Should we bring the Morrison discussion over here now? I don't know how...

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Doom Patrol vol II

The Soul of a New Machine

Issue 34

Summary: Declaring Robotman's new body to be shoddy workmanship by Dr Magnus, the Chief removes Cliff's brain from it just prior to a shopping trip for chocolate. The body gains consciousness and decides to kill Cliff's Brain. Meanwhile, Monsier Mallah and the Brain break into Doom Patrol headquarters in order to transplant the Brain into Cliff's body.

Commentary: ...READ THIS ONE TOO! ... The mind-body duality ...

This is a perfect little comicbook. After the heavy weather of the Crazy Jane issue followed by the Morrisonism -stuffed last 3 issues, this one is a tightly-plotted fun-ride. Morrison uses long-established characters and ancient comicbook tropes to explore the Cartesian problem of the Mind. Can it exist independently of the body? Which influences the other more? Along the way he produces what might be the single funniest issue of the Doom Patrol ever.

In the quote from the old Smith’s song Morrison uses as a subtitle of the story– Does the body rule the mind, or does the mind rule the body?


Bow before the mighty Smiths in their prime

Cliff’s new body seemed like a masterpiece up to now. The story opens on the Chief bad temperedly complaining about how badly it was made. In the light of what we find out later, perhaps he is only messing up Cliff’s life by sabotaging the new body, to test his theories on the effects of trauma on systems.

Certainly, Dr Magnus has a good track record, being the creator of the Metal Men. It seems that Dr Magnus has some power, like the Old Testement God, to bring consciousness and life to inert materials. The body is like Adam in that respect.

For some reason it is immediately malevolent, drilling a hole in Cliff’s nutrient tank so that the precious fluids start to leak out. Cliff is completely powerless to resist the slow approach of Death.

Morrison returns in this story to the idea of mind cut off from sensory input, as he explored earlier with Morden being put in the sensory deprivation chamber by the old Nazi. Whereas Morden went crazy in short order, Cliff quite likes it. It seems he likes the calmness of solitary reflection, which is no doubt a complete contrast to his usual bizarre life, surrounded by his weird team-mates. But then again, Morden too was completely remade as a person during his ordeal, emerging as the wonderfully energetic and active Mr Nobody after being the beaten, frightened and hidden Morden. Morrison is using old sci-fi tropes to explore shamanistic rituals of self-realisation thorugh isolation and retreat.

Having shown us the mind and the body as two separate entities, in this case in fatal conflict with each other, Morrison then comes at the problem from a different angle. We meet old Doom Patrol foes Monsieur Mallah, an intelligent ape and his mentor the Brain, long-standing members of the original Brotherhood of Evil.

Here the duality is between an animal body and a highly intelligent brain. Part of the humour of the whole comic is that the old dualities are constantly being collapsed and refracted off each other. It’s never a ‘pure’ opposition. Dr Magnus’ newly built body makes decisions, imagines a better life and strives to preserve itself. With Mallah and his mentor, the Ape spends the whole issue discussing various philosophers. In some ways he rejoices in his appetites and physicality: he will only take his Che Guevera style hat off to whoever bests him in combat, he declares! “Or Chess,” he adds, showing an appreciation of more cerebral pursuits.

The Brian retorts that he himself can’t stop thinking about strip chess! This coming from a Brain in a jar being pushed in a pram by an ape who is tryng to be undercover. This is genius!

When they break into Doom Patrol’s HQ Mallah announces there will be “action such as you have never seen before! Brain versus Brain!” and hurls The Brain (the capitals are important here) at Cliff’s slowly leaking brain jar. Of course the two brains can only lie motionless beside each other.

Mallah quickly overcomes the new Body and transplants his master’s brain into it. The Brain is overcome with excitement and joy at his spiffing new body. At this point the subtext of his relationship with Mallah becomes text as they both admit that all this time they have loved each other and now they can express it physically.

“Let’s ...stop pretending, Mallah... All these years we’ve worked together, lived together... I can’t lie to you any longer...”

Perhaps this unlikely pair have illustrated the solution to the 'problem'. The mind and body aren't somehow in opposition, but were 'made for each other.'

Whatever the philosophical implications, this sequence is hilarious. Although the humour seems to be that they are, you know... GAY!, so it’s probably not quite politically correct...

Still, part of it is that these are two hard-bitten career supervillain terrorists, part of it is the complete turnaround from the usual unequal superbrain/henchman relationshipand part of it is the afternoon soap opera dialogue that they use to express their feelings.

“Oh, Mallah!”

“Oh, Master!”

This is Morrison firing on all cylinders. They don’t know that the body had set up booby traps in itself to stop being tampered with. The issue literally climaxes with an ape and a robot kissing each other just before the booby trap blows them both to smithereens, leaving a brain in a jar with a Che Guevera beret on top.

Where else you gonna get this kinda stuff?
So, The Invisibles. The first issue was double-length, which I had forgotten (it's easy to miss when you're reading it in collected form). That meant it had a cover price of $2.95, instead of the $1.95 that Vertigo was going for at the time. This was the first new continuing series launched by the imprint that had an established creator: Grant Morrison had written popular runs of Animal Man and Doom Patrol (both pre-Vertigo), and presumably had a fan base ready to try this creator-owned series. The first issue is a standalone titled "Dead Beatles," which refers both to the band and the scarab beetle. We meet the core members of The Invisibles, but mostly briefly, the focus being on Dane McGowan. Dane is a young, rebellious student with violent anarchist tendencies. It's established early that The Invisibles want to recruit him to replace John-A-Dreams, but it's not clear why. Dane is finally busted and sent to Harmony House, a mysterious retraining center for juvenile delinquents. There are some bizarre otherworldly beings behind the center, which apparently performs some kind of transformations on the inmates, both psychological and physical. Dane's transformation is interrupted by an attack led by King Mob, the bald leader of The Invisibles who physically resembles Morrison himself.

