Friday, July 27, 2007

REVIEW :: The Invisibles

by Grant Morrison, art by various

reprinted as THE INVISIBLES, volumes 1-7

reviewed by Dustin Harbin

Okay, listen. My love for Grant Morrison is well-documented. I've lost count of how many of you I've pushed his books on, or how many times I've said how great All-Star Superman is, or pretty much anything he's done with Frank Quitely is super, etc., blah-blah. I'm on record, okay?

But before Grant Morrison did all this mainstream stuff, he was most famous for his highly eccentric stories in Doom Patrol, Animal Man, and--most notably--The Invisibles. I read the first issue of The Invisibles when it came out way WAY back in the mid-90's, when I was just a lowly customer: I hated it. I hated it so much, in fact, that I came back to the store and complained to the person who'd sold it to me. I hated it so much that it killed me for Vertigo stuff for years--it wasn't until former employee/current friend Darin Caudle forced me to read the series years later that it started to grow on me. By the time the series wrapped up a couple of years later, I was a Grant Morrison fan for life.

The Invisibles is easily the most complex, bizarre, mind-blowing, self-referential comic book you'll ever read. Anything more complex would just be pure computer code. Now, I'll say up front that this is not the best of Grant Morrison's stuff: but that's what's great about Grant Morrison. He keeps getting better. When he's focuses that weird beam mind of his, he's untouchable: WE3, All-Star Superman, etc., are far more gracefully realized. However, The Invisibles is an all-out assault on the senses. I've read it maybe three times all the way through, and I STILL am never sure that I know exactly what is going on. Each time you read it you notice more and more layers and levels to things--things are forever happening out of sequence, referring back to things that happened in the first or second issues; there's time travel backwards and forwards all through the thing--it's a lot to swallow. On the other hand, The Invisibles still stands as one of the most innovative pieces of periodical comic fiction ever. These read just as well month-to-month as they do as collections, with a constant ebb-and-flow of action, clever twists and cliffhangers, and a level of violence that would make The Punisher blush.

The other thing that would make the Punisher blush--I assume it would, I've never met him--is the cast. The Invisibles is a sort of sex-drugs-rock'n'roll anarchist paramilitary outfit: trying to explain further is just a waste of my time and yours. Suffice it to say that its members include a transvestite Brazilian witch doctor, a time-traveling schizophrenic hottie, and a zen-master bald kung fu dude who looks suspiciously like Grant Morrison himself--and those are just main characters. Together they struggle with--sort of--a strange millenia old menace that calls to mind the horrors of H.P. Lovecraft, the Illuminatus! trilogy, and ever conspiracy theory you've ever heard, except for that crummy Mel Gibson movie.

The problem with The Invisibles is that it takes a while to get going. I'll admit: the first trade is pretty boring. Not many people can introduce such an incredibly complex story and group of characters, while simultaneously running through a sequence of hallucinations and head trips, and bring it off successfully in one book. Unfortunately, I'm not sure Mr Morrison does here. Plus the art is boring, boring, boring, throughout most of the first volume. The art really doesn't get great until Phil Jimenez joins up near the end of Volume One (out of three: I'm referring to the three volumes it was originally published as, rather than the seven trades that reprint those three volumes. Make sense?). Then it's amazing.

But, often-ugly art aside, by the middle of the second trade ("Apocalipstick"), the story gets going and becomes downright fascinating. Here's my suggestion. Buy the first two trades, go home, and do your best to get through the first one. It's not awful or anything, just a little much to swallow. Finish that one, then start the second one as soon as you can. One of my favorite single issues of any comic is #12 ("Best Man Fall"): if you finish that issue and STILL haven't started to enjoy it, then you probably won't ever. You can quit at that point. Take care of those trades while you read them, and if you make a good case, maybe we'll let you swap them for something with less death and nudity in it. Oh yeah: parents, this title is NOT for young readers.

And there you go.


RichBarrett said...

I'm glad to see you say that the first trade is boring because that is all I've read of the Invisibles and have never been inspired to buy the next trade. And I'm a HUGE Morrison fan. I love AS Superman, Seven Soldiers, Animal Man, WE3, Earth 2, Seaguy and tons of other stuff he's done. I want really badly to read and love Invisibles so maybe I'll give Vol. 2 a shot.

Nice review!

Dustin Harbin said...

Definitely try volume 2, although I HIGHLY recommend you reread the first trade first if you still have it. The best story is the King Mob story in the third TP. By that point there have been so many "what-the-dickens" moments, that you totally forget the sometimes crappy art.

Jason Wheatley said...

I agree with Rich...I read the first trade some time ago, and it left a really bad taste in my mouth. I was confused, and the art was fugly. But I'm all about giving things a fair shake, so someday I would like to go back and try again. But you know how it much to read, so little time...

Dustin Harbin said...

Yes: again, read them in chunks. Eventually your eyes will scab over and the art won't bother you so much. Reading it issue to issue was a real challenge, although once you're in, you're in. Plus, the original issues have the incredibly fascinating letters column, which was run by Morrison himself and includes all manner of cool stuff like his interest in chaos magic, his odd (but apparently successful) solution to flagging Invisibles sales, and more. Including, weirdest of all, the apparent damage he did to himself by injuring King Mob repeatedly in the comic, nearly resulting in his (Morrison's) death, followed by an enormous upswing in King Mob's fortunes in the comic. Really crazy.

Douglas Merkle said...

I was sittin' around one weekend, smokin some crack... droppin some X- tried to read this again and still couldn't get into it.

Shawn Reynolds said...

Family blog!