If we have to pick sides on the Moore/Morrison beef, I’ll probs back the latter. Never really understood the argument that Morrison is a fraud or a copyist, since his comics feel like some of the most sui generis I have read. To try and unpack that a little, I picked up The Filth from my local library just as I was getting started with comics, got about half way through and gave up. It’s now one of my favourite comics ever, but I really had to persevere with it and basically learn how to read it. This applied to a lot of Morrison’s books, actually. And it seems to me that The Filth makes fewer concessions to a broad audience (unlike something like New X-Men and Doom Patrol, which still have something of the Chris Claremont style superhero soap-opera feel to it). So I agree with David (and against Joel?) that it’s more Morrison that most Morrison books.
Trying to remember why I gave up on The Filth back then, I think it may have had something to do with my inability to deal with the compression. I was into a lot of Bendis comics at the time, and I think a lot of that was because his books had the feel of great American TV (West Wing, Ally McBeal, Buffy etc), which I had grown up watching and was already comfortable with. Bendis is like TV in panels – one six issue trade reading like one 45 minute episode, with character-building bits, action bits, quips etc. For someone working his way into the comics form, it was familiar – easy to get into.
Morrison comics were therefore a massive challenge, as the compression requires you to focus on every stray detail in order to understand the plot, never mind anything else. I remember finding Final Crisis tough for the same sorts of reasons. For some people this might be a flaw. I prefer to see it as a different way to use the form, one that’s ultimately more interesting than the serial, unflashy competence you find in most big two comics. The Filth stretches conventional plotting to breaking point. Watching a creator confident enough to warp his narrative in every direction they want, and demanding that the audience follow them, is in its own way just as captivating as a pro-storyteller carrying you all the way through a story so expertly that you don’t realise or care how the magic is made.
Why is it worth reading? I’ll have a go. The Filth is founded on the opposition between the filthy things we dream about (Morrison apparently consumed a lot of porn when writing it, as David attests) and how we repress those things – ‘the filth’ being slang for the police. In that respect it’s a lot like Blue Velvet, whose villains cannot control their desires, and whose heroes are tempted by that freedom, but ultimately manage to pull away from it and live happy American apple pie lives. The Hand literally personify the processes by which we stamp out the antisocial (or “anti-person”) urges that will make living with each other impossible. For someone who unabashedly celebrated anarchic freedom in the face of ethical and political authority in The Invisibles, that’s an curious little turnaround.
That would be interesting enough if it was that simple, but the book also contains a lot of rage against that repressive (civilizing, if you like) figure of authority. Ned Slade is an artificial “parapersonality” imposed on the unassuming Greg Feely (or maybe it’s the other way around?). That sense of being manipulated by external forces (all those CCTV cameras) is prevalent. For me, that’s a metaphor for the way we are conditioned by the things around us, and pick up 'the rules' of morality by observing and monitoring each other. For me, Greg Feely is raging against an inevitable process. Society and its demands will never leave him alone, no matter how much he would like to seal himself away from it. That final metaphor: it’s a filthy thing, authority, but the peace it creates allows for beautiful things to grow. (tl;dr: The Filth is about abandoning anarchism for liberalism discuss…)
Just to pick up on one of David’s questions RE the art team: I’m in the process of becoming a bit of a Hollingsworth devotee, and on this read through I did pick up on how drastically the colours change as Greg turns into Ned. I own the toilet paper trade, and perhaps that dulls the impact a bit (although the cheapness also feels somehow appropriate for the ugly smutty subject matter…) In any case, the garish pinks and reds, the vomity yellows and greens, used as the background to the panels in the fantasy world add up to quite a big part of the look and feel of the book Imo, so for me Hollingsworth is a bit of an (unsung?) hero for the work he did on it.