Monday, January 31, 2011

Issue Sixteen: London

The Invisibles
Volume 1
Issue 16


(I usually don't like to re-post too much of the book in one block, but the abduction sequence in this issue is important enough to include as a whole)

Dane McGowan is once again living on the streets of London. He sees members of the cell looking for him, but continues to hide, and is wracked by guilt over the enemy soldier he shot.

He once again sees the words Barbelith spraypainted on a wall, and suddenly recovers much of his memories of his time with Tom O'Bedlam. Most significantly, he remembers what happened the first time he saw the word painted on the wall of the subway tunnel.

Dane is abducted by aliens, who tell him he is the chosen one, and implant a "magic stone" that will allow him to produce the magical superfluid known as magic mirror into his forehead. When Dane realizes that they are not really aliens, they remove their disguise to show their true form, telling him "the soul is not in the body, the body is inside the soul," and that they are a higher form of humanity.

Dane is woken from his reverie by the appearance of Sir Miles and the Hunt. Miles tells the boy that he has been tricked and manipulated by the Invisibles, and offers him a place of power and safety with the enemy. Dane refuses, and the Hunt attacks him. Dane channels his psychic abilities in a massive act of self-defense, destroying all of his attackers except Sir Miles. Miles attempts to psychically dominate the boy, but Dane manages to overpower him. He holds a gun to Miles's head and is about to shoot, before being stopped by a police officer.

Dane, acting off of a recovered memory from Tom, goes to a locker that has been left for him. Unlocking it with a key Tom gave him, he finds a Tesco's bag. With the supplies inside, Dane cuts his hair, changes his appearance, and begins hitchhiking north, back to Liverpool.

The Invisible man
And suddenly we're back where we started: Dane McGowan, losing himself on the streets of London. Except this time, it's not a controlled experiment. The Invisibles are all still around him, but they don't know he's there. And this time, the Hunt is real.

But most importantly, Dane McGowan is no longer the person he was. He has killed (and felt deep remorse... I can't help thinking that the juxtaposition of Dane's grief at the dead soldier and those pigeons taught him not to kick is intentional.) And he's been through enough, now, that when he sees Barbelith sprayed on the walls of the city, he can recover some of the things that happened to him the first time he saw it.

Be as strong as you can. It always hurts.
It's important to read this issue after She-man, because Fanny's story sets up a lot of parallels here. Dane briefly realizes that he is BOTH standing outside, and down in the tunnel. The paint forming the word Barbelith will always be wet, fresh. Magicians exist outside time, and this is the story of how Dane became a magician.

In the light of Fanny's experience with the Aztec gods, it becomes easier to see the aliens who abduct Dane in a similar light - metaphors for the Other, the more advanced. UFOs and conspiracy theories are the modern myth, and the consciousness communicating with Dane uses that imagery to obfuscate the frightening truth. And just like Fanny before him, Dane sees through the illusion. That's part of the test.

There's a little bit of confusion, for me, when this particular entity uses pronouns. It declares "you" "The chosen one," who has been "/(elected)/" to save the world. I think this might be the point where we break from the Hero's Journey mold we've been operating in for Dane. Because, while Dane is powerful, and he will be important, I don't believe that he's the actual, literal Messiah. It goes against everything the comic seems to be about, the idea that everyone can become Invisible, to have a character who comes in and saves the world by dint of how perfect and special he is.

It seems more likely that this is what anyone who gets to this point is told - and it's true. Once you get to this level of understanding, leading people to "/(global peace and harmony)/" (those /( are what the aliens use when they're... not lying, exactly, but using simplified language to express something we can't understand). It is part and parcel of learning magic, the way the universe works.

Try to remember.
Or, hell, maybe he was /(elected)/. The right man in the right place, chosen by a group that can see everyone in every time. Maybe Dane McGowan was the right man for the job.

Because that's Barbelith's last big revelation (for now, anyway). That all of these aliens, these mysterious circles in the sky... They're just big, cosmic versions of the Invisibles badge. The magic mirror exists outside of and reflects time, and when you look into it, what you're seeing is yourself. Your whole self. The "aliens" and the "gods" are just what we look like from the outside, reaching into the universe to help the parts of us stuck there. No gods. No monsters. Just humanity, reflected.

In the end, I've only one true teaching for you, Dane, one simple word: Disobedience
If there is something special about Dane, it's not the psychic powers. It's that complete unwillingness to join anything. That immature "Fuck you" to the idea that any group or side has his best interests at heart. He's the permanent outsider, rebelling against everything, and, when he finally taps into that rage, the results are spectacular.

I find it interesting, that when Jack Frost unleashes on the members of the Hunt, he almost seems to be attacking the page, as well. Maybe it's just a stylized way of showing carbon monoxide, but it LOOKS like Jack has thrown paint thinner onto the pages, erasing his opponents from the universe. When he has his psychic duel with Sir Miles, the same thing occurs, seeming to blot his opponent out of the page itself.
And why not? Magic is the manipulation of the rules of reality, and reality is the book.

The most interesting example, though, is when Dane goes to the locker Tom left for him. This might be a huge coincidence, but Dane opens locker 23 (a reference, I assume, to the many conspiracy theories related to that number), and directly next to him is the page number of the issue - 23. Maybe I'm crazy, but it seems like Dane is reaching into the page itself for the items Tom left for him. A secret cache, passed from one reality manipulator to another.

And what's in the bag? Scissors, a new shirt. Ways to change your appearance. Ways to become Invisible.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Issue Fifteen: Apocalipstick

The Invisibles
Volume 1
Issue 15

"She-man Part Three: Apocalipstick"


In Mictlan, Hilde watches her future life beside the death god Mictlantecuhtu. He tells her that she must turn away from the world and come into his kingdom forever. He shows her the star demons, who include Orlando in their ranks, and say they will consume the world in pain and suffering soon. Hilde protests that she is not dead yet, and offers him a joke in exchange for knowledge and safe passage from his kingdom. He accepts.

Her joke (What are pink, wrinkled and stiff and make women squeal? Cot death babies) makes the bone god laugh, and he allows her into his garden. There, she learns the secrets of magic, and is shown that the gods are just masks, behind which lies the strange red circle called Barbelith.

In Rio de Janeiro, an 18-year-old Hilde is working as a prostitute. She is taken to a party where men in animal masks brutally rape and beat her, then throw her from a moving car. She returns to her home and contemplates suicide, but resolves to stay alive. Moments later, John-a-Dreams comes to her door, and asks her if she has ever heard of The Invisibles.

In present day, Lewis Brodie reports to his superior, Sir Miles (who appears to have been wounded in an altercation earlier that day with the missing Jack Frost), that he has captured a member of the Invisibles.

Lord Fanny attacks Brodie, but is unable to match him physically. She is saved by King Mob, who arrives at the apartment and begins battling Brodie. However, Brodie manages to get to his gun and shoots KM through the stomach. He then fires his gun into Fanny's face, but (due to her magical manipulations) it misfires, and she slashes him through the crotch with a shard of broken mirror.

Brodie dies after seeing a strange vision of his childhood cat. Fanny passes out. And Sir Miles and his troops arrive at the apartment, realizing that they've managed to capture King Mob.

