Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Invisibles: Our Sentence is Up.

May 2002: I am seventeen, a junior in high school, I buy the first Invisibles trade, Say You Want a Revolution. I read it, and buy the next one soon after. In chemistry class, I look up reviews of the series from when it was released. ‘Best Man Fall’ hooks me, this series is something special.

November 2002: I finish the series, six issues in one night. I will spend the next six months processing what I read, spreading the series around and figuring it out.

May 17, 2003: I am with my friends Brian, Jon and Jordan. We have just seen The Matrix: Reloaded, and stay up late talking about the film and how it relates to The Invisibles. I have just finished high school, just read From Hell, I am full of ideas.

November 2003: We meet again, first time I’ve seen them since going off to school. We meditate, trance. It’s the closest I’ve ever been to experiencing something genuinely magical and profound. We talk about the series and life until 5 AM. This marks the end of the series’ possession of my consciousness. I still love it, and it impacts on me, but not in the way it did for a year after finishing it.

May 17, 2007: I finish reading the series for the third time. Those final pages still have a mystery about them, I am once again awed by what Grant has done with the series.

May 19, 2007: It’s my birthday. I am twenty-two years old. In ten days, I will graduate from college. I am writing the final post in my sixty post long analysis of The Invisibles. It goes like this…

Understanding The Invisibles requires a different approach than most texts, one that I don’t think most people are prepared for. I certainly wasn’t ready for what it would do to me, the way it would dominate my thoughts. I thought of fiction as entertainment, it can inspire you, but I never thought it could change you. This one did, but it also taught me that a lot of fiction is about what you put into it. The deeper you dig, the more layers you reveal. The first time through, I had to dig deep just to understand the series, to fit all the pieces together.

The second time I read the whole series, it didn’t make as big an impact. Part of it was that I had mythologized it in my mind, built it up as the greatest thing ever, and no book could live up to that, even the greatest thing ever. That’s why I chose to blog each issue this time through, so that I would reinterrogate the series, examine the pieces that baffled me the first time, and look at it close, like a first time reader. It’s been a lot of fun to do, and I think it’s helped me get a better understanding of the series, and its relation to who I am at this moment in time.

To wrap things up, I’ll take a quick jaunt through ‘And We’re All Policemen,” the short story that follows King Mob into the supercontext. This isn’t my favorite piece of The Invisibles, it’s basically an extended Gideon Stargrave fantasy, but one that lacks the condensed cool of the ‘Entropy in the UK’ stuff.

The entire universe we see here is generated in the moments between King Mob’s embrace of Robin and his submersion into the collective reality of the supercontext. This is what he paints onto his blank canvas for the farewell to his own individuality. In ‘Arcadia,’ King Mob claimed that their goal is to make it so that everyone gets the world they want. This is what that’s all about, everyone passes to the same supercontext, but they do it in a way that’s pleasing to them.

For King Mob, that fantasy is a hyperpop sci-fi world of beautiful women who can do anything he wants, media saturated in a liberated hypersexuality, total freedom to be pop and fun. Here, the authority figures are pompous and absurd, weird stuff happens and no one particularly cares. That’s just the way things are. And, as the world ends, giant models stalk the city and the world adores him, flashbulbs bringing about an apocalypse that ushers him into the supercontext, but not before one more moment with Robin.

It’s got some fun moments, but ultimately is a bit too media saturated to be enjoyable. You spend so much time reading these captions that you never get to settle into reality. Of course, that could be a reflection of what King Mob wants, and in that respect, more power to him. If King Mob’s fantasy ends in these flashbulbs, it’s likely that what we see at the end of 3.1 is actually Jack’s entry into the supercontext, just blank, snow falling and a return to Barbelith. He doesn’t have the same shallow desires as everyone else, he just wants to return home.

That’s where all the characters end, wherever you want them to, at least until the possible Invisibles followup book Grant’s mentioned a couple of time. I’d love to see all the characters one more time, in something along the line of Sandman’s Endless Nights. That book was ultimately not that satisfying, primarily because we didn’t know the Endless that well, so it was just a bunch of short stories. Those kind of reunion projects work best with developed characters, and there’s countless people in The Invisibles I’d love to see again. I’d love to see more of Jack and Fanny making their cell, I’d love to see more with Edith, particularly between the 20s and her old age, I’d love to see some Division X, some stuff with Mason and Robin in 2009. There’s a lot of stuff there that he could fill in, and from a meta level, it’d be interesting to consider the impact of the series on the world as a whole.

I think the great difficulty with applying the series to reality is the intrusion of 9/11 into our culture. That brought about this period of conservatism and us/them logic that we’re still struggling to overcome. Look at Bush, nearly everything he says is Archon rhetoric. Doesn’t he know that there is no war, those terrorists, they’re us, and the only way to beat them is to love them and make it so they’re not our enemies anymore. Look at the other perspective and try to change things, not erase them.

Much of Morrison’s post Invisibles work is concerned with exploring the post 9/11 world. The day glo optimism of this series and Flex Mentallo is replaced by the overwhelming confusion and trauma of The Filth. But, after the tremulous odyssey through The Filth, we find out that what we have to do is take the shit and spread it on our flowers. All that cultural pain can help us grow, that’s the message that’s always been in The Invisibles. And, even if we don’t make it there by 2012, we still are moving closer to the oneness of the supercontext.

