“Gnosticism, Michael Moorcock, time travel, Terence McKenna’s novelty theory, sex magick, psychedelia, conspiracy culture, comics-as-pop, a lot of punching, the Moonchild, time-as-a-flat-circle and oh-so-much more.” – Rolling Stone
If that sounds like a lot of arcana to pack into a comic book, you’re right. Throughout its original seven-year, 49-issue run, The Invisibles was nothing if not ambitious. Scottish comics writer Grant Morrison was coming off his stabs at reanimating a couple of moribund DC Comics superhero titles (Animal Man and The Doom Patrol) as well as the successful 1989 Batman graphic novel Arkham Asylum when he was given free reign to create something for the publisher’s boundary-pushing Vertigo line. That, along with a psychedelic/shamanistic experience in Kathmandu that Morrison has likened to an alien abduction, led to The Invisibles.
Considering its influence on contemporary comics, as well as its continued after-life on the physical plane, it’s a little surprising to realize that the title was almost cancelled midway. If it had been, we probably wouldn’t have The Invisibles Book One, a recently published softcover edition of 2014’s hardcover The Invisibles: Deluxe Edition, Book One, which collects issues #1–12; or the first collected editions (including 1999’s You Want a Revolution and 2001’s Apocalipstick, which also collect the issues contained herein); or 2012’s The Invisibles Omnibus, which collects all 1500 pages of Morrison’s nutty yet prescient odyssey.
As a reader who only sporadically followed the comics’ original run, my reintroduction to the characters and stories offered plenty to mull over. While I enjoyed the main plot, which pits the Invisibles against a group (not musical, but could be) called the Archons of the Outer Church, I found some of the tangents distracting. I’m still not sure why Morrison felt the need to introduce the Marquis de Sade to the story, except that his appearance (through a time-traveling sub-plot) leads to this book’s most disturbing story, a riff on de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom. It could be that I missed something – as mentioned, Morrison packs a lot into these stories – or that de Sade’s presence is explained more in subsequent issues.
For the record, The Invisibles team include King Mob, an assassin and 2D stand-in for Morrison (a self-confessed practicing chaos magician, the writer has said he saw The Invisibles as a spell cast to make the world a better place); Lord Fanny, a transgender Brazilian shaman; Boy, a former member of the NYPD; Ragged Robin, a telepath with a mysterious past; and Jack Frost, a young hooligan from Liverpool who may be the next Buddha. Except for King Mob and Jack Frost, in this first volume at least, we don’t really get to know these characters, beyond a few surface details.
Yet there’s much to admire, if not love, about these first issues of the series (which has been credited with influencing, among other things, The Matrix; I also detected some strands of Invisibles DNA in the current hit FX series Legion, though the show is actually based on Marvel Comics characters). I especially liked in this volume, the last few issues, which are more like stand-alone stories set in The Invisibles universe but not directly connected with the larger plot.
The art, by several different artists, is uneven, but each brings his or her own strengths. I would single out the work of Chris Weston and Steve Parhouse, each of whom pencils one issue, and of course the amazing Brian Bolland. As he has done for several other Morrison-related works (the original run of Animal Man and subsequent collections, for example), Bolland contributes the cover to the book, as well as several of the later issues (not collected here). Bolland automatically elevates any project to which he contributes, which also tends to raise the bar for the inside art.
Though I found Book One of The Invisibles uneven, there’s enough narrative pull and batshit-cool ideas to keep me reading. I look forward to subsequent volumes, and headily recommend The Invisibles to anyone ready to connect with their own inner Buddha, Invisible, or Archon of the Outer Church, as the case may be.
The Invisibles was also chosen as #7 on Drawn Out, Rolling Stone’s list of The 50 Best Non-Superhero Graphic Novels.