I'm already on my knees
So the question is: How do you become Invisible?

It's not just rebelling. It's not just learning to do magic. It's not martial arts training or knowing how to shoot dudes or any of that other action hero bullshit.

Being Invisible is stripping away the self, giving up who you were. Dane McGowan gets pissed when the cell members call him Jack Frost because he doesn't want to face a truth - Dane McGowan is gone, given up willingly when he jumped off the building at Canary Wharf.

For the girl named Hilde, it came on a night when she was working the streets of Rio, during Carnivale. A room full of faceless men in animal masks (and a strange light in the corner?), raping and beating her and then throwing her out of a moving car. It was kneeling on a bathroom floor, trying to get her hands to close around enough pills to end the pain. And realizing that this was as bad as it could get.

It would never get worse. COULD never get worse. And she had survived it. Could now draw strength from it. In that moment, Hilde was gone, and Lord Fanny was born.

Don't make me laugh! It hurts too much to...
Lewis Brodie dies in this issue, and I'm still not sure how I feel about the man. At his core he's a brute and a murderer, but the edges of his character have weird twists and turns. He recognized the mirror stuff, after all (although maybe we all would, when confronted with something like that). He has an almost hero-worship-like attitude to the mythical King Mob, as though KM is some sort of archetype or rock star he's been trying to live his life toward. And then there's the stuff with his cat.

Brodie mentions the cat in all three issues - first to Sir Miles, and then when he sees the magic mirror. And Hilde, when she drinks the tea during her initiation, sees a black cat among all the aliens and mantises and weirdness. I'm worried I'm missing a reference here, to some Aztec god that Brodie unknowingly worships with his love for his dead cat. Lewis asks "Who's that WITH you?" Death, presumably. Cats have traditionally been seen as psychopomps, those who lead the souls of the dying to the land of the dead.

Or maybe it's just that we all have gods, living in our heads. The things we love, and still think about. And in exchange for keeping those ideas alive, they can give us gifts. Like taking laughter into the face of death.

Cot death babies.
Which is how Hilde survives her meeting with the bone god, of course (for now, anyway). Her patron is the goddess of filth, and she tells a joke that merges sex intimately with death, and gets a chuckle out of old Mictlantecuhtu. In such a way, she is allowed to leave death... for a time.

And death is not so bad, when confronted by the alternative that Mictlantecuhtu lays out - unceasing torment by the creatures he calls the star demons. Among their number is our old friend Orlando, who still bears a grudge for things to come. Spirits of pain that threaten to overwhelm the world, death stands as a respite from their ministrations.

Mictlantecuhtu speaks of needing payment for his services in dismissing the demon (back in the windmill). Is the payment Hilde's joke? Or is it the entire situation with Brodie? Did Fanny throw herself into danger because being brought near to death again was the death god's payment for his help? The joke she told merged sex and death - and so did getting high and bringing Brodie home. Are they reflections of the same event?

We gods are only masks
In any case, she survives, and learns the ways of magic. "That language whose words do not describe things but ARE things." We'll be seeing that idea more and more, language as the bridge between our thoughts and reality (and the way the languages we are taught constrict the thoughts and realities we can operate in)

And then, one more monstrous god, skull-faced butterfly with wolf's paws... almost a composite of the various gods Hilde has dealt with... And that is pulled away to show what all the gods really are. The truth behind every myth of ascension and magic. The hidden circle.


And we learn one more thing. Magic mirror is a reflection of reality, yes. But it's also a liquid, pliable, constantly moving. And when you reach out, gently, and change it (so that a bullet, say, fails to fire)...

That's what we call magic.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Issue Fourteen: She-man Part Two: Day of Nine Dogs

The Invisibles
Volume 1
Issue 14

"She-man Part Two: Day of Nine Dogs"

Hilde, the young Lord Fanny, continues her initiation on the steps of a pyramid in Mexico. She steps into the jungle and is confronted by the god Tezcatlipoca, who challenges her to pull his heart from the doors of his chest before they can close on her (with death as the price of failure) she does so, and forces him to show her the way to Mictlan, land of the dead, so that she can learn magic. She moves through higher dimensional space to get there before reaching the court of Mictlantecuhtu, lord of death, who welcomes her to his kingdom, telling her that she is dead.

Other flashbacks show Fanny as a transvestite prostitute, being degraded and eventually badly beaten by her clients.

Lord Fanny, in the bathroom of the club, quickly pulls the "magic mirror" back into her and, charmed by the Outer Church assassin Lewis Brodie, takes him home to her apartment. They fool around for a time before Brodie pulls a gun and demands she tell him everything she knows about King Mob.

King Mob asks Edith Manning to help him find Dane McGowan, and she eventually agrees. The ritual itself is not shown. On the way back to London, KM picks up a hitchhiker, who speaks at length about conspiracy theories that seem to complement the events of the book.

Taking a break from the search for Dane, Ragged Robin and Boy relax in a bar. Robin pulls a Tarot card to determine what will happen to them next. The card she pulls is Death.

Kirby, beaten in the previous issue by Brodie, is found by his friends. King Mob questions him, and, learning that Fanny is in danger, rushes out to rescue her.

In a strip club, a man named Jack Flint is told that Division X is being reopened, and that he has been reactivated.

I truly believed in Tezcatlipoca. I just didn't ever think he was real.
Speaking to the young Hilde on the steps of the pyramid, the butterfly spirit Tlazolteotl says a very curious thing.

"The mystery will open up to you and you must reach out of time, grasp its heart and make your bargain with it." And then Hilde proceeds to the trial of the god Tezcatlipoca, where she follows those instructions in typical myth fashion. There's a hint, there (one we've seen before in these pages) that much of the more mystical symbolism encountered in The Invisibles is acting as a metaphor for one, central process. Hilde views it as a test by the god of darkness before descending into the land of the dead. Jack Frost headed into the tunnels below London and smoked the blue moss, then jumped off a building and fell to somewhere... else. King Mob's hitchhiker talks about information crashing into ours from a higher reality. And even Lewis Brodie seems to recognize the magic mirror, the time stuff, from somewhere. There's something fundamental to humanity in these mysteries, and we've built framework after framework over the millenia to understand and tap into them.

For Lord Fanny, the framework comes from the patronage of Tlazolteotl, goddess of filth and lust. And so she wears her priestly uniform, subjects herself to pleasurable degradation, leaves clubs with dangerous men when she's too high to see the warning signs. (It is telling that her dangerous encounter with Tezcatlipoca, where she must bargain and risk with a god of darkness, is intercut with working as a prostitute - she has to be brought close to filth and death if she's going to learn.

It's the time stuff, isn't it?
And in exchange for all this, the butterfly whispers the secrets of the universe to her: that time is not a linear process, but a 4-dimensional construct, with all elements of itself accessible at once. That events cycle because they are all the same event, a reflection of a higher truth. Hilde is dying on pyramid steps as Fanny is horribly beaten while working as a prostitute as Lord Fanny is attacked by Brodie as Fanny is living her entire life, moving forward toward her inevitable, eventual death, and always, Hilde is descending into Mictlan, the land of the dead.