Issue two, the first in the "Down and Out in Heaven and Hell" arc, begins with Dane homeless in London, where he was left by King Mob at the end of issue one. On the run from the police, he meets Mad Tom (or Tom O'Bedlam), who apparently has magical powers (a couple of other Invisibles also make brief appearances, but they are not identified). Tom takes him to an initiation site deep in the Underground, where they smoke a blue mold which will "open doors to other Londons." They take a walk in a strange, transformed version of the city. And Dane awakes to find himself pursued by The Hunt, a group of men in fox hunting garb who were seen pursuing and killing a young woman earlier in the issue.

Right from the beginning of the series, Morrison establishes a world that involves forces beyond normal "reality." It's not clear if the strange aspects are real or imagined. Drug use in the first issue (when King Mob invokes the spirit of John Lennon) and the second (when Tom and Dane smoke the blue mold) raise questions, and Tom isn't called Mad Tom for nothing.
I had some trepidation about rereading The Invisibles. I didn't get it as a monthly when it first came out, but my kid brother got it in back issues and then monthly by the time of the final countdown to zero.

I had read most of them by the time the last issue came out and although I had read them in mixed-up order, as you do when collecting back-issues, and really only just reading the surface of each comic once, it still had a huge effect on me and I thought at the time that it had changed the whole way I viewed the world and my place in it. I'm not the only fan to claim this, and it’s a really unusual comic in that regard.

As a reviewer from a Sunday newspaper (how many comics get reviewed in a Sunday newspaper?) says of Morrison on the back of my copy of Apocylipstick (Vol II): "Like too few contemporary writers, he wants to change his readers lives."

Morrison was probably aware that the series mightn't last long, and this first issue is quite self-contained, and just might pass as an arty one-off. I too had forgotten it was so long, and it is crammed with events and action. Certainly the 4 issues up to the end of the first multipart arc, Down and Out in Heaven and Hell, likewise feels very complete.

"Smile!" indeed.


Issue 1:

I love that the hero's name is so close to this guy's.

Shane McGowan's work has a lot in common with The Invisibles.

In this song he intimates a secret brotherhood of rebels and poets who fight and die for freedom down through the centuries.

In this one he celebrates the joy of throwing off all the conventions of society and partying like he means it, referencing ancient druidic rituals while he’s about it – “I sleep in a hollow log”

In this one he evokes with sympathy the grim life and shattered dreams of a homeless big-city rentboy, much like our Lord Fanny at one stage, or the kid who gets in the car with De Sade at the end of Vol I.

The change of name from Shane to Dane makes us think of the Viking raiders, who almost wiped out a whole civilisation with their vandalism and destruction.

Or perhaps he is meant to evoke that Dane, the most famous in literature. In this first issue we see him falling out with his mother who has taken up with a new man and by the end of the first four issues he is crying for the loss of his father.

And that’s only the name of the main character. One tiny reference amongst many.

If you didn’t know anything about Shane MacGowan, then the story in the first volume loses nothing at all, but if you do, then a lot of other associations are brought in that highlight some points, further enlighten others and just plain get you thinking.

Now multiply this by several such references per page. The whole work is crammed with references to the real world: to poetry , philosophy, pop culture, history, science etc. This is why The Invisibles is a different type of comic series than most. It’s constantly trying to set off linkages and associations in your mind outside the text of the comic itself.

It’s a work of ideas, not just of narrative, and 59 issues X 22 pages still isn’t enough for the complexity of what Morrison is trying to get across. Morrison is using all kinds of allusions and quotes to enlarge what he wants to say, to give his narrative depth and resonance.

Reading it this time I am interested in how it hangs together as a comics series, but I’m also hoping that we’ll be able to make some more sense of the background material Morrison is drawing on than my first reading.

“Why doesn’t he just say what he wants to say in plain English?”

It’s a fair question, but on the very first page Morrison anticipates the question and gives his answer

“Truth speaks best in poetry and symbolism.”

From the mouth of the same character, Morrison admits “Some people will say anything to be thought of as interesting and clever.”

Photobucket

The petrol bombing is an interesting image to start the series. It’s not just any old building that Dane fire-bombs. It is a strike against authority as it’s a school library, but it’s also a blow against centuries of knowledge and civilisation, poetry and philosophy. Dane will eventually become one of the Invisible College, after all. Is the school library a symbol of oppression or freedom? The whole series will be about opposites like these, how they sometimes might be the same thing, and how they might resolve themselves.

The first issue has an event-filled through-line, with all the aforementioned symbolism and pop-culture references, but I thought all of that just served to highlight one line of dialogue that hit an ice-cold sobering note. When a dying security guards groans his disbelief at having just been shot "This isn't happening...", King Mob replies:

“Yes. It is happening.”

That’s a little too real....

I thought Morrison missed one little trick with the title Dead Beatles. As the issue ends outside a car showroom, there should have been a VW Beetle in there...
Issue two, "Down and Out in Heaven and Hell" Pt 1

The whole "Down and Out.." arc is essentially Dane's (and our) initiation into the secrets of The Invisibles. It is the magician's journey from ignorance to self-knowledge and power.

Some things can't be explained, they have to be experienced, which is why King Mob doesn't take Dane into the group earlier. Morrison does a pretty good job of making us experience Dane's journey, rather than just explain it.

Although Dane feels completely isolated and alone, King Mob's cell are never far away, keeping a watchful eye on him. The are literally invisible to Dane. Likewise no oppressive regime can tell if someone is just a harmless passer-by, or actually a dedicated revolutionary, hiding in plain sight and hell-bent on sweeping away the old order.

