I’ve been on a hardcore Grant Morrison kick since last May. I eased in with All Star Superman and have ended up reading Doom Patrol and The Invisibles. This post is about The Invisibles, but also chaos magic, terrorism, and fighting the man like in The Prisoner.
So what the hell do I mean with an intro like that? Patience. First, The Invisibles is a seven volume graphic novel (or comic, or funny book) about a group of rebels called, of course, “The Invisibles.” They fight the forces of evil, or order, or disorder, or something. This enemy doesn’t really have a name, they just suck. They get something from Lovecraftian mythology, but mostly it’s the humans who worship them that use such language. The entities themselves don’t care quite as much, though they do want to fix our reality. Free will is the problem, and the Invisibles love it. The main cast of our friendly neighborhood terrorists looks like this:
King Mob: a shaved bald, be-pierced, badass gunman and yoga master who used to write horror novels under the pen name “Morrison.”
Lord Fanny: a Brazilian transvestite sorceress who likes messing with
Jack Frost, or just Jack: the new guy, and our anchor character – you know, Luke Skywalker. The guy who needs everything explained so the text can explain it to us. Jack is ultraviolent, burning half his school down once and kicking his teacher’s head half-in and leaving him in the blaze. No one’s actually hurt, but Jack gets sent to a correctional facility for minors that’s a front for the aforementioned nameless villains.
Boy: an American black woman who used to be a cop and is still really good at martial arts.
Ragged Robin: a clown-faced time traveling telepath.
That main cast list ought to tell you plenty about the book right there. Along the way the characters question whether they’re doing the right thing, or anything at all – trans-dimensional philosophy and SF merge with magic, sex, and the breakdown of the comic panel itself. Morrison’s insane, and I love being along for the ride. Hell, a few issues are transcripts of the Gideon Stargrave stories “Morrison” – King Mob’s writer persona – came up with to protect himself from invasive torture, and Stargrave is a balls-to-the-wall Jerry Cornelius homage with mod clothes, great music, and a foxy sister he gets it on with.
I’ll be honest. I didn’t like The Invisibles as much as I’d expected. But expectations were, shall we say, high. I still loved the shit out of it. It’s Philip K. Dick meets Lovecraft meets Moorcock meets punk rock meets S&M meets hallucinogens. The Invisibles prep for missions to rescue the secret AIDS vaccine from a military base by getting high as fuck on a mesa and tripping out.
If you don’t already have a tab open to buy the first volume on Amazon, let me tell you about the rest of my teaser paragraph. The “terrorist” thing is explained by now, I think. But what about chaos magic?
Morrison is a chaos magician, which I have explained to people who look at me funny by saying, “it’s a way to use rituals to reprogram yourself.” And The Invisibles do this all the time. In fact, Morrison has said the comic itself is a vast ritual to reprogram both himself and the people who read it. Apparently he taught his readers chaos magic in the letters pages – and I really wish those were available in the collections. For anyone else who experimented with magic in their youth because they loved fantasy and the way it viewed the world, this is nearly the perfect set-up for bridging the fiction-reality barrier (something else Morrison loves and excels at – he shows up in the last issue of his run on Animal Man to explain to Buddy Baker that his entire life is an entertainment for crazy people who fuck their lives up so badly, they need to see someone else suffer more). The comic is about the magic that helped write the comic.
Morrison swears by his chaos magic for two reasons: one is that he says, in his experience, it’s simply worked. He has done things and then other things have happened. A -> B. But more importantly for most of us, I suppose, is the “reprogramming” thing I mentioned earlier. It allows us to use ritual and symbolism, the stuff that makes our beloved fantasy and SF what they are, to remake ourselves into what we want to be. The Invisibles regularly trade roles, drawing cards out of a hat. Sometimes King Mob’s the leader, sometimes it’s Ragged Robin. Sometimes Fanny is the emotional support character, sometimes it’s Jack (he promptly responds to this change by falling in love with someone). Now this is incredibly smart just in the way it plays with story structures – characters have to fill certain roles, that’s how fiction works – but they change roles every so often, just to liven things up. But it’s also a direct evocation of chaos magic. They become the different roles. After King Mob decides he doesn’t want to be the person the ultimate assassin has to be, he simply tosses his guns away. A person without a gun isn’t the same as a person with a gun – not because the gun changes the person, but because the person changes to suit the presence of the gun.
So The Invisibles isn’t just a great story, it’s the best damn self-help book you’ll ever read, since all the guidance it gives you is to do the stuff that makes you the person you want to be. Just figure out what it is you want, and then do the stuff that leads to that. Shit, it sounds simple when I put it like that.
I won’t lie. I dusted off my tarot cards after reading this comic.
Oh, and Morrison’s gone on record saying he envisioned The Invisibles as a sexy, cool Prisoner-like story about secret agents fighting monsters and drug-tripping wizards. He said it if was ever a TV show, it’s theme would be “Mogadishu” (youtube embed above).