And to get there, she moves through "backstage," where people and buildings and the world are just 2D cutouts. We've been here before, when Jim Crow lifted a puddle and walked through, when Jack Frost rode his bike. Lies-to-children, mythic representations of a single true place. And just on the other side of it (through the magic mirror) is Death. Everybody gets there eventually. The trick, of course, is to get there - learn something - and then... make it back.

Speed. Madness. Flying saucers.
So that's Fanny's story this issue. Not much to say about Boy & Ragged Robin, although I find the presentation of their story in newspaper-esque strips delightful (and possibly a continuation of the Prince Valiant-esque panel detailing the history of the pyramid last issue? Looking through the third issue, I can't seem to find a parallel, so it's probably just a coincidence).

The page of King Mob and Edith, with her thoughts presented on the page from within her smoke, and none of their words in bubbles at all, makes me think of last issue, when Fanny was vomiting panels. High enough that her thoughts are merging with the comic's superstructure? Or just artistic license?

The hitchhiker KM picks up lays down some foreshadowing for the America-based Volume 2. (And I just noticed that, with King Mob's red glass sunglasses in this issue, he's essentially walking around with two Barbeliths on his face).There's nothing I can remember about the future of the series about him being anyone in the know, so it might just be an example of the collective-unconscious acting in Invisible-types (even if they aren't members of the group proper). And as King Mob points out, he really believes it. Whose to say his belief structure is any more or less accurate than Aztec gods, hm?

Issue Thirteen: She-man Part One: Venus as a Boy

The Invisibles
Volume 1
Issue 13

"She-man Part One: Venus as a Boy"

Lord Fanny, subconsciously worried by the toll she knows she must pay for having summoned the Aztec death god Mictlantecuhtu to dispatch the demon Orlando, tries to distract herself by taking drugs and heading out for a night on the town. While at the club, she suddenly becomes sick, and begins to vomit the strange substance known as "magic mirror."

Lord Fanny's backstory is recounted. Born as a boy named Hilde to a family of matriarchal witches in Brazil, she is raised as a girl when her mother is unable to give birth to one naturally. When she is 11, her grandmother, a powerful witch, takes her to Mexico for her initiation. She cuts Fanny's inner thigh to "make her bleed" and trick the Aztec gods into accepting her as a witch. She is marked by her spirit guide, who appears to her as a butterfly.

King Mob meets again with Edith Manning, asking if her connections to Tom O'Bedlam give her any insight into Dane's whereabouts. She denies any knowledge, and points out to Mob that Dane's role as the "spirit" element of the group is to push the group members to the breaking point and test them.

Sir Miles assigns a killer named Brodie to investigate a member of London's gay community who has been asking after the still-missing Dane McGowan. Brodie violently interrogates a young homosexual man named Kirby, who reveals that the person in question is Lord Fanny.

As the issue ends, Brodie discovers Fanny in the bathroom of the club. And somewhere else, a phone call goes out to re-activate something called "Division X".

this thing is big
If The Invisibles is definitively "about" anything, it's about initiation - the search for enlightenment. It's the thing that binds almost all of our cast together - once upon a time, they saw something that broke them, broke the way they saw the world. And after that, they rebuilt themselves as something better, stronger.

We watched Dane McGowan go through it in the first four issues (although we're still missing a few key points of data about what, exactly, he saw). Tonight, we begin looking at Lord Fanny's initiation; parts of it, anyway.

This is the first time we see Fanny not as "herself," dressed as a man. But really, that just means we get to see her transformation. And man, but that is glorious. It makes it clear that "Lord Fanny" is a costume - or, rather, a uniform, like a priest's collar. Or the suit a superhero puts on so they can fight crime. An idealized, perfect self, a symbol of power. Mike Moran said "Kimota" - Lord Fanny puts on lipstick.

We get an origin story - boy raised as girl to pass on family's feminine magic, but we don't get into the meat of the initiation this issue. Still, we see the beginnings: drinking the hallucinogenic tea, young Hilde sees disjointed visions of familiar-looking aliens (and a cat?) and then a brief image of the red circle called Barbelith. And then she is marked by the butterfly, who reminds her that time, in magical initiation, is much more fluid than it seems.

Free bloody spirit
There are a few other things happening in this issue. We have Lord Mob meeting once again with Edith Manning. It's always interesting to see how the older members of the conspiracy have clearly stopped giving a shit about all of KM's cloak and dagger shenanigans (although there's a lurch in the stomach as we see his hyper-masculinized, Rob Liefeld-esque take on an event that last issue forces me to think of as "The murder of Bobby Murray.")

we also get a bit more explication on the elemental symbolism that runs the group, and the way the Spirit role (Dane's) works. Interesting that KM sees it in terms of "morale," of how it works within the existing structure, whereas Edith points out that it also exists to shake that structure up. Rebellion against even the concept of rebellion. (Something that Dane's brief appearance in this issue, during Brodie's description of his dream of the tiger cub, helps to emphasize - the kid is going to be powerful and dangerous... eventually.)

You're a bastard, Brodie
And that does bring us to Brodie. I'm not sure whether to read him as closeted gay or bi... The first time we see him, he's looking ambiguously, almost regretfully, at a woman he's just slept with. He's cruel, but not in a way that reads as homophobic or self-loathing. But there's also something in his violent flirtations with other men (his comment about the blow-job to Kirby in this issue comes to mind) that speaks to a release of hateful, pent-up desires. If so, he's the outer Church's perfect weapon to infiltrate the gay community. Self-loathing and the ways it can be turned on others being their stock in trade.

Or hell, maybe he's a bisexual man who likes sex where he can get it and has no issues (in that regard, anyway) at all. And that that healthy sexuality in no way changes the fact that he's a violent killer (who exists in a stark black-and-white world, the art would suggest) with unshakeable loyalty to his side. Death with a handsome face.

(I also kind of love the way Sir Miles totally ignores the content of Brodie's dream - they use dreamcatchers, but only because they recognize dreams a source of energy, not of meaning).

Now tell me the rest
So, that butterfly. It's the same one we see at the start of the issue, bursting from a cocoon. In fact, it spends the whole issue flying to Hilde. But the strange thing is that it doesn't seem to be crossing DISTANCE to reach her, or even, explicitly, time - it crosses the book itself, inserting itself in between panels and going from first page to nearly last. Taking a shortcut, as it were.

There's a moment about halfway through this issue that caught me off guard. Lord Fanny, high, terrified by what she knows is coming, vomiting magic mirror into a sink. But what it forms isn't the usual shimmery blue stuff, but an image. Specifically, a PANEL. Earlier, she felt she could almost see her thoughts, which appear as traditional comic thought bubbles (a very rare sight in The Invisibles).

Which is to say, Fanny contains within her (and is puking up) the stuff that makes up her reality - the magic mirror, which allows the reader to see all of the events of the series without regard for linear time, and even allows us to see into the characters' heads, is the comic itself.

Of course, if the comic you're holding in your hands is a mirror, then what, exactly, are you seeing when you look into it?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Issue Twelve: Best Man Fall

The Invisibles
Volume 1
Issue 12

"Best Man Fall"

Bobby Murray.