The forces of oppression take the form of fox-hunters in this issue. It evokes tradition and elitism, cruelty and militarism all at once. DId you know that the name Morrison might mean 'Son of Fox' in Gaelic? (MacShinnach is literally son of Fox in Irish). So there's that.


Right from the beginning of the series, Morrison establishes a world that involves forces beyond normal "reality." It's not clear if the strange aspects are real or imagined. Drug use in the first issue (when King Mob invokes the spirit of John Lennon) and the second (when Tom and Dane smoke the blue mold) raise questions.

Any question of the 'reality' of what Dane experiences while under the influence of the blue mold in issue two comes up against the fact that Morrison believes he himself experienced a meeting with some kind of higher plain. It happened to him in Kathmandhu, possibly between scripting issue 1 and issue 2, and Danes visions of the traffic lights and alien abductions are Grant's attempt to get it across. He also believes that they told him a lot of the story that became the rest of the series. He mentions it as the 'alien abduction experience' in this interview.

Apprently, later in the series we find out that it might all be a work of fiction that Ragged Robin is writing in the future, or it might be a computer game. For his part, Morrison would posit that the visions a mad/high person sees are just as real as anything else that goes on down here. Reality is how we perceive it, after all, and it depends who is doing the perceiving...

If you told people that you saw gods and angels on your way to work, yo might be thrown in a padded cell. William Blake turned it into poems and drawings and is today hailed as one of literature's greatest poets and visionaries, and an artisitic influence on many. It's all about the context.

Anyway, I bring up Blake because that is one of his creations petrified and chained in stone in the Thames that Dane sees while travelling through the alternative London with Mad Tom. His name in the poems is Urizen. The name is a pun on 'Your reason' as Blake disagreed strongly with many of the tenets of 'The Age of Reason' in which he lived, and we see Morrison's critique of that age later in the volume.

Urizen was a Demi-urge in Blake's personal mythology. The Demi-urge is an idea taken from the Gnostic sects of early Christianity, and they believed that the Earth was created by a deluded incompetant minor god, or angel, who mistakenly thought he was the creator of everything and demanded to worshipped as such. According to Blake's poetry, the chains binding him are his own ignorance blindness and he himself is the author of his own downfall by his own beliefs. Here is a famous depiction of him, at the work of setting limits and measures to the universe, an idea Blake hated.

This ideas of creating your own universe/prison and condemning yourself to servitude and misery is explored again and again thorughout the series. Look at the last frame of issue 11, for one example, where the butler who served the Moon-Child ends up chained up through his own guilt and shame.

and Tom isn't called Mad Tom for nothing...

Mad Tom too has entered a prison of his own making. We see later that his Invisible colleagues had warned him that taking on a name and persona is not to be done lightly. Names have great power and create their own reality...

We see St Paul's Cathedral after Dane wakes up from his trip to the other London, and apparently it has chains binding the dome all the way around. According to Alan Moores notes to From Hell, Dave Gibbons made sketches of it while studying engineering or something and told him about them... Urizen is not the only god in chains...


Issue 2 also has the first mention of Barbelith, in Dane's abduction vision. According to my little googling of Gnosticism earlier, Barbelos was the name of the female aspect of the the original great Godhead, the true god of light and truth and goodness. Between them they produced many angels, who in turn produced lesser versions of themselves. One Angel, Sophie, produced an unnatural child as she did it without the consent of the Godhead or without biblically 'knowing' (he he) a male aspect of heaven. This is the creature, called Yaldabaoth in some Gnostic gospels, who creates our universe and presumes himself to be the lord of all things. This myth might be relevant to some of the later stories in the Invisibles. FOr one thing the name of the lesser gods that Yaldabaoth created to be his cronies in rulling the world were called Archons
It's going to be hard to keep up with both the issue summaries and you, Figs. One point though:

Any question of the 'reality' of what Dane experiences while under the influence of the blue mold in issue two comes up against the fact that Morrison believes he himself experienced a meeting with some kind of higher plain. It happened to him in Kathmandhu, possibly between scripting issue 1 and issue 2, and Danes visions of the traffic lights and alien abductions are Grant's attempt to get it across. He also believes that they told him a lot of the story that became the rest of the series. He mentions it as the 'alien abduction experience' in this interview.

I think Grant himself has backed off on the alien abduction story recently. But for my purposes, it doesn't matter if it "really" happened or not, or even if Grant believes it did. The story's the thing. But I'm making a special point of giving all of the unusual events in the story a reality check, in terms of the story itself. King Mob tells Dane that the blue mold was just a story, that everything that happened to him was real (in "Down and Out" Part 3). So the reader is pulled in two directions: which Invisible to believe?

As you say, the whole arc is an initiation story. It reminds me of Carlos Castaneda's books about his initiation with the shaman Don Juan, which I would imagine were familiar to Grant at the time. In the second part, Dane attempts to defend Tom from the Hunt. They leave him alone, warning that they can return for him any time. By the way, King Mob had asked for help finding Tom back in the first issue. Presumably the search was successful, but nothing more is shown until Tom finds Dane on the street. Anyway, Tom gives Dane the experience of being a pigeon, teaching him about the sickness of cities. He then forces Dane to confront his own emotional emptiness (including a dramatic white page--there's a splash page you don't see every day). The third part completes the initiation, as Tom and Dane jump from the top of a skyscraper. Dane awakens to find himself in a field, experiences dramatic visions, then goes to the address Tom had given him and finally meets the whole Invisibles cell led by King Mob. Tom has also apparently survived the fall, and takes a final journey into the Underground.

The "Arcadia" arc signals a new art team: Jill Thompson (pencils) and Dennis Cramer (inks) take over from Steve Yeowell. The first issue jumps all over the place: King Mob is in Indonesia; poets Byron and Shelley drink and discuss dreams; Boy trains Dane in martial arts; and the group time-travels back to the time of the French Revolution to rescue an Invisible operative. The historical part of the story is reminiscent of The Sandman, an impression encouraged by Jill Thompson's art. Another interesting fact about Issue Five. It had several alternative covers, which can be seen here.
Mark Sullivan said: It's going to be hard to keep up with both the issue summaries and you, Figs.

