Thursday, July 28, 2016

Substantialreads: Insubstantialreads

At least I made it to the second half of the year before falling back on comics. And at least it's another comic writer being a smart-arse, weaving a dense interdimensional web that he apparently genuinely believes was dictated to him by beings from another realm during a magickal trance, so it shouldn't be so much light reading as perplexing and off-putting. We can only hope.


Grant Morrison, Steve Yeowell, Jill Thompson and Dennis Cramer, The Invisibles, Vol. 1: Say You Want a Revolution

1994-95 (collected 1999) / E-comics / 224 pages / UK/USA

****

It doesn't matter how much background reading you've done in esoteric comics and hippie philosophy, you're still not going to get all that much out of this if you refuse to mess yourself up with hallucinogens. I've never listened to Pink Floyd "correctly" either.

The best parts are where Morrison seems to be faithfully transcribing his "visions" (dreams), which are a bit more mystical, spiritually liberating and psychedelically technicolor than mine tend to be. Then it goes downhill with time travel and historical cameos.


Grant Morrison, Jill Thompson, Chris Weston, John Ridgway, Steve Parkhouse and Paul Johnson, The Invisibles, Vol. 2: Apocalipstick

1995-96 (collected 2001) / E-comics / 208 pages / UK/USA

***

Our sweary hero's journey is interrupted for myriad misadventures in multicultural mysticism. These are doubtless trippy enough to be off-putting to the despised "casual reader," but for me, they were precious light relief from the unflinching real-world grimness. Morrison isn't pulling any punches, this is the freedom you can earn after proving yourself with superheroes.


Grant Morrison, Steve Yeowell, Jill Thompson and Dennis Cramer, The Invisibles, Vol. 3: Entropy in the U.K.

1996 (collected 2001) / E-comics / 232 pages / UK/USA

****

Either I'm being slow and stupid (implausible) or Morrison's being far too cryptic, as I only grasped the big picture of what's been going on when the catch-up introduction explained it to me. It's more or less David Icke with interdimensional insects instead of reptiles, and as it proceeds to introduce other familiar trappings of the omniconspiracy, there's cause to wonder how much of this the author really believes. He's playing the long game with these characters' backstories, writing with a view to the trade paperback omnibus rather than the frustrated monthly reader, this time striking a more pleasing balance between the gritty and the groovy. Feasting your visual cortex on the crazy parts shortly before going to sleep is wholly recommended.


Grant Morrison, Phil Jimenez and John Stokes, The Invisibles, Vol. 4: Bloody Hell in America

1997 (collected 1998) / E-comics / 104 pages / UK

**

The Invisibles goes to America and becomes The X-Files. That franchise can't take all the credit for classic conspiracy concepts like mind-control vaccines and human/alien hybrids, but when you're treading that same ground in the 1990s you need to bring more to the table than excessive violence. And what's with this collection being only half the usual length?


Grant Morrison, Phil Jimenez and John Stokes, The Invisibles, Vol. 5: Counting to None

1997-98 (collected 1999) / E-comics / 240 pages / UK

***

Turns out it wasn't just me who was turned off by the excessive violence of the last one, and this time King Mob tries to make amends by only shooting a few people in the jaws and brains when it's absolutely necessary. We get more substantial insights into the 2012 apocalypse that are as perplexing as they are revealing, as Morrison espouses his creative time travel theories that are no more barmy than anyone else's.


Grant Morrison, Chris Weston and Ivan Reis, The Invisibles, Vol. 6: Kissing Mister Quimper

1998-99 (collected 2000) / E-comics / 224 pages / UK

***

Six volumes into Sandman, Hellblazer, Preacher and other series that held my interest for that long, I felt comfortable enough in the material to compare collections and exaggerate my preferences for the sake of a bit of variety in the star ratings. But this has lost me now. Time, reality and identity are fracturing all over the place and characters barely react to the news that they might just be a story. Maybe I'm too corrupted by the Matrix and this is one of those things like trance music that you need to be in an altered state of mind to get. There's lots of comic book sex if that's the sort of thing you like, only some of the non-consensual gang variety.


Grant Morrison, Philip Bond, Warren Pleece, Sean Phillips, Jay Stephens, Frank Quitely and Steve Yeowell, The Invisibles, Vol. 7: The Invisible Kingdom

1999-2000 (collected 2002) / E-comics / 288 pages / UK

***

"This started out as a simple investigation into a haunted toilet and now we're knee-deep in royal scandal and five-hundred-year-old conspiracies."

I needn't have worried about this month being light reading. There's a good chance this saga will end up being the smartest, densest, most thought-provoking thing I read all year. Either that, or Morrison's doing an Emperor's new clothes by filling his panels with philosophical quotes and mythical symbolism to convince us we're inadequate if we're struggling to follow the flimsy plot beneath. I wasn't naive enough to expect a clear and satisfying ending, but with a 12-issue countdown I was expecting some kind of building momentum rather than all these weird diversions and pointless yesteryear cameos at the expense of entirely absent main characters. They can't even decide who's drawing which pages by the end. Under-appreciated game-changer or over-lauded vanity project? Probably both.

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