A spaceman
So, you've realized that there really is more going on in the world than you ever thought. All your sci-fi nerd dreams of the way the world work are true. And so you fit yourself into those tropes, become a super-spy, chaos magician assassin. And one of the bad guys you're chasing pulls a lever, and now there's an alarm going on. That summons some faceless mooks, so you do to them what you always do to faceless mooks: Put a bullet in their brains with a pithy one-liner.

That's "The Story of King Mob, Psychic Agent Provocateur." It's a fun story - we've been reading it for eleven issues now, and we'll be reading it for a long while afterward. But let's try a different one. Just as an experiment.

So you grow up with parents who fight, and a mean older brother. And you head off to the big city, and you meet a girl. When you were a kid you saw Armstrong on the moon and watched fireworks in the sky and dreamt of floating above the earth. But dreams don't come true, and you need work, so you sign up for the army, and you learn to be a soldier but you also learn that soldiers get hurt, and you get sent home and your mom dies and you have a baby. But she has cerebral palsy and your wife got fat and you got old and you hit her and then you apologize and you wonder how this became your life. And you need money, because your daughter's condition isn't cheap. So your old army buddy hooks you up. Sure, the place is weird, and the things they're doing to those kids seem wrong. But it's the government, isn't it? And you need the money.

And then one night some bad guy pulls a lever, and now there's an alarm going on. And you get summoned, and then what always happens to faceless mooks happens to you, even though you have a face. A name.

Your name is Bobby Murray.

There are two main ideas running through this issue. One is easy: there is no such thing as a "faceless" stormtrooper. Every person King Mob kills in this series had a childhood, a family, a life. No one is just their uniform. We're all a series of events leading up to our death. There's a great panel, near the end of the issue, where we see Bobby at Harmony House, in his helmet, but with his face clearly visible. And across the page from him, faceless and strange, the helmeted King Mob.

On the next page, we move back to the day Bobby asked his wife to marry him, both of them wrapped in bliss. And is it a coincidence that her earrings look exactly like the blank badge of the Invisibles? In that moment, together, they've carved out a real joy, without being touched by the government or the corporations or the world around them. For that moment, together, they were invisible, too.

And now he's dead.

Yes. This is happening.
The other idea being played with here is time. Bobby's life is shown in an almost random order, jumping years from panel to panel, flashing forward, flashing backward.

The strangeness of it all is most pronounced in the scene with Bobby in his crib, as bubbles that no one else seem to see float around the room. Bubbles like mirrors (and again, 3D mirrors in the Invisibles reflect 4D reality - movement through time) and then the boy - it seems - speaks, saying "Edith says to call him Boody." And we're reminded he couldn't be saying that. "He's only a year old."

We'll see later that this moment is intersecting with others, that the Hand of Glory is once more at play. But the Hand is just an artifact, an illustration of what's happening all the time. As readers, we can see the entire span of Bobby Murray's life. We can jump back and forth from panel to panel, watching him age and grow younger and age again. He's a year old and thirty and fifteen and every age in between.

This isn't just an issue about "Oh, that King Mob shouldn't have shot him, he had a mum." This is a portrait of the life of a character in the story we're telling ourselves called "The Invisibles," and what it looks like from the outside. It's out of order and confusing and strangely full. And even Bobby can sense the way the past and the future are labels more than absolutes, fearing the gas mask (and the cellar that it hangs in), representing, in short order, the shovel he uses to bury his dog, his brother who dies with words of hatred, and his own death at the hands of a masked man.

I bet I could be an actor
"I did it. I opened the door and I saw the scariest thing in the world and it was just a gas mask." The issue is bookended with scenes of Bobby, as a child, playing a game where he pretends to die, and narration, from an unidentified source telling someone (the reader) that they have to remember. This is just a game.

So yeah, Bobby Murray died. But if I jump back a few pages, there he is, alive again. And if that voice is to be believed, all of this, all of this struggle and fighting is a pantomime. A game we play, of living and struggling and then falling dead. And then you get back up, and it's someone else's turn to play.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Issue Eleven: Royal Monsters

The Invisibles
Volume 1
Issue 11

"Royal Monsters"


This issue details the true story of the famous Monster of Glamis Castle. It is revealed to be a Lovecraftian monster born 200 years ago during an attempt to incarnate an ultradimensional entity (presumably one of the archons of the Outer Church) into human form.

Jeremy Sutton is the monster's feeder. Every day, he opens a portal inside a mirror in a hidden room of the castle, allowing the monster to come through from the world it is kept in to feed on human flesh. Sutton is also secretly an agent of the Invisibles, tasked with killing the creature. However, for the last six years he has been unwilling to carry out the kill.

Sir Miles, previously seen leading The Hunt, arrives at the castle, both to hunt humans in the countryside, and to utilize the monster in a new scheme to end the war. He seeks to place the monster, technically the rightful Earl of Strathmore, on the English throne. (It is also implied that Miles and his associates had Princess Diana killed when she refused to birth a new, superior, "moon-child" for them, which is why they must resort to using the monster).

Sutton discovers that his long-estranged daughter is one of the prisoners set to be hunted by Sir Miles and his associates. He attempts to rescue her.

However, his diary, in which he reveals his true allegiances, has been in enemy hands for several months. His daughter is working for Sir Miles, who threatens to kill her if Sutton does not betray the Invisibles completely.

Sutton agrees, but before he can say any more, Miles orders the girl shot. He tells Sutton that they already know everything he could tell them. Sutton is then bound and served to the monster as its next meal.

No world for gnats
And for tonight's installment of rapidly jumping around the Invisibles universe, we have this delightful dose of Gothic horror, with just a little bit of upstairs/downstairs comedy worked into the mix.

This story is a blessing for me, because I can start referring to the mustached gentleman we saw taking part in The Hunt all those issues ago by his proper name, Sir Miles, and stop being needlessly oblique.

Sir Miles is the ugly face of aristocracy. If the whole idea of monarchy (or government) is that a trade is happening - people give up power to singular individuals in exchange for protection, then Sir Miles is everything wrong with the concept. He's the realization that, once you have the power, people will be so attached to the IDEA of being safe, that as long as you can foster it, their actual security is unimportant. Even if you're the one putting them in peril.

Noblesse oblige is bullshit. Sir Miles is your better. He owes you nothing. And yet, if we're going to be honest, he's a bit charming. He's funny, if gruff. His eye rolls at his buffoonish assistant are amusing. I imagine him as John Cleese at his John Cleese-iest, total, unshakeable arrogance un-leavened by compassion.

A starring role in your own personal tragedy
And as his almost polar opposite we have our other central character this issue, Jeremy Sutton. He's compassionate to a fault, that man. So compassionate that he can look into the pitiless eyes of his monstrous charge and see a person. Or tell himself he sees a person, so that he doesn't have to take a stand and kill it. Sutton is compassion as weakness, unstruggling as a monster devours him.

It's telling that he doesn't view himself as an Invisible, that he's never made that leap, even though he's allowed himself to be placed in a horrifying situation in their name. I think the thing that damns Sutton is that he never CHOSE to be an Invisible. There's a difference between realizing that "sides" are just an illusion and opting out of the conflict, and burying your head in the sand because you're scared.