I'm going to have my work cut out keeping up with you, as I don't usually fly through the books, not with my accompanying posting anyway.

I think Grant himself has backed off on the alien abduction story recently. But for my purposes, it doesn't matter if it "really" happened or not, or even if Grant believes it did. The story's the thing.

But I'm making a special point of giving all of the unusual events in the story a reality check, in terms of the story itself.


I can see how that would be an interesting exercise, and even useful in terms of what you might discover about the events in the book, but I'd also be careful of it. Apply too much reality and the whole thing is just the rantings of delusional madmen, their drug-induced visions and fantasies. In that case the whole thing would mean nothing. Which may be the case...

King Mob tells Dane that the blue mold was just a story, that everything that happened to him was real (in "Down and Out" Part 3). So the reader is pulled in two directions: which Invisible to believe?

The story may be 'the thing', but this is one of its hallmarks that make this a different order of story than most of what we review on this board. In the Invisibles we are constantly forced to revise what we thought we knew. In this case, there is no resolution. One of them is lying, or both are. So back we go to the text trying to find some firm ground to stand on. It's as if we were under interrogation and Grant is playing some kind of disorientation ploy on us. People shouting all kinds of things at us, or speaking reasonably. In the end we don't know what is right or wrong, up or down. The whole thing is meant to make us question what we would normally take for granted.

Take Mad Tom's story about the city-as-virus. Its largely tangential to the larger tale about the Archons vs the Invisibles, but its a huge theory about something we take for granted, that we now have to take on board. The series as a whole is full of these 'conspiracies'. Grant's early publicity for this series asked 'What if all the conspiracy theories were true?' Well if they are all true, or even some of them, how can we know what is real and what isn't. What about the ones that contradict each other?

I don't think we are expected to accept as 'real' everything we are told in this series. It's just that our sense of stability is constantly being assailed, to shock us into eventually thinking outside convention. The series is a kind of spell in that sense...


As you say, the whole arc is an initiation story. It reminds me of Carlos Castaneda's books about his initiation with the shaman Don Juan, which I would imagine were familiar to Grant at the time.

I think I bought one of these books one time, but after enjoying the introduction and thinking it sounded great, I left it on a bus and haven't come across any other copies since...

Have you read some of them?

How important do you think a familiarity with the background material is to The Invisibles? I think the series can be read without them and enjoyed. I was very ignorant of lots of pertinent stuff the first time I read them and I liked it. I'm not much better read now, but at least I've read a handful of things because The Invisibles alerted me that they were out there and that they might contribute to understanding it better. Has it inspired anyone else to read something they otherwise wouldn't have?

In the second part, Dane attempts to defend Tom from the Hunt. They leave him alone, warning that they can return for him any time.

Except this time it is the Invisibles dressed up as the Hunt...

By the way, King Mob had asked for help finding Tom back in the first issue. Presumably the search was successful, but nothing more is shown until Tom finds Dane on the street.

Interesting how Tom still doesn't interact witht he INvisibles when they appear this time. Just his coat on the ground 'pretending' to be him.

Anyway, Tom gives Dane the experience of being a pigeon, teaching him about the sickness of cities. He then forces Dane to confront his own emotional emptiness (including a dramatic white page--there's a splash page you don't see every day).

This was very powerful - and even includied a good old-fashioned baptism. This is good characterisation and drama. Morrison brings us through the wringer with Dane. We almost experience Dane's transformation, not just note it as a post on his road to being an Invisable. I loved the childish detail of Dane's 'holiday bag' that his father packs to go. This is the detail that the what 3-4 year old Dane picks up on and remembers. That child stays inside him, and makes it all the more affecting.

It occurred to me that Dane's plight was very like that of the demi-urge Yaldabaoth in the Gnostic gospel I read. Yaldabaoth thinks that he is all alone. His mother hid him from the rest of the Godhead in a cloud, so he thought he was all that existed and that he'd created himself. He is completely removed from the Father-God as the 'essence of all light and truth', but during the story sees his mother looking down on him reflected in a lake or abyss. Dane is similarly tortured by the absence of his father and knows his mother only remotely.

The white page might portray Dane's momentary union with the Monad or Source. All light and purity.

The third part completes the initiation, as Tom and Dane jump from the top of a skyscraper.

Note that Shakespeare's Tom O'Bedlam, in King Lear brings on a revelation and change of heart in his blind father by pretending to jump off a ledge with him.

The "Arcadia" arc signals a new art team: Jill Thompson (pencils) and Dennis Cramer (inks) take over from Steve Yeowell. The first issue jumps all over the place: King Mob is in Indonesia; poets Byron and Shelley drink and discuss dreams; Boy trains Dane in martial arts; and the group time-travels back to the time of the French Revolution to rescue an Invisible operative. The historical part of the story is reminiscent of The Sandman, an impression encouraged by Jill Thompson's art. Another interesting fact about Issue Five. It had several alternative covers, which can be seen here.

Here we really see that Morrison is just as interested in ideas as in his own dramatic story. Shelley and Byron have nothing to do with the story he is telling in the Invisibles, in terms of plot, but everything in terms of theme. They argue here what the series spends almost 60 issues discussing. The hope for a better world, the fallen nature of man, utopianism and idealism vs realism, and the value of using extreme violence to make a better tomorrow. Again Morrison is trying to make us think about this whole ball of wax we're stuck in rather than just his characters and plot. Then there is the fact that they are from the same 'Age' as the events in the French Revolution, but a few decades removed from that exact time.

