Thirteen years after its completion, The Invisibles
has finally been collected in one massive volume. Weighing in at nearly ten pounds, over 1500 pages, and costing $150 US Dollars, The Invisibles Omnibus is one of the purest and most unique experiences in comics
. Using the language of superheroes, writer/genius/counter-cultural icon Grant Morrison introduced readers to an entirely new world of pulse-quickening ideas, and stamped his unique brand of other-dimensional thinking to a whole generation of writers and artists, whose voices are now among the most influential in the field. What was it about The Invisibles
that resonated so deeply with so many?
Though it's very difficult to boil down a book as wild and complex as The Invisibles, the basic plot is actually very simple: No one is free. The Archons of the Outer Church, a group of inter-dimensional aliens/gods, have secretly worked to enslave mankind for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. Through their machinations and representatives in government, media, royalty, law enforcement, organized religion, and other vehicles of oppression, The Archons have prevented human beings from achieving their full potential and ascending to a higher plane of existence.
Opposing the Outer Church is The Invisible College, a worldwide network of terrorists who combat the conspiracy through consciousness-expansion, sexual expression, high fashion, and healthy amounts of ultra-violence. The cell that the story follows is made up of characters who defy every traditional type comics had produced. There's Ragged Robin, who is either a time-travelling psychic or just insane; Dane MacGowan, a juvenile delinquent from Manchester who might be the reincarnation of The Buddha; Lord Fanny, a transsexual Brazilian witch with the best one-liners in comicbook history; and the undeniable star of the book, science fiction writer and superspy King Mob, who wears fetish gear, racks up a kill count in the triple digits while quoting George Orwell, and acts as Grant Morrison's "fiction suit," his 2-dimensional stand-in sent to directly interact with the story's reality. Yep.
If you can't already tell, the book gets into some pretty weird territory. As he says in his comics theory/autobiography Supergods, "I decided to do a book where I could contain and address all my interests," and that's a very long, very weird list. As such, reading all three volumes collected in the omnibus in one sitting may just entirely rewrite your personal cosmology. Proceed with caution. Chaos magic, LSD, tantric sex, the sunspot cycle, neuro-linguistic programming, memes, William S. Burroughs, Timothy Leary, Terrence McKenna, Robert Anton Wilson, Michael Moorcock's Jerry Cornelius stories, the Mayan calendar, alien abduction, Gnosticism, Manichaeism, Situationism, Discordianism, Dadaism, shamanism, transcendentalism, and several other -isms all find their way into the book, providing numerous pathways of discovery for the adventurous reader willing to stop and write down every eclectic reference and thought-provoking idea contained in every issue.
Which was essentially what Morrison wanted: to provoke thought, to encourage consciousness-expansion, and to disseminate the types of ideas that he believed might go on to infect and motivate readers. Repeatedly referring to The Invisibles as a "hypersigil," a long-form magical act meant to alter reality in accordance with intent, Morrison was actively trying to make a better world through fiction. (In fact, he started the project with a sigil he charged while bungee-jumping from a bridge in New Zealand; when it looked like the series might be cancelled early, Morrison used the letters column to teach readers the art of sigil magic and asked them to participate in a "wank-a-thon" to imbue the book with lasting power. The book never got cancelled, and you can't argue with results.) While that may seem like absolute crap to many, it's hard to argue with the fact that some of the ideas he was trying to spread between 1993 and 1999 ended up in The Matrix, several other comicbooks, and at least a small portion of the popular consciousness.
Prior to The Invisibles, Morrison was a respected weirdo, but he wasn't exactly widely known. Arkham Asylum was the best-selling original graphic novel of all time, but it was the art of Dave McKean that stole the show. On Animal Man and Doom Patrol, he wrote himself into the story and pushed the boundaries of conventional narrative, and though he gained quite a few fans and copious amounts of professional respect, he still wasn't really considered a star on the level of Neil Gaiman or Alan Moore. The Invisibles changed that - it's the book where Grant Morrison the writer became Grant Morrison the icon. As Morrison wrote his life into King Mob and vice versa, his personality grew, eventually eclipsing the work. Morrison fans were not just fans of the writing, they were fans of the man: the shaven-headed nutball who wore skintight leather, spoke of an experience in Kathmandu akin to an alien abduction, and regularly extolled the virtues of psychedelic drugs.
Though it's been discussed to death in numerous other blogs, tons of interviews, Morrison's own book, and the Talking With Gods documentary, without a doubt the most fascinating aspect of The Invisibles is the autobiographical one, and the uncanny give-and-take that seemed to exist in a weird conjunction between fiction and reality. Just as the ichthys symbol (or Jesus fish) in Gnosticism represents a higher reality and lower reality intersecting, Morrison appeared to have discovered a meeting place between reality and un-reality, where the two planes came together in a living Venn diagram. It ended up being a blade that is sharp on both sides. (If only there was a euphemism for that.) Morrison took a lot of risks with the comic. By making it very personal, by intertwining his own life with fiction, he opened a lot of doors that couldn't be closed. Shortly after King Mob was brainwashed to believe he had necrotizing fasciitis that chewed its way through his cheek, Morrison got a staph infection that nearly chewed its way through his cheek, eventually sending him to the hospital, where he hallucinated Jesus, a scene that appears in volume 1 issue 24. He openly discussed, through his characters and then in interviews, breakups, letdowns, and his own experiences with cross-dressing, which certainly turned a lot of people off.
Lots of people don't understand Morrison, think he's just drugged-out and writing nonsense, and they love to make their opinions known. There will probably be a few comments on this story proclaiming that Morrison can't write, doesn't make sense, needs an editor, and drops too much acid. Those people are seriously, intensely wrong. Here's a serious proclamation for you: if you can't recognize the craft and invention that he puts into everything he writes - particularly the sprawling occult conspiracy thrill-ride that is The Invisibles - then you're either not paying attention or you simply don't get it. The amount of writers and artists who count Morrison - and his work on The Invisibles in particular - among their biggest influences is a list of the most important and impressive creators of the current ruling generation. The best writers in comics think Morrison is the best writer in comics. Matt Fraction's highly-praised super-spy autobiography Casanova probably wouldn't exist if not for Morrison's example on how it could be done. In fact, Morrison is considered such an influential creator, he's even getting his own convention, with luminaries Robert Kirkman, Johnathan Hickman, Gerard Way, and Jason Aaron - who almost named his first son Grant - attending as special guests at MorrisonCon in Las Vegas September 28-29. And The Invisibles is arguably the writer/icon's most influential, most important work. Even thirteen years after its completion, it's still forward-thinking and prescient, a claim that very, very few comics could make.
Now, with Morrison proclaiming (again) that he'll be leaving superhero comics shortly, with this gargantuan collection now on the shelves, with MorrisonCon creeping around the horizon, with December 21 2012 lurking not far behind it, the synchronicities are too blatant to ignore. If you've never read The Invisibles, if you were too young or naive to have understood it the first time around, now is the time to get going. It may send you on a strange trip into areas of your own psyche you never imagined exploring - it may contain the answers you were already looking for, as it did for hallucinatory, mid-mental collapse 18-year-old me. At the very least it will be one of the most interesting, unconventional, and memorable comicbooks you've ever read. Charge the sigil, make the jump, pull the pin, and remember to smile.