“One large-scale, shimmeringly holographic tapestry”: Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles
Imagine, if you will, that you are a down-on-inspiration writer reeling from highly acerbic, scathing reviews of your latest work. Stretch that setting to include a bizarre trip across the world where the only way to numb thepain of rejection is that tried-and-tested, if somewhat cliched, method of drowning your sorrows in the choicest narcotics available to mankind.
Extend this fictional setting to allow for the plausibility of being abducted by aliens in Kathmandu during this drug-induced trance. Next, consider that you were forced at prodding-point by this rather literary-inclined bunch of extraterrestrial beings to sum up the entire dilemma of humanity, its core existential crises, its weirdnesses, its –isms, its quirks, oddities, triumphs and defeats, exhilirations and ebbs, the whole shebang- into a sprawling yet tight comic narrative spanning about 1500 pages. If you were to take the possibility of such a scenario at face value (and with no irony whatsoever), you’d end up being the madman/genius/prophet known as Grant Morrison, narrative overlord of that astonishing piece of human endeavour known as The Invisibles. (And a legion of comic fans would be ready to decree a new world order proclaiming you as the one and true God).
To sum up the plot of The Invisibles within a few lines is to really disgrace, and disrespect, the level of complexity involved in this crazy ride of Good vs Evil as you have never experienced before. When I employ the phrase “as you have never experienced before”, I realize that it comes across as yet another trying not-too-hard-to-be-hyperbolic review about a comic series which has had a significant legacy. But as a cultural artefact that addresses issues which have been central to some of humanity’s pressing concerns, such as the nature of existence and reality, the meaning of truth and beauty, the cumbersome nature of moral dilemmas, etc., it truly sets a high benchmark – there is nothing even remotely, across all visual/literary media, close to it. In the effort to pour out into his magnum opus nearly every form of distilled philosophy dear to him, Morrison has set up a work which can read like a laundry list of all bizarre esoteric interests under the sun – psychedelic drugs, the apocalypse, sadomasochism, Eastern philosophy, conspiracy theories, alien abduction, hyperreality, Dadaism,freemasons, The Romantic period, political revolutions, symbolism, et al. To ask of oneself “What is The Invisibles all about?” is to set up a question which defies all attempts at a linear, coherent narrative. Pick up one strand, and you are bound to come up with a whole complex web of intriguing details.
The core of the series revolves around the “Invisible” struggle between agents of the Outer Church, the prime antagonists who secretly run the world, preventing humanity from reaching its highest potential, and a motely crew of not-so-organized part anarchists, part human gods called the “Invisibles”- our only hope for the survival of humanity. They incude Dany (later Jack Frost), an angsty teenager whose entry into the Invisibles kickstarts the series, King Mob, thecharismatic if somewhat violent leader of the group, Lord Fanny, a glamorous Brazilian transvestite with a tragic past, a young black woman ironically identified as Boy, and Ragged Robin, a telepath hiding secrets. The battle between the two groups involves shennanigans of truly epic proportions, including time-travel,fiction-and-history-traversing,brushes with voodoo and astral projection, breaking the fourth wall, etc. As the series progresses from one level of complex saving-the-world-battle to another, taking us through serpentine twists and turns that often defy all expected forms of weirdness, what one truly tries to struggle with is the whole “POINT” of the comic- this is not, in Morrison’s own words, “just a comic book….it’s a spell.” The writer does not even relieve the readers in making the case for a rather neat end- no sirree; if anything, it defies even more when it comes to standard apocalyptic tropes, compelling the breathless reader to not just simply sit bank and let it all sink in, but have him/her re-read the entire gargantuan thing all over again. A comic to put the best of complex novels to shame, this is not an easy read, and not just when it comes to “reading” the text itself. There is a James Joyce/Thomas Pynchon-level complexity to this series which makes it hard to swallow. Gaiman’s Sandman might have been known as the most “intellectual” amongst graphic novels, but it is The Invisibles which really pushes the boundaries of what is conceivable in such a medium.
As the inspiration for The Matrix and countless other works which have prolifilerated the media since it came into being, The Invisibles requires a more personal reading of the author himself, and not just what’s on the rather convoluted-at-times pages of the comic. If Morrison’s words are to be taken without any pinch of salt, he intended the series as a hypersigil– a work of art that is also meant to be magic, propelling culture to have new conversations and head in a better direction. As far as intentions go, while the achievement of thelatter aim is a matter of immense debate, it can easily be said that as far as giving culture, and especially that of the 90s and early 2000s, a new talking point, The Invisibles has more than surpassed expectations. To add to the personal element of the series, King Mob is said to be modelled on Morrison himself, and the bald look and the bizarro swagger are just the surface of it. In various interviews, documentaries and academic studies of this cult favourite, the intersection of Morrison’s personal experiences (especially of his trysts with acid and magic) with the fictional narrative has been explored exhaustively. But what this involvement of the personal really serves to do is to make one realize that fiction serve a much larger purpose than merely entertain you or give one a little fodder for thought- if done right, it quite literally has the power to change the way you think about the world. Leafing through the work one realizes that the labyrinth that Morrison has the luck to call his mind is an extraordinary palace storing wondrous literary, mythological, historical and religious allusions that not only speak for a highly retentive memory, but an ability to allude to those things in a manner which befits the story-telling astonishingly. And to do so in order to drive home the point that the world one inhabits is more than just what meets the eye is an amazing feat in itself. After all, few can accomplish the task of breathing life into a Marquis de Sade to make a commentary on the nature of the world’s illusions.
If 42 is Douglas Adams’s rather dry answer to the “Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe and Everything”, you might consider re-evaluating that to The Invisibles. Get ready for the ride of your life, folks.