Again, Morrison is more concerned with affecting what goes on in our minds than pushing just the story he is telling.

It was all very demanding in a monthly comic, and the readership apparently fell from 64,000 to 20,000 during the course of it!


Before we move on from the beginnings of The Invisibles, I though the following note from Grant at the back of issue one about the genesis of it strikes a sorry note. Grant is talking about the few years he took off to travel the world after finishing up Doom Patrol:

During this period, I was also, to be brutally frank, shattered by the response to DOOM PATROL, which I loved as a parent loves a gifted and misunderstood child, but which was either relentlessly panned by critics or completely ignored. So, I felt I needed time away from comics, time to recover and to rethink my approach to work I emerged from this alchemic crucible with several little black notebooks worth of ideas--the forthcoming FLEX MENTALLO, for instance, and also THE INVISIBLES, which you've got right here.

The poor guy!

You can read the whole thing, which is from his piece at the back of issue one at this site. You'll have to navigate to issue one - annotations and look at the bottom of the page to read it. Some of the annotations there are pretty useful.

Regarding the first volume, this is an interesting thread from Barbelith at the end of its days. It focuses on rereading The Invisibles, but may be of interest as the most interesting contributer there PATRICKMM is actually Patrick Meaney, who has just released a book that digs into The Invisibles: Our Sentence is Up . If you are interested in the book, the thread will give you an idea where he is coming from. I'm tempted myself.

This is another good blog that uses the Arcadia arc to explore the whole series, as Grant has said that the theoretical scaffolding of the whole series is laid out in this arc. (You have to start at the end and work forwards.)

The blogger makes great play with how the very first page with the shadow puppets is a kind of summary of the whole series. The Mahabharat is the story of two opposing armies, but really all controlled by the one power, we are seeing light and shadow etc etc.
Ha! That's two readings where I missed the Invisibles masquerading as the Hunt (and after catching several cameo appearances just before, too). Just goes to show how dense the comic is. I read the first two or three of the Castaneda books as a college undergrad, which would have been just a couple years after their first publication. At first they were regarded as serious anthropology, but now are widely considered to be fiction. I don't think there's any need to have read them; I just was struck by the similarities in the initiation ritual (especially the initiate becoming a bird).

I can already feel myself running out of gas on the detailed issue summaries, so I'll keep it brief. The Invisibles travel to revolutionary France via astral projection, and we learn the agent they are there to rescue is the Marquis de Sade. They encounter Cyphermen, Archon agents whose presence means that someone knows the Invisibles are there. They discover that their reentry gate has been shut down, so they use a postcard to project themselves back. But something goes wrong. While the demon Orlando discovers their physical bodies back in the present--and begins killing Dane, first cutting off part of a finger--the other Invisibles wind up taking an unintended detour. King Mob, Boy, and the Marquis find themselves at the Silling Castle, from one of de Sade's fictions. Ragged Robin winds up at Rennes-Le-Chateau, where she encounters a mysterious man who was previously seen making the acquaintance of Mary Shelley as she traveled to Italy to rejoin her husband. The chateau contains the lost treasure of the Knights Templar, the head of John the Baptist. Robin understands that the head is speaking in tongues, so each listener hears what he wants to hear. Meanwhile, Lord Fanny is helping Dane (who I probably should start calling Jack Frost, his Invisibles code name) fight off Orlando back in the present. In the end Fanny defeats Orlando, the team is reunited, the Marquis de Sade winds up happily in present-day San Francisco, and Jack announces that he is leaving the Invisibles.

With this time travel via astral projection sequence, I think the reader has to accept that it's real (as real as anything can be in this comic, anyway). Otherwise you're left with the option of the whole thing being a drug-induced fantasy, as Figs pointed out earlier. If there's no more to it than that then it's not worth reading, which was probably the conclusion arrived at by those readers that dropped the title in increasing numbers while it was a monthly. Although I'm not willing to take the series as seriously as some, I do think there's a lot to it. So on to the second volume next week!
Mark Said: I just was struck by the similarities in the initiation ritual (especially the initiate becoming a bird).

If they are riffing on the same ideas, the differences also become important. Possibly the Castaneda stories traced Shamanism back to the jungles and man’s relationship to nature? Dane’s initiation thoroughly updates this as they are two homeless people making their way in a big city, with the text explicitly saying they have to understand the city and how it has its own life, just as the earlier shamans had to understand nature and their natural environment, and even build myths around them and imbue them with a life. Note that pigeons are the most modern and urban of creatures. They are such a common part of modern life that they are practically invisible.

I mentioned earlier that the spiel about the cities was hard to integrate into the greater story, but your line above helps to understand it a little.

It’s good to talk!

Something I felt very strongly this time around is the spiritual poverty of Dane’s life. His culture has no myths, no religion, nothing to give meaning to his life. His modern Britain is an especially secular country. (We Irish have traditionally warned our children that it is a heathen country!)

The Invisibles plays with possible myths and belief systems for our own godless times.

Mark said: Although I'm not willing to take the series as seriously as some, I do think there's a lot to it.

I think that while you are reading it, you have to take it as seriously as you can, to get the most out of it. Some people have gone on to build their whole philosophy of life around The Invisibles, but you needn’t take it that far.

Still, if the book is referencing Shamanistic rituals, Blake’s poetry, Gnostic belief systems, and what have you, then you aren’t getting the full measure of what the writer is doing unless you allow that the background stuff like that is as important as what’s in front of your eyes. It’d be like reading the Lee/Kirby Coming of Galactus saga and either only reading the words, or just looking at the pictures. You wouldn’t get the whole thing.

I’m not saying any reader has to read a stack of encyclopaedias to ‘get’ it, but a lot of the fun for me is seeing how the background stuff adds more to what’s on the page, and I’ve only done the barest of reading up on it. I hope no-one thinks I’m being pretentious just because I’m mentioning some connections to stuff outside the book that Morrison put there as part of his work.

