of the series. I'll be starting up the reread tonight, but before beginning, let me set the context and discuss my history with The Invisibles.

I first heard about The Invisibles sometime in 1999 or 2000, when I read somewhere that The Matrix took many of its ideas from the series. Now, you could fill a library with all the books that people claimed The Matrix took its ideas from, but I was suitably intrigued. I remember being in a Borders, looking at the Bloody Hell in America TPB, but not buying it. Before I read it, I heard that you could read the series backwards or forwards, it worked in any order. This raised a lot of questions for me, and in May 2002, I finally bought the first trade, Say You Want a Revolution.

I read this book, and really enjoyed it. After that initial reading I thought, yeah this is better than The Matrix, but I had no idea how much better it would eventually be. I read the rest of the series over the course of that summer, finishing Kissing Mister Quimper in August 2002. The final TPB, The Invisible Kingdom, was not out at that point, and I had to wait until November 2002 to finish the series.

In preparation for that release, I reread the first six volumes over the course of a month or so. I was a senior in high school at the time, and this was a mindblowing journey. I remember getting a revelation off nearly every page, taking a half hour for each issue of Kissing Mister Quimper, taking time to ponder all the details. By the end of the Mister Quimper reread, I felt like I had at least a basic understanding of the series. I finish Quimper late at night on the day I bought The Invisible Kingdom. I was planning to go to sleep and start the new volume the next day, but it was there, and I read the first two issues.

I continued the next day, reading four issues during the day, and finishing the last six issues in one overwhelming session. I was thoroughly confused by the end of 3.2, annoyed at the shifting art styles and wanting to see more of the main characters, not the new Volume III people. Then I read 3.1, I didn't understand everything, but I knew it was something profound and special. The moment when Robin comes out of the Supercontext was overwhelming and even without knowing exactly what was happening, the final pages just felt right.

In writing the series, Morrison set out to create a hypersigil that would spread his ideas and create other people like him in the world. The Invisibles is a series designed to create Invisibles. If you had told me about this back in 2002, I would have said, "What's a hypersigil?" and probably dismissed the idea of fiction as magic. But, The Invisibles changed the way I perceive fiction itself. I had always kept a strict division between what is real and what is fiction, but The Invisibles completely changed the way I looked at the universe. In pondering its mysteries, I reconceived my notion of time and the way that we can exert control over our environment. That a fictional work could change my life in reality meant that it was just as real and valid, if not more so, than what actually happens.

This is a critical thing to understand, and I'd just never thought about it before. I'd loved works of fiction, and they'd influenced my life, but never in so profound a way as I did this book. I pondered it for months after, seeing everything through its lens. Concurrently, one of my friends started practicing a form of trance meditation. He sent me an e-mail describing an experience he had, in which he hallucinated various things and seemed to come in contact with a higher power. This was someone I'd known for years and trusted, and hearing that he had done this, without drugs, made me realize that this was a real world basis for much of what Morrison was describing in the series. I believed his alien abduction story, but it didn't apply to me on a personal basis until I saw my friend trance meditate and understood just how much he could alter his consciousness. Since then, I've been very reluctant to rule anything out, in that moment I saw magic as a possibility in the real world.

I explored some of the consciousness altering practices Morrison described in his pop magic book, but ultimately I found that the place for me to put his techniques to use was in my own works of fiction. I began to make a bunch of films, many heavily influenced by him. Even outside of magic and cosmological issues, Morrison's conception of pop played a major role in how I assess works of art. Not only was Morrison exploring complex philosophical topics, he was doing so with the coolest characters in the coolest situations possible. Reading a work like Black Science II makes it difficult to go back to traditional philosophy. Morrison fuses everything, philosophy, narrative, pop and emotion into the ultimate work of fiction.

The spell that Morrison crafted with The Invisibles worked on me. It totally changed my life and informs much of what has happened to me since. I've gone through a lot of stuff in the nearly five years since I first read the series, but the series still marks a major turning point in my life. If I hadn't read it, perhaps something else would have come along that'd affect me in the same way, it's impossible to tell. All I know is that it was a crucially important work and I feel like I came to it at exactly the right time in my life.

So, going forward I'll begin by addressing the first isssue, and go on until I've reached the end of the series. If you have read the series, I'd encourage you to jump over to Barbelith and participate in the reread. If you haven't, don't read these posts yet, since there'll be a lot of spoilers, but do check out the series, it's a work like no other, and one everyone should experience.

To read my complete writings on The Invisibles, check out the new book Our Sentence is Up, written by me, and published by Sequart, featuring issue by issue analyses of the series, along with an extensive Grant Morrison interview.


Lee said...

Did you see Heroes last night? Lots of Old Tom and Dane in that - even the jumping (well, pushing) off the building.

A re-read is rightly due, I think. Did you ever pick up the Disinfo volume, Anarchy for the Masses?

Jacob said...

I'm looking forward to reading your thoughts on this, as I just did a readthrough myself about six months ago. "The Invisibles" isn't quite my favorite Morrison - partly because, like with so many of the dude's other projects, the art lets him down too often, and also because (and I hate to pull the Wizened Old Man Card here, really I do) it's lost a bit of the premillennial immediacy it had in the run-up to 2000.

When I read it now, its endless government conspiracies strike me as almost offensively naive (especially the AIDS stuff), now that I've lived under a government I feel can legitimately be called evil. And at the same time it's hard to put myself back in my optimistic circa-1998 headspace.

But on the other hand, that just means it serves a new and possibly even more valuable purpose, reminding us that change is the only constant and that we can still choose to tune in to a better way of thinking about the world.

(As for the question of my favorite Morrison, that'd be Flex Mentallo.)

Patrick said...

I havne't seen the most recent Heroes yet, but it's going to get a bump up the two watch list if we've got some relevant Invisibles synchronicity. I did get Anarchy for the Masses, I think the issue guides leave something to be desired, but the interviews at the end are fantastic. The Grant one is kind of the ur-text from which you can trace all his other interviews about the series, so that's essential. The Quitely one was very interesting as well, he was apparently a huge fan of the series and was waiting for Grant to ask him to draw an issue the whole run. I just wish he'd been able to do the last four issues instead of just the last one, that would have been incredible.

And Jacob, having just read the first issue, I'd agree that there is some distinct 90sness about it. I didn't actually read it for the first time until it was all out in trade, so I wasn't there in the moment, which I'd imagine was quite cool. I think it's a case where the first read of the series is that one that hits you strongest. I've reread the series once since first finishing it, and that read couldn't compete with the mind blowing experience of the first time through. It's such a paradigm shifting work, it's tough to appreciate it in the same way once you've already been shifted.

But, I think there's still plenty of good stuff in there, just from a narrative point of view, and as a model to aspire to, as you say, a return to that optimism of the late 90s.

And, Flex is my second favorite Morrison work. I see The Invisibles as his definitive take on reality, from which all the other works flow. Flex is his definitive take on superhero universes, and you can trace most of the concepts in all his superhero work back to stuff from Flex. I wish there was a trade out there, because more people deserve to read it.