"I'm the Thing on the far side of its mirror. We're both the same." That sounds like such an Invisibles thing to say. And it's right, on the cosmic scale. But this is a hard truth of the Invisibles: being right on the cosmic scale can get you killed. And that's no bad thing, maybe, as Tom O'Bedlam would remind you. But nevertheless, it is that impulse, it is his compassion, his love, that kills Jeremy Sutton. Sir Miles tells Sutton that hate and hurt are his tools, but the story makes the case that love and compassion, when they lack conviction, kill just as easily.

One of those books where you don't really know who's going to win
In a way, Sutton also stands opposite of King Mob. I just realized that KM's ghost haunts each of these stand-alone issues - the scorpion spirit Zaguirin told Jim Crow to pass a warning to KM last issue, Sutton's friend Des is reading a Kirk Morrison novel this issue, and he's all over tomorrow's book... I wonder, was Morrison (Grant, not Kirk) just trying to keep his central character in each issue, even subconsciously? Or are we meant to be seeing his reflections?

We've got Jim Crow, an American King Mob. Brash and more vulgar, but still that mixture of the spiritual and the murderously cruel. They even draw power from the same source (although that's probably more of a clue that ALL power is coming from a same place, once we peel off the disguises of Voodoo or chaos magic or what have you).

We've got Sutton, the anti-King Mob - compassionate where KM is hardened, indecisive where Mob is bold. I may mock him for his violence and his stupid, juvenile one-liners, but if Gideon was as weak, as reluctant toward violence as Jeremy is, the cell would already be dead.

Our future monarch
And at the center of this thing, as in any horror story, we have a monster. It's hard to know whether to label the Moon-child as evil, per se. It is alien, and it cannot be reasoned with (although the prey in this issue try, to no effect). It is an attempt to embody something higher, forcefully, into a human form.

That actually strikes me as a very Sir Miles thing to do, because above all, Sir Miles is human. He uses supernatural tools, and he serves supernatural masters, but he doesn't like the archons at all. And so I can see why he would turn to the Child, to the idea of taking something vast and alien and incomprehensible, and trying to shove it into a human body... Instead of shedding the body and merging with the higher worlds.

But at the end of the day, the monster is a metaphor: Rulership devouring the common man, still convinced, as the teeth tear into his flesh, that the monster on top of him LIKES him.

Tomorrow: One of the best issues of this Volume, maybe the whole book. No fooling, it's a good one.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Issue Ten: Season of Ghouls

The Invisibles
Volume 1
Issue 10

"Season of Ghouls"


Invisibles member Jim Crow is called upon (in his aspect as the vessel of the Voodoo death god Baron Guedhe) to investigate mysterious deaths among the poor black population of Chicago. Meanwhile, an older black detective named Peebles investigates the case of a young woman raped and murdered by her brother - several hours AFTER he died of an overdose of crack.

Peebles, following a lead given to him by an old voodoo lady (the same one who summoned Crow), investigates a pharmaceutical firm called Unitol. The manager of Unitol, Mr. Dollimore, refuses to talk to Peebles, insulting him with racist terms. Dollimore then shows a new recuit into his inner circle their secret: they have, with the help of voodoo loa, created a version of crack that is immediately fatal, and allows Dollimore and cronies to control the zombified bodies of its users.

Meanwhile, Crow/Guedhe travels through higher/stranger realities. At one point, he summons a liquid/glass substance (called magic mirror) from inside his body, and uses it to transport himself to a region where strange UFOs battle in the skies. He draws energy from what he describes as a "good" UFO, and then meets with a scorpion-loa named Zagurin, who has given Dollimore the power to make zombies in exchange for the souls of the dead crack users.

Guedhe/Crow convinces Zagurin to give him back the souls, in exchange for Dollimore. Meanwhile, Dollimore and his associates, in new bodies, attack the voodoo woman, seeking to shut her up. Crow/Guedhe appears and blasts the men, who are ejected from the bodies. He then appears to them in the flesh.

Detective Peebles, summoned on Guedhe's orders by the voodoo woman, arrives at Unitol, to find Dollimore being ripped apart by his associates, now zombified and dressed as minstrels by Crow. Dollimore begs to be killed to end the pain, but Peebles refuses, walking away from the scene.

This is going to be a rough one, folks.

This is the first of three one-shots that leave our main crew aside for a bit to show a wider view of the world our story takes place in. This one stars Jim Crow, mentioned by Boy when she was training Dane a few issues back, and it's a doozy.

On the surface, this is a pulp story. "Magic crack creates black techno-zombies, drive by whites!" But if pulp is metaphor, a society expressing its fears and uncertainties through disposable literature, this issue is a scream of discomfort at race in America.

And this isn't a story that would work, set in England. The British aristocrats who work for the Outer Church hardly even SEE race: anyone who isn't them is filth to be crushed and controlled. But their analog here, Mr. Dollimore (with his name suggestive of puppetry) is the human face of whites shitting on blacks in the 20th century. Rich white men manufacturing crack to rip out the souls of black men? That's not a metaphor, that's a headline.

He's found a way to live out 120 Days of Sodom in the flesh, stripping all consequences from his actions, and he turns it over to others. I don't think Pearson, the new recruit, is especially racist (although to be accepted into that circle, maybe he'd have to be), but for that kind of freedom, he's perfectly happy to screw over black men. Institutional racism with death and magic crack.

And how is our villain punished? Ripped apart by the black god of death, at the hands of his cronies dressed in a symbol of white belittling of black culture, as a good man refuses to help him.

Why doesn't Peebles fire? Fear of pissing off death? Or is it just that he believes that Dollimore deserves to suffer for what he's done? Is that lack of compassion a failing, or is it simply Dollimore reaping what he's sown? One thing is certain: Crow/Guedhe summoned the detective here to see that justice was being done. He wanted him to KNOW that even if Peebles couldn't prosecute this man, there are powers that can. It's a gift. Bon appetit.

The door to Everywhere
So, that's the normal part of the issue. Let's dive into the weird.

The metaphysics of this issue are tricky, because all of our exposition comes from Jim Crow talking to himself, and he doesn't need to explain things to him. But here goes.

Crow is being ridden by the Voudoon death god Baron Guedhe. In voodoo, you summon a loa (god) to ride you, to use your body, as a way to tap into their power. But what does that mean in the cosmology of The Invisibles? What is a "god" in a world like this?

When Jim trances, leaving his human self behind, he's moving onto the ontic highway, the same "more real" plane we've seen before. He's merging with his higher self, the death embodiment Guedhe. The two ideas, Crow and Guedhe, become indistinguishable. We've moved into an area where the two things, man and god, are the same.

And then we start moving through puddles. First, stepping from the graveyard crossroads, Guedhe's domain, into the "real" world, the shadow-casting world. The one where spheres float in the sky (the one where Dane McGowan once rode his bike). We've been here before, but it looks different this time, strewn with bones, and the sphere is the city of the dead. But in that first scene, there's still a traffic light, dead center. Barbelith, from yet another point of view.

And that's when Jim starts puking up magic liquid glass.

"Molten imagination, the bricks and mortar of the universe, endlessly morphing, infinitely pliable." Magic mirror. "Time stuff." Along with Barbelith, one of the big secrets at the heart of our story. A flat mirror reflects 3D space. This is a 3D mirror, reflecting 4D (time) space. Or, hell, it's moving through time, too. A 4D mirror reflecting everything?