I’ve now read to the end of Vol II, and I’ve been reading that volume and simultaneously looking through the Arcadia arc again prior to posting here. There’s a lot of connections between the different elements of the overall story that become apparent. If you don’t take them into account, as it would have been difficult to do reading this monthly, it all seems very disparate and disjointed.

‘Et in Arcadia Ego’ is thought to be the words of Death himself. ‘And I am in paradise too’. Death is everywhere in this series, especially in these early arcs, embodied as the guillotine in Arcadia. Note how the people have substituted the God who used to reside in the cathedral with a new god – St Guillotine. This ties in with the Voudun and then the Maya gods that we see in Vol II. Both have whole pantheons of gods, but we see mainly the gods of death. Their form changes depending on who sees them eg Voodoo priest or Maya witch. The Guillotine is another manifestation of the death god. Lord Fanny later finds out the great secret that these forms are only masks, thus explaining how they have so many guises in so many cultures. The further implication is that the gods ultimately are created by us, as almost overnight St Guillotine seems to be.

The 120 days of Sod All sequence read very differently this time around. On my first reading, I found the cruelty shown to the servants and children by the ‘pillars of society’ very hard to take. It was very distressing. This time around I remembered that King Mob had said that it is only fiction. No-one is being hurt or killed.

Isn’t that strange? I found Dane’s recovery of his feelings and humanity extremely moving this time around, and, while reading Vol II, almost cried at Bobby the security guard’s story and Fanny-as-a-child’s walk into the light at the end of her long (never-ending) ordeal. However, I don't care about the children in Castle Silling as they are only fictional? Strange indeed!

I was also informed this time around by the argument much later in the series that we are transfixed by tales of cruelty and oppression. The original 120 days of Sodom is one such tale and 1984 is cited later as one with a lot of power. I don’t know if it was a character in a later issue or Morrison in the letters page, but they said that these are like the ‘pornography of oppression’. They don’t show what real life is like and they just satisfy some self-negating part of us.

The Judge’s final words after they bring on nuclear Armageddon – the greatest crime they could possibly think of, as it happens – accuse us of being suicidally transfixed by evil and cruelty.

“Look at you! You wanted it! What did you ever do to stop us?”

I think it’s a good thing to shrug off the power stories like this have over us. They are only fiction, and we can choose other narratives to follow.

I don’t think we ever find out for certain who the chess player is that Mary Shelley and then Robin meet in this arc. He does embody some of the themes of the larger story. He plays with the black and white pieces on a black and white board. Thompson goes to lengths to show how his position under a tree on a sunny day means that we see dappled light and shadow play over him. It’s subtle and I only got it after a few reads, but it looks very deliberate. Light and shadow are at play with one another.

As to his chess-playing - as Bobby thinks in Vol II: “Keep telling yourself... It’s only a game.”

Speaking of Robin’s encounter in Rennes-le-Chateau, I guess this section would come across as very hackneyed now. It all became the background for enormo-bestselling The Da Vinci Code. I’ve never read the book or seen the film, but I guess a lot of the stuff in it about the Gnostics and whatnot is very common knowledge these days. I’ve just realised that I’m probably the last human to find out about it, only googling Gnosticism last week for my Doom Patrol posts!

The Byron and Shelley bits really worked for me this time around. They have a moving arc, and are drawn and characterised perfectly in the few pages they appear, with an uplifting conclusion in Shelley’s return to his wife’s arms.

Byron’s disappearance between the frames as Shelley talks to him was a wonderful emotive shock. It’s a real jolt and says everything in an instant about how much Shelley loved him and is missing him. Perhaps here then is death without the mask. Just a loved one there one moment and gone the next.

Historically, and ironically given his cynical stance earlier, Byron went off and died fighting to free Greece from the Turks, but I don’t know if that is why is absent here.

In the final part of Arcadia there is some helpful explication by King Mob of what is going on.

“He was talking about revolutions. Or the revolution. I suppose there only ever is one.”

This is very much my philosophy. The actor’s change, but the drama is the same. That’s why our 20th Century freedom fighters have made this detour to Revolutionary France. It’s all the same struggle. A struggle that is always in danger of becoming what it is fighting against, and worse, as Morrison has gone to some lengths to illustrate.

The title of the whole collection is Say you want a Revolution, by our patron Dead Beatle. Lennon’s song sounds like a hippy call to revolution, but he’s really objecting to the use of violence and destruction to achieve peaceful, just ends.

“If you’re talking about destruction,
Well you can COUNT ME OUT!”

And my favourite line:

“If you go around quoting Chairman Mao,
You aint gonna make it with anyone, anyhow!”

Lennon’s spirit/godhood Photobucket lingers over every part of this first volume.

Back to King Mob’s helpful explication:

“We’re in the final furlong in the race between a never-ending global party and a world that looks like Auschwitz.”

We find out later that King Mob has been a published writer along the way. Good with words, even if he does get a little carried away sometimes…

When De Sade objects that he doesn’t want to live in anyone else’s idea of a perfect world, King Mob answers:

“Exactly.

That’s why we are trying to pull off a track that’ll result in everyone getting exactly the kind of world they want…”

This is the answer to Shelley and Byron’s discourse, and the puzzle of the French Revolution. How do you change the world without duplicating the misery that you are trying to get rid of?

Morrison has used these 4 issues to examine this long-standing riddle, and seems to have arrived at a solution, thinking light years 'out of the box' as it may be.

At the end of Vol I we still have no idea how this will be carried through…
OOps! Left out the end of King Mob's final quote

"...Even our enemies..."

