11.7.09

The Invisibles

Getting through Invisibles trades is tough going. I've often given up in exasperation. These past couple of days I've gritted my teeth and finished the first three. The reason I made the effort is that the writer of the series, Grant Morrison, gets a lot of love from people who's opinion I respect (such as the guys here and here). The weight of critical acclaim obviously means I'm missing something. Or if I wasn't, it was still important for me to nail down what it was about Morrison's writing that I didn't like.

It's not possible to deny that Morrison has superior storytelling gifts. In a single issue you get enough crazy ideas to fill an entire series. His characters, while a little off-the-wall at first, grow to become quite endearing when they are developed. I'm thinking particularly of the Lord Fanny issues, which pretty much made me fall in love with the character. The scene when she picks herself up after surviving unimaginable abuse, and declares herself pure and free is a real euphoric moment. Boy's single issue 'origin' is a less magnificent, but Morrison manages to keep the character interesting despite her rather cliche story. And by the middle of the third trade, you're pretty much ready to accept King Mob as the coolest character in the history of comics.

For Morrison can also do the hero/action thing very well, building up tension and then releasing it in one amazing rush. His 'hero shots' are amazing. Then there is the way he intercuts scenes -- the page always ending on a tasty reveal, before whipping off to another part of the story. He knows how to keep the action pumping and the reader on his toes.

The crew of counter-cultural terrorists at the centre of the story collects together a bunch of strange physical and mental powers. It's an awesome superhero team. The echo of Claremont's X-Men can be detected in the way Morrison writes the relationships between the characters. The creation of family is one of the oldest and most affecting stories you can tell. It's what Joss Whedon's entire career is built on. Morrison does the same, but for me, he just doesn't go far enough for me to stick with his story.

This is where we hit on my problems with The Invisibles. For you see, Grant Morrison is a nutcase. Large sections of the series feel like mental recordings of his various drug trips and dreams. Randomness and free-association are key. The story is a bubbling soup of science and magic, aliens and demons, drag queens and secret agents, packed with literary and pop culture references. It's admirable that Morrison can retain such control over all this self-indulgence, crafting his tripped-out concepts into an overblown exploration of the struggle between chaos and order, anarchy and authoritarianism, inspiration and dullness. Indeed, it could be said that these preoccupations grow out of the tensions in Morrison's creative process. How do you distill all those madcap ideas into a format that is legible to others? How can you put your mind on a page and make it coherent? How do you balance invention with nuts-and-bolts storytelling?

But adding all this weirdness means you get away from the characters and their relationships. 25 issues in and I still don't know anything about Ragged Robin, the team's psychic. Morrison doesn't give me enough time to hang out with the gang and explore the way they act around each other. I need to become part of the team before you can take me on all these crazy random adventures. This is what Whedon (also learning from Claremont) does so well. The ideas he tackles can be just as epic, but through it all he never loses sight of his characters. In fact, the team dynamic is a central aspect of a Whedon product's overall point: family, built on an almost Christian conception of agape love. As hard as I try, I just don't feel part of the Invisibles family. I don't really want to join up and get that blank badge -- become part of the team. I can understand why the series is a masterpiece. But it's not one of my favorite comics. Morrison just doesn't quite do it for me.

3 comments:

  1. Thanks for the link, and in terms of The Invisibles, I'll say first off that the series is not only my favorite Morrison work, it's my favorite piece of fiction ever, in any medium. I think it's also something that people either seem to absolutely love, or just enjoy and respect, but not emotionally engage with.

    In terms of your specific issues, I think most of them are resolved, or at least addressed in Volume II of the series, which begins with the next trade. The first volume was more experimental, jumping from the core team to a variety of standalone issues. But, the second volume, which runs through the next three trades, is much tighter, and I think has a real sense of family. It's also got much better art, at first via Phil Jiminez, and then with Chris Weston.

    For me personally, I really enjoyed the first two trades, but Entropy in the UK is where I really got hooked, specifically the three part King Mob storyline that opens that book. But, in general, I think the second volume is far stronger than the first.

    As for the series itself, you're right in saying that it's him putting his mind on a page. In many cases, particularly as the series goes on, it's a record of the things he did, the places he went and the people he met along the way. The Invisibles is a stylized chronicle of seven years of his life, and even though it's clearly fiction on a certain level, there's a heavy interplay between fiction and reality, both for him and to some extent with the reader. That's why I say that people either absolutely love the series, or feel kind of lukewarm about it, since I think really experiencing The Invisibles requires a total immersion in the stylized pop cosmology Grant is presenting.

    I would definitely recommend checking out at least the next trade, which is a really concise and effective introduction to the new style of storytelling in Volume II. If nothing else, you'll find out a lot about Robin and her importance to the team, as well as see some absolutely beautiful Phil Jiminez art.

    ReplyDelete
  2. OK I'll try and do that. There is a money problem. Comics are by far the most expensive stories you can buy (£10 a book as opposed to £2 a TV episode or £5 a film), so I generally spend my scratch on books I *know* I'll love. I found the first three Invisibles trades in local libraries, and the only other volume they've got is Kissing Mr. Quimper. I will check that one out, although with the Invisibles, reading out of order is a pretty bad idea. If I do get a Grant Morrison epiphany, then buying all the trades will no longer be a problem.

    My library also has a copy of The Filth, which I've heard is a kind of follow-up to the Invisibles. It looks really interesting, so I may well go for that.

    And thanks for hearing me out. Much appreciated.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Definitely don't jump to Quimper, though I think it's the best chunk of the series, but Volume II is much more continuous, and the emotional arcs won't make as much sense without Bloody Hell in America and Counting to None.

    I totally agree that comics are a comparatively bad value, but I think Grant usually makes comics so dense with ideas, that they wind up giving you a lot more than the comparative time you'd spend with TV or a film.

    The Filth is kind of a follow up to The Invisibles, exploring a lot of the same themes, but from different perspective. It's definitely worth a look, but isn't my favorite Morrison. The art by Chris Weston is fantastic throughout though.

    But, The Invisibles functions as the hinge for pretty much everything else he's written. You can connect elements of it to every work before and since.

    ReplyDelete