Let's stick to facts. It looks like liquid glass. Magicians can summon it from inside their bodies. It lets you see and play with reality. Jim imagines a place (an imaginary place, if you're seriously still worrying about what's "real") and steps through, to meet a god/idea called Zaraguin.

And we step into an even WEIRDER place, where the minds of dreamers are drained by extradimensional bugs, and biological UFOs wage war. Parasite UFOs drain Placenta UFOS that kill themselves to feed those in need, we're out on the edges of existence here. Remember the aliens Dane saw? In Morrison-land, UFO/aliens is code for things so outside our context that we really can't understand them.

It's like we've burst through into the microbial layer of some even bigger universe. This is just what it looks like, for one mind, from below. Who knows what we look like to the UFOs?

We'll be back here, though. We've been here before.

Short Fiction of no consequence II

(This is essentially Star Trek fan fiction with the serials filed off)


The word sat on his assignment slip, staring up at him with beady little letters. Was that a sneer, crossing the t? And what was a y, except a slant-mouthed grin, mocking his hopes and dreams? Mocking four years of training at the Academy. Courses in astrophysics, hand-to-hand combat, engineering, diplomacy, military tactics, languages. A captain had to know a little bit of everything, if he wanted to keep his crew alive out in the void. But his favorite classes had been the ones on leadership.

So many courses in leadership.

And now, because of one little test, a simple mistake, he was sitting in a transport ship onroute to the finest vessel in the fleet... with an assignment slip that read "Security."

They called it the "Psych Test." Oh, not officially. Officially, it didn't even have a name. If someone asked about psych tests, they'd be told that all candidates were evaluated several times during the selection process, always by qualified psychotherapists. And all those papers and notations counter, sure. But not as much as the Psych Test did.

To hear the rumors, no one's was the same. Every test was tailor made to poke you in the dark places behind your eyes, at the little weaknesses that instructors and therapists (and your friends? There was no way they could have known about the cat if Jenkins hadn't told them...) had dutifully noted down. Members of the fleet had to be better than their weaknesses. Couldn't freeze in front of phobias, couldn't lash out in irrational anger.

When he was a kid, he'd had a cat. Siamese, beautiful eyes, name of Sparky. Sparky had disappeared one day, and he'd gone out of his mind with regret. Until a few weeks later, when his older brother had given him a present, out of the blue.

They'd never really gotten along, he and his brother, but the gesture was touching. And so, happy but a little wary, he'd opened the box, and looked inside, and after that he and his brother didn't talk much. Breaking someone's jaw in three places will do that to a relationship.

So when, in the last month of his time at the academy, he'd walked around a corner, to see a cadet he didn't know torturing the cat... He hadn't reacted well.

The scene was ludicrous, of course. It was the middle of the day, in a white, aniseptic-looking Academy corridor. And there was this guy, standing there with a knife, just... playing.

He wondered, later, how they'd simulated it all so well. That cat had looked REAL. And the look on the other cadet's face... He had seen that look before, on his brother, just before he stretched himself to find some new measure of cruelty. Either that kid was a great actor, or he was well on his way to failing his OWN psych test.

In any case, he'd reacted.

Cadets were allowed to carry sidearms, but never to draw them - the idea was to get used to them at your side, and, more importantly, to get used to NOT using them. He'd never fired his before. But he'd always liked to tinker...

They asked him, at the debrief, WHY he had altered the laser pistol. They were finely calibrated not to do any lethal harm, in case someone got antsy (or freaked out when the people in charge INENTIONALLY pushed their freak-out buttons). It wasn't against the rules, he said. He'd just wanted to know how they worked. He just wanted to know, if something bad happened at the Academy, that he could protect people.

They didn't bother to ask him what he thought could go wrong at one of the most heavily defended institutions on the most heavily protected planet in the universe.

So yeah, he'd shot the guy. Cranked his pistol past the easily-bypassed governing mechanism, past "stun" (because this was a big guy, and he wasn't taking chances) but not, NOT, he kept pointing out, up to Kill. He was never going to kill the guy.

They didn't seem impressed by that, oddly enough.

And the guy had crumpled, and his faculty adviser had run into the corridor and yelled at him to drop his weapon, and there had been a LOT of meetings, and now here he was, sitting on a transport with all the command track knowledge he could ever need and an assignment slip that said


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Issue Nine: 23: Things Fall Apart

The Invisibles
Volume 1
Issue 9
"23: Things Fall Apart"

In a flashback, King Mob and former cell member John-a-Dreams investigate a church in Philadelphia, searching for an artifact known as the Hand of Glory, In the church basement, they find a grotesque plant monster that John theorizes was an attempt by beings from another universe to cross over. The pair open a door, and are horrified by what they see.

In the windmill, Dane, freaking out about his finger, continues to demand that he's leaving the group. King Mob, worrying over the breaches in security that hindered the previous mission, suggests to the cell that John-a-Dreams is not dead, as they thought, but has joined the enemy. Ragged Robin receives a psychic warning that a group of enemy soldiers is surrounding the windmill.

In the chaos, Dane slips away, taking King Mob's gun with him. He also steals his car - a mistake, as King reveals, because his car is booby-trapped to explode in five minutes.

Improvising rapidly, the group manages to escape, killing several soldiers in the process. Meanwhile, Dane rams a barricade, and his tires are shot out. He bails from the car shortly before it explodes, killing his pursuers but leaving him relatively unharmed. Another soldier confronts him, but Dane pulls out King Mob's gun and shoots him.

The rest of the cell finds the wreckage of the car, and determines that Dane has escaped. King Mob declares that it's time to call "Mister Six."

Madness got us this far
This will be a short one, as this issue is mostly action, without a ton of introspective cosmic stuff. (Considering how heavy the next issue is with the big, weird concepts, it's kind of a relief for me).

Our title tonight is a reference to the I Ching, a Chinese divination technique that's a sort of Oriental version of doing the tarot. As the title indicates, the 23rd hexagram is Po, "things coming to an end" (although the actual pictured hexagram, both on the cover and the title page, is 27, which relates to feeding and nourishment. Hey, maybe getting split up like this is exactly what we needed).

23 is the overtly relevant one tonight, though, considering our newly-formed fellowship is about to have a breaking. Dane McGowan, minus one fingertip, has had enough. Using magic and being invisible and going to parallel universes is all fine when you're just faffing around with a crazy old man. When fingers start getting cut off, it's time to re-evaluate the choices you've made.

Note is made of Dane's incredible luck - the car is shot before it can explode, he's not hurt in the crash, the explosion takes out the people out to get him. King Mob, super-spy assasin, barely gets out of this situation alive, while our favorite little punk breezes through. Is he just lucky? Is he using the magic powers Tom planted in his head? Or is it just that, as a main character, he's protected by a higher power? Dane's clearly special, but he's only special because Grant Morrison decided he is. He was chosen by a normal, human man with control over this reality (and yeah, the Invisibles isn't real, but we keep getting told that "real" doesn't matter) to be the Messiah. So of course he's not going to get blown up 9 issues in.

That one obviously couldn't take the pressure
This is also the first issue where we meet Dane's predecessor, John-a-Dreams (the name is another Shakespeare reference, this time from Hamlet, for a man who gets lost in his daydreams). It's interesting to see King Mob, here, in a clearly deferential role. John's the guy who understands what's going on here - KM just wants something concrete he can shoot.