Very important that bit.
Sounds like you're a little ahead of me in your reading, Figs, so feel free to initiate discussion on later issues in Vol. 2 if you like. I can't begin to match you in detail; just don't have the time or patience for it. For all of its surreal aspects, in many ways Vol.1 still played out like an action story, with the Invisibles playing the part of undercover resistance fighters, or secret agents. The first issue collected in The Invisibles Vol. 2: Apocalipstick concludes that arc: in fact it probably should have been included in Vol. 1. "23: Things Fall Apart" continues with the Jill Thompson/Dennis Cramer art team, and finds the Invisibles still in the windmill time machine, where they come under attack by a Myrimidon unit (the same soldiers they left a live grenade for back in Vol. 1). Jack apparently runs off, but turns around and joins in the counterattack. I'm normally a fan of Jill Thompson's work, but I have to say I don't like it here, or in the "Arcadia" arc (don't know how much of that is Cramer's inks). It looks rushed, and there are panels where the perspective is off.

"Season of Ghouls" has a dramatically different look, as Chris Weston turns in his usual detailed work. It's the most polished art in the series so far by a wide margin. This story focuses on some Archon activities, and features a new Invisible called Jim Crow (the regular King Mob Invisibles cell doesn't appear at all, except indirectly). "Royal Monsters" continues in this vein, with art by John Ridgway. Here the focus is on Sir Miles, an Archon agent who is keeping an interdimensional creature that was bred to become the King of England; Miles is also the leader of the Hunt which we saw back in Vol. 1. This story involves an Invisibles agent named Sutton who has secretly been in Sir Miles's employ, but again the regular Invisibles cast does not appear. Finally, the most affecting issue so far for me, "Bestman Fall" with art by Steve Parkhouse. The entire story is a flashback telling the life of one of the guards shot by King Mob at Harmony House during the rescue of Dane. As Bobby lies dying, his life flashes before his eyes in scattered chronological order, good and bad. It's a remarkable piece of story telling, which shows Morrison at his best. All three of these issues suggest that the series may be much broader thematically than it first appeared. Like The Sandman, it can go almost anywhere.
I think I'll let you set the pace for this one Mark. I'm enjoying the change from my posting on the other Morrison collections. Also, I'm finding that having time to range backwards and forwards over several issues really highlights a lot of the connections. The different stories seem very disparate at first, but meanings become clearer when they are looked at side-by-side.

The first line of the first issue was "And so we return and begin again..." We are expected to reread the stories and find new connections in them each time.

For all of its surreal aspects, in many ways Vol.1 still played out like an action story, with the Invisibles playing the part of undercover resistance fighters, or secret agents.

This is the first thorough reread for me, so I'm not too strong on the details of the rest of the series (although I've read a lot of verbiage about The Invisibles since my first, not very systematic read of the series.) That said, I think Arcadia might be as difficult as this series gets for a reader expecting a straight-up action story. Although the trip to the Age of Enlightenment and De Sade's novel had thematic relevance, they had very little to do with the forward motion of the story. They were there to signpost some ideas Morrison is dealing with. The fact that sales plummeted during Arcadia meant that Morrison would have been reluctant to move so far beyond the action comic template going forward. The completely parrallel narrative of the Romantic poets was pushing the envelope but the market wasn't ready for it. I can't think of anything similar being tried since, but you might, Mark, as Vertigo would be the line that might allow it.

The first issue collected in The Invisibles Vol. 2: Apocalipstick concludes that arc: in fact it probably should have been included in Vol. 1.

I'd have to agree. It concludes the windmill episode and it's the last we see of our Invisibles cell for 3 issues. Morrison definitely wasn't writing for the trade here. For one thing, if this had been in Vol 1, then Vol 1 would have been 60 pages longer than Vol 2. Also the first three stories of Vol 2 would hardly have featured the title characters at all.

I'm finding this layout of stories, and the Doom Patrol stories I'm reading refreshing. Each arc is as long as it needs to be. 3 single issue stories in a row? - cool. Most ongoing series now are arranged in 5-6 issue arcs with shorter arcs here and there if you are lucky. It just all gets very samey. The story should dictate the rhythm of the chapters, not the trade format...

I'm normally a fan of Jill Thompson's work, but I have to say I don't like it here, or in the "Arcadia" arc (don't know how much of that is Cramer's inks).

Well issue 9, which kicks off this collection, is the 5th in a row after 4 extremely detailed, reference-heavy artwork jobs. It would have been incredibly demanding and the standard drops discernably. For myself, I love Yeowell's work in the first arc. I love how stylised and dixtinctive it is. Also very simple to draw the reader into what's going to be a very complex tale.

I don't have the same fondness for Thompson's work, but I can admire it. (These scripts are waaay more demanding than most superhero comics.) There is a default Vertigo long-form comics 'house-style' that her work fits into. Perhaps she originated it on Sandman? It's especially apparent in Arcadia as it is set in the 18th century, where all the best Vertigo stories arrive sooner or later. Sandman and its spin-offs, Fables and Unwritten are three very similar looking series that I can think of.

I love that The Invisibles can contain 5 such different art-styles as we have seen up to the end of Best Man Fall. They seem to suit their respective tales, but I'm usually happy so long as the story-telling is clear. (Marvel completely lost me in the early 90s.) It was probably a mark against the series to many that the art wasn't consistent from arc to arc. Too challenging for some.

I'll just post on each of the issues you've covered seperately over the weekend:

There's not much to say about the 23: Things fall apart. As action/thriller it is fantastic. 5 unarmed people in a windmill surrounded by highly trained and armed commandoes! How are they gonna get out of this one? And there is only one way in and out of a windmill!

I couldn't guess at the outset how they'd do it but they overcome the odds in a believable fashion. That's good nuts and bolts writing that Morrison doesn't get enough props for.