Morrison’s two major works post Invisibles are New X-Men and Seven Soldiers. New X-Men is basically The Invisibles set in the Marvel universe, with the cutting edge people guiding society into a new, better world. Jean Grey is the Marvel version of Robin, and like Robin, she merges into a larger ultradimensional entity, the Phoenix force. New X-Men shows us another group that isn’t about war, it’s about rescuing the enemy, and everything concludes with a vast attack against old world order, clearing the slate for something new.

Seven Soldiers is a work that’s dazzling in its scope and ambition. It takes a lot of the meta exploration of The Invisibles, and filters it through various aspects of the DCU. The Invisibles was critical because it set up a framework to view Morrison’s work through. The concepts of The Invisibles help us understand everything that comes after, and in general, his post Invisibles work is more ambitious and challenging than what came before. Animal Man, while great, is fairly simple in its fiction/reality dichotomy. His world is written by Morrison, and Morrison saves him in the end. In Zatanna, she breaks through to this element of reality, but it’s only one piece of a much larger canvas. Seven Soldiers is brilliant, and features some of Grant’s best writing. It continues to refine his themes, clarifying the nature of the third path between two extremes, and keeping with the parent/child issues of The Invisibles. Every generation can choose its own way.

It’s amazing to think about just how much work Grant has done. Someone like Joss Whedon did three TV series, a huge body of work, but Grant has done seven significant ongoing series, and countless other minis. He’s putting out three new books a month, and rarely repeats himself. David Lynch makes one movie every five years, and uses the same themes and settings again and again. Morrison uses similar stuff, but filters it through so many different worldviews and genres. Seven Soldiers alone has more ideas than other writers have in their entire career. The sheer amount of new Grant work we have kind of spoils the audience, and it’s good to step back and appreciate the scope and ambition of his career as a whole.

One day, Morrison will be recognized as the brilliant writer and philosopher that he is. In the same way that Philip K. Dick has been given a critical reevaluation, people will look at Morrison’s body of work and see the best writing ever done in the medium. Not only is he a great storyteller, he’s also exploring philosophy and magic in a totally groundbreaking way. After reading The Invisibles, it’s impossible to read something like Nausea because Sartre isn’t giving us the pop cool to help the philosophy go down. His stuff isn’t going to stand next to Morrison’s shiny imagery and cool, progressive concepts.

Ultimately, the thing I love about The Invisibles is its positive creative energy. So much of our world is doom and gloom, people constantly complaining about the work they have to do, that their job sucks, etc. I say I have to go edit my movie, and people are like oh, that sucks. No it doesn’t! I love editing my movie, and I try to love everything I do. Stop bitching about your life, if you don’t enjoy what you do, stop doing it. Our world has so much wonder in it, and The Invisibles helped me to appreciate that. There is no value in knee-jerk cynicism. We can create any world we like, so take responsibility for yourself and start inventing something great.

The world as a whole might go to shit, but you can change the world around you, and spread that change. It’s what Grant did with the book, he invented the world he wanted and found himself living in it. Was he deluding himself, was there real magic at work? It doesn’t matter, magic is just a way of seeing things, of giving your life meaning rather than viewing it as a disconnected series of meaningless events. Everything has meaning because we can imbue it with meaning, and it’s only the oppressive old social order that can deprive you of that. But, they have no sway over you. Our world is open for the taking, we can invent anything we want and live it if we just believe and act to that end. They can’t hold us, our sentence is up.

I've taken down my posts on The Invisibles because they're all coming out in book form. The book, Our Sentence is Up, features revised and expanded versions of each blog post, covering every issue of The Invisibles, plus an extensive interview with Morrison himself. Visit your local comic store and order a copy now!


David Golding said...

It's amazing how closely your original reading journey follows mine, though I was much older.

Thanks again for the blogging series!

Some minor quibbles here at the end:

I think Animal Man is a lot more sophisticated than people give it credit for---a reflection on them rather than it. It's true that Morrison saves Animal Man, but it isn't the Morrison that appears in the final issue. And, in #5, the series starts at a more complicated point than a fiction/reality dichotomy, and just gets more difficult from there.

And I've got to defend Sartre, who was big with the Beats. Some people discount him because he dared to dress philosophy up as fiction. But the stylistic tradition goes all the way back to Plato.

Patrick said...

I really loved Animal Man, but I think it came at a time before Morrison totally broke down the barrier between reality and fiction. In Animal Man, Morrison puts himself into the work, our reality infects the DCU. In the Invisibles, he not only puts himself into the work, the work puts itself out into reality, and that cross pollination is what makes it so special.

But, it's understandable that Animal Man would be simpler, it's the necessary stepping stone to his later explorations, and just because the ideas are simpler doesn't mean it's any less sophisticated. In some ways, the clarity of Animal Man makes it easier to engage with than the intesely convoluted Seven Soldiers. I love Seven Soldiers, but you need to put a lot of time in to fully appreciate the work, with Animal Man, much more of what's important is there on the page.

anthony pepe said...

The Invisibles is maddening. Sometimes I feel like it's taken over my life. Sometimes I'm free. I don't know. Is it just a game? The book? Life? Virtual reality gone mad. I want to play. I think I am playing. Is anyone else playing too?

Patrick said...

It's all happening now, and we're all in the game whether we know it or not. Robin is in the tank writing your story even as you're reading it.