This opening section throws a lot at the reader, and I don't know that all of it is understandable at this stage of the game. The whole thing has shades of Lovecraft all over it, from the bizarre plant monster in the church to the name-dropping of "Tsathoggua." The Hand of Glory is mentioned for a second time (Freddie and his young lady friend were discussing it when Tom and Dane encountered them in the park back in issue 3), in conjunction with somewhere called Universe B.

Later on, King Mob will describe the things that he and John see here (and which we won't for a long, long time) as a "prototype" community - first steps from an encroaching universe into our (or at least the Invisibles') own. So the question is... are we at war? Is it us vs. them? Does John-a-Dreams's description of the dead plant monster as "magnificent," show him as a traitor in the making? Or is it just that he's more tapped into the truth: There is no war. (Follow-up question: If you refuse to see sides in a conflict, can you be a traitor?)

Although, on the subject of traitors, Robin spends this whole issue hiding her eyes, at first under the brim of her hat, and later with her shades. And when King Mob derisively asks Fanny if she thinks one of the cell is a traitor, she's the one standing far back, freaking out. Of course, it's her psychic warning systems kicking in, warning of the approaching soldiers. But it's still something to think about.

Life just gets cheaper and cheaper
And how about those soldiers? Those faceless goons who want payback because King Mob's "Smile" grenade ripped a friend to shreds. These stormtroopers who rush forward into danger to save a comrade from deadly gas. Who joke to relieve the tension, who get nervous when they have to deal with something like Orlando. How about them?

They work for people and things that want to crush freedom forever, yeah. But to kill the first ones, King Mob has to put on Orlando's jacket. The Invisibles, with their witches and their martial arts experts and their super-spies, they're out of these guys' league, as distant from them as Orlando was from the team (KM looks a bit like John-a-Dreams in the jacket, too, and since we're meant to see something sinister in John for now, that just drives home the point.)

(Although, King Mob wouldn't be able to pull either of the tricks he does here, if his enemy weren't so focused on existing without identity. He can impersonate Orlando because Orlando was always shifting, and he can fake being a Myrmidon because they completely hide their faces. In a way, they're as fluid as De Sade wanted to be last issue, but with the intention of destroying freedom, instead of opening it up).

It makes me gag
Boy calls KM out on his ghoulish humor, and I have to agree. She calls it gallows humor, though, and I'm not sure about that. You use gallows humor when you want to distract yourself from something unpleasant. But look at Mob's face when he says he can always get another car. He's reveling in this shit.

I know I'm driving this point into the ground, issue after issue, but being able to kill that easily is pretty fucked.

Speaking of which, Dane kills his first human being here. We'll have to see what that does to him, whether he turns it into a video game like KM does, or learns a different lesson.

But that won't be for a few days, because the next three issues are all one-shots, jumping around and about the Invisibles universe. It's going to be a long, strange trip. See you tomorrow!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Issue Eight: Arcadia Part Four: H.E.A.D.

The Invisibles
Volume 1
Issue 8

"Arcadia Part Four: H.E.A.D."

King Mob and Boy bring the psychic projection of the Marquis De Sade to an S&M Club in San Francisco, where he quickly makes friends. They tell De Sade that his mission is to design a utopia - one where everyone, including the enemy, gets what they want.

Percy Shelley continues to retreat into his writing as an answer to his grief over the death of his daughter, but, after an imagined conversation with Lord Byron in which Byron tells him that his remaining family is more important that imagining a utopia, returns to his wife.

Lord Fanny is shown to be unharmed after Orlando's attack last issue, and summons the Aztec god of death to drag the fleshless serial killer back to the land of the dead.

Ragged Robin discovers that the head of John the Baptist speaks in glossolalia - "speaking in tongues" - and that whoever hears it hears only what they want to hear. She tells the Cyphermen they can keep it, and has another conversation with the mysterious chess player about the language's use in the coming end of days.

The group comes out of their trances. King Mob is worried that the various interferences with the mission indicate a traitor in the Invisibles. Dane, traumatized by the loss of a finger, declares he is done with the group - just as unseen agents of the Outer Church prepare to attack the windmill.

De Sade, along with a young girl recruited from the club, pick up a young man named Thierry under a bridge in San Francisco. De Sade initiates him into the Invisibles, telling him he is to be nameless, sexless, identity-less - utterly fluid, and that he will help De Sade devise his new, perfect society. They drive off into the night.

Hedonic Engineering and Development
After the grim absolutes of last issue, H.E.A.D. is all about subjectivity. If collective utopias always fail because the push and pull of human needs rips them apart, then it's time, the argument goes, to remove disparate human needs from the equation. Heaven for everybody, tailor made to their needs (even if those needs are, in the case of the poor Cyphermen, orders).

One of the things that used to bug me about the Invisibles is that, as starkly individualistic as its characters can be, one of the overall focuses of the book is on the positive aspects of letting your identity be fluid and malleable. That bothered me, because, well, my identity is ME. I don't want to give that up. As I type these words, I feel fear at the notion that I'm being unrealistic or overly-rigid in my defense of it. But that's De Sade's mission in the 20th century, learning how to increase that fluidity through the absolute pursuit of pleasure. It's a chance for him to act out every fantasy that's ever rattled around in his brain. That's the point, to create a prototype of a world where everyone can do what they want, and everyone can be whoever they want.

And they'll speak a language of utter-subjectivity, as Robin discovers when investigating the Head. (I wonder... is the text we hear the Head say after the Cyphermen wind it up with their big, goofy adventure-game style key what Robin's hearing? Or are those nonsense words and fragments of previous dialogue what WE want to hear?) A new/old language, with everybody hearing exactly what they want to hear, forever. It sounds... lonely. But better than the alternative, I think. Society can't be brought down by compromises and arguments (as the imagined Byron argues with Shelley - while pointing out the importance of small-scale, subjective happiness over the pursuit of utopia) when there's no need for compromise, and no way to hear arguments.

And in the process, we see another magical initiation, right down to the blue smoke, as Thierry is inducted into the order, blending and losing his identity, gaining his blank badge. (And he's standing against a literal shadow wall, painted with the words "Et Arcadia Ego... The last two pages of this issue are a super-compressed version of the whole comic up to this point, now that I look at it - we're seeing the story played out over 59 issues, but versions of it are happening all around us).

Obviously he'd never seen a trannie before
Speaking of fluid identities, we also of course have Lord Fanny, tossing aside the bits of her that Orlando cut off, and then taking on the identities of various Azetec gods and goddesses to dispatch the little punk. (Xipe Totec, the name Orlando throws around, was a real god, by the way, whose priests apparently walked around in flayed human skins. But he's a much bigger thing - not death, but rebirth, transformation, fertility - than the little demon menacing our crew). At the end of the day, it's that fluidity, that willingness to change and be changed, that saves the Invisibles today.

Just a game

Any time you see a chess game in a work of fiction, the tendency is to try to view it as a metaphor. And the mystery of Robin's chess-playing friend at Rennes-le-Chateau still tickles my brain.

He's still only ever moving the black pieces (who win, in the end, with a movement of the black queen (De Sade, being moved across the chessboard to the 20th century?) (And the white King is cornered and defeated by two black pawns before the win... Dane and Fanny defeating Orlando in his pretty white suit? This is what I mean about chess metaphors). So is he playing both sides? Or against an unseen (Invisible?) opponent? Or, as the framing here indicates, is he playing his game with people observing him and all of the events of this comic from a higher order of reality - which is to say, us?

Honestly, I don't know. He says "us" when he describes the future that everyone is hurtling toward. Is the idea that Death is just as much a part of the human experience as anything else? Or am I badly mis-reading this, and his ambiguity is the whole point? That it doesn't matter which side of the conflict he's on, since we're all going to the same place?

Weird shit goes on all the time
Not much more to say, as we finish our second big storyline, except that this issue gives a great spotlight to our central cast. I may make fun of King Mob for his super-spy aspirations, his big gun and his silly hat, but this issue makes it clear that, when he's not being forced into those roles, he's really just a party-nerd. He's willing to do the other stuff (gets off on some of it), but he really just wants to dance and talk about movies and be Grant Morrison.

Boy doesn't get much to do here, but she's dancing as well, along with reminding us that, for all the fun of being a psychic ghost in San Francisco, the body matters too (just like Shelley remembers that there is pleasure and happiness in his wife's arms).

Fanny we've already talked about, and even Dane puts in a good show here, even if he does throw a wobbler at the end. And while I still don't have anything like a handle on Robin as a character, her bored amusement at the Cyphermen's attempts to subvert or harm her is great.

In other words, this issue makes me like these characters... just in time to see them get shot at.

See you tomorrow!

(A few more thoughts on things I noticed while grabbing panels today, which I'm not going to integrate into the main essay because, disorganized mess that it is, I don't want to spend the time to work out where they go. De Sade tells Thierry he is leaving the house of the dead and entering the land of the truly living. Thierry stepped away from the shadows to do so. Meanwhile, the "living" shadow Orlando is pulled back into the Land of the Dead, by a spirit that identifies with an old world, old sun. So, is that the utopia we're headed for? A separation from the shadows that have haunted the entire Arcadia arc? Pulling away from the shadows being cast on the wall of the past, into the living ontic world of the future?)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Issue Seven: Acadia Part Three: 120 Days of Sod All

The Invisibles
Volume 1
Issue 7

"Arcadia Part Three: 120 Days of Sod All"


In the windmill, Orlando eats Dane's severed finger, and Dane awakens. His cries for help rouse Fanny, who attacks Orlando. Dane attempts to use King Mob's gun against Orlando but the gun fails to fire. Orlando attacks, slashing Fanny across the chest with his knife before advancing on Dane.

King Mob and Boy are lost on the "ontic highway" with the psychic projection of De Sade. Their surroundings quickly transition from the "Et Arcadia Ego" postcard into Castle Silling, the setting of De Sade's "120 Days of Sodom." The trio are forced to watch a slightly modified version of the events of the book (a vicious satire in which four powerful men kidnap several young people to an isolated castle and wantonly use them to fulfill their every perversion before killing them) before they are allowed to continue on their journey to De Sade's ultimate destination, San Francisco.

In Venice, Percy Shelley mourns the death of his daughter, wallowing in his misery. His wife, Mary reflects that it is easier for poets, because they are allowed to lose themselves in their grief, while she must continue to live.

Ragged Robin finds herself in the French village of Rennes-le-Chateau, where she meets a mysterious chess player (Mary Shelley's carriage companion from the previous issue) who informs her of the mysteries surrounding the village. She enters the chapel at the center of the mystery, only to find a group of Cyphermen there. They claim to have already found what the Invisibles sought there - the oracular head of John the Baptist.

Transvestite v. Shadowman Smackdown!
Let's start today's analysis with a look at what's going on in the "real world" (i.e., the one with the time machine windmill and the fleshless Aztec knife nut). I was trying to put together some fancruft about Dane and Fanny being the ones to wake up because they're the most magically gifted of the cell, but really, I think it's just that the story demands the team be split up, and this way makes the most sense.

King Mob and Boy go with De Sade because they're the grounded ones who are going to be able to avoid taking anything they see too seriously.

Dane's gotta be in the windmill because getting the crap cut out of him by Orlando (and totally failing to do anything about it) is all part of his Hero's Journey thing.

Robin has to deal with the "Head of John the Baptist" because... I don't know, someone had to do it. I might have more on this next issue, when we get into the meat of what the head is, but no promises.

But most of all, it had to be Lord Fanny who took on Orlando.

I'm GUESSING that Orlando's name is a reference to Virginia Woolf's Orlando: A Biography, a semi-true, mostly metaphorical story of Woolf's female lover. In the story, Orlando is born as a man, lives a life of adventure, and then suddenly transforms into a woman. And while our Orlando takes the form of a male, he's similarly transitional - he wears the skin he chooses.

In the other corner, we have Lord Fanny. Without getting into her backstory, she's Aztec, too. A biological male who wears the appearance of a woman - a sexy, kick-ass woman, at that. Like Orlando, she didn't have her identity thrust upon her - she chose it (in a less messy fashion than Orlando's, I hasten to add).

It's her transitional strength that puts her on an even footing with Orlando here - high heels being wielded with a male's musculature, sexual characteristics that act as armor and can be thrown away when damaged - way more than Dane, trying to use King Mob's dick/gun and getting slapped around for it.

Sniffing at the skirts of mystery
Speaking of Robin, though, this is our first issue where she gets any time on her own, but I don't know that I have a lot to say about her yet. She's one of the book's big puzzles, but for now we'll just have to accept what she's presenting on the surface... even though we know that's a mask.

As for the man she meets in the churchyard at Rennes-le-Chateau, well... He's clearly the same man who rode with Mary Shelley more than a hundred years before (the man mentions that it's been 100 years or so since the priest Sauniere came to the town, placing Robin's segments at least in the 20th century, if not present day).

Last issue, I had him pegged as Death, and it's not as though the chess imagery here doesn't support that (not to mention the skull-shaped charm Robin's wearing around her waist!). His position relative to the board indicates he's playing both sides, although we never see him moving the white pieces.

If he is Death, he's as impartial as before, with his warnings about going so far after buried treasure that you pull up worthlessness instead (something I should probably keep in mind as this project continues).

Oh, and the painting he mentions Sauniere buying, "Les Bergers D'Arcadie," is, of course, the Et Arcadia Ego painting that names this arc, under a different title. Not sure of the significance, but I wonder if Morrison set this excursion in Rennes-le-Chateau specifically because the painting recurred there?

The thing I can't stop poking at, though, is the make-up. This issue is book-ended by people in very similar make-up: white face paint, with red circles on the cheek. One of those is our very own Ragged Robin, confronted with Cyphermen and Rennes-le-Chateau and the head of John the Baptist. And the others are the...protagonists? Villains? Central characters of De Sade's "120 Days of Sodom." Is Robin's dark side being hinted at? Foreshadowing of poor Mr. Quimper?

I'm inclined to think it's the reverse, actually. Robin's make-up is her little way of pointing out the ridiculousness of her life. It's all pantomime, and she's just