Perhaps he deliberately made it a good action comic as the sales figures started to come in for Arcadia? Changing the script at the last minute would explain the rushed quality in Thompson's art. I’d also guess that having the team in the windmill realising they are surrounded at the end of Vol 1 probably seemed like a better ‘cliff-hanger’ before cutting to 3 one-off stories than Dane being missing.

The opening section set in Philadelphia in the dim and distant past of 1992 (3 years before this comic was published) is the most relevant part of the issue to the grand overall story, but at this stage it is full of mystery. That must be John A’Dreams with King Mob. The only clue we have that its King Mob is his line “I’d be much happier if we can just find something to shoot.”

The husk of the plant-creature they find is from Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness. A great long story that the Aliens movies borrowed a lot from. It’s one of Lovecraft’s best in my honest O.

There’s a lot of cathedrals in Morrison’s work. We’ve already heard many times how they were built to focus psychic/spiritual energy. To quote Batman in Gothic (Or more precisely, Jeff of Earth J quoting Batman waaay back at the start of this reading project):

“Apparently gothic architecture was based on a kind of arch, called the ogive. The idea was that all the stresses and forces of the building were directed upwards. The cathedral became a transmitter, aimed towards God. Cathedrals were also designed to have certain acoustic properties, like musical instruments on a grand scale. The whole effect was to produce a vast crucible, in which a kind of spiritual alchemy could take place… If architecture could be used to focus and direct spiritual power, then… then… could it also be used for evil?”

This is the first time that we hear of ‘Universe B’. That becomes very important later.

We don’t have much to go on here, but it’s probably significant that John wants to push through to see what’s on the other side whereas King Mob feels out of his depth. As John A’Dreams seems to have disappeared just before the team become interested in Dane/Jack Frost, this probably isn’t the exact episode where he disappeared. However his keenness to push through – ‘Let’s just see...’- may be an important insight into his character, and what might have driven him to leave his team-mates behind.

His long face also made me think that John A'Dreams and the chess-player might be the same guy...?

The other clue that it is King Mob is that it cuts from their horror at what was beyond the door to King Mob looking reflective in the windmill. He seems to be recalling the episode. Typically Morrison is leaving it up to the reader to work out why the two situations might be so connected, that the team’s plight in the Windmill has made KM recall the earlier episode. Perhaps the fear of physical injury and entrapment now is reminding KM of less worldly injury or entrapment that they found beyond the door in the cathedral? If the danger beyond the door was as immediate and threatening as the team are facing now, then it must have been some bad mojo.

Or perhaps there are other connections between the two situations?

It’s obtuseness like this that gets Morrison such a bad name!
Invisibles Vol 2

Issue 10 - Season of Ghouls

A done-in-one showing that the Invisibles are a broad church. Jim Crow investigates some Voodoo zombie action and traces it to naughty Big Business types.

I liked this one for the police procedural feel to it. I'm watching The Wire these days and it felt just a bit like that. Perhaps it was also the feel of a city divided along race lines.

Again, not much to say about the tidy little story here, but even though the new hero and the new artist both make it feel like a very seperate self-contained adventure, there is a lot here that can be compared and contrasted with the other issues in the first phase of the Invisibles to illuminate the bigger picture.

I like that Jim Crow has merged Voodoo magic and Western technology in his Zozo pointing-bone gun. The white man's death stick has bad mojo too!

I mentioned before that the Voodoo God's of Death here compare with other Death Gods elsewhere in the series. Here we see that they can be directed to good or evil purpose, depending on who is invoking them. They seem to be neutral in themselves, although fearsome and intimidating to encounter.

Religion is a big theme of the series and we get Jim Crow's sermonising on how African Americans should have turned to Voodoo when so many of the young men turned to Islam recently. He makes a good argument, but I don't think I agree. Sometimes people just turn away en masse from the old gods and embrace something challenging and new. The Muslim faith has benefitted from this urge, both in the past and amongst African Americans in modern times. In Irish history the people turned away from the old Celtic religion completely and became fervant Christians in a century or so. They weren't forced to by threat of death or anything. It seemed to be just time for a change.

That's just a personal opinion. Talk of religion and society brings us back to the absence of any religion in Dane's modern society. The lack of religion in the modern West is a major concern of the series up to the end of Vol 2 at least. Grant has already brought us back to the moment religion was dumped in favour of the 'Age of Reason' and we've seen Dane's godless, nihilistic society from Dane's point of view. When religion is discussed in The Invisibles, death is not far away. The Voodoo Baron Zaraguin here, Tezcatlipoca and Mictlantehcutli of the Mayan Gods in Lord Fanny's upcoming 3 issues.

Invisibles is scathing on what our secular, consumer society can offer us by way of guidance on the mysteries of Death. On the one hand it is fetishised in endless cop shows and action movies. King Mob carries himself like such a hero, gunning down his enemies by the dozen. Our society loves the righteous gunman. Dane learns twice that dealing death isn't so easy in real life. That's what Orlando means when he tells him that guns are always heavier than you expect and harder to use. Then later, actually killing someone in the same circumstances as a summer blockbuster further traumatises Dane just after he runs away from the Invisibles in the previous issue. The true face of killing that so much of our pop culture glosses over is further evident in Best Man Fall, where Morrison takes the extraordinary step of devoting a whole issue to the life of one of the faceless lackeys that die in their droves in Hollywood movies.

The main reponse to Death and the other salient mysteries of existence which our society offers is spoken by Peeble's partner Nordau as they leave the horrific murder scene at the start of the issue:

"I've got a date with a bottle of Tequila. Oblivion: That's all I want."

Whereas many old religions, and indeed Invisibles itself, deal head-on with the mysteries of death and suffering , most of our modern culture either glamourises it unrealistically, tries to ignore it, or offers us only 'opiates' to dull the pain and fear we encounter in our lives.

Whether or not this aspect of modern society is directed by the Archons, there is a lot of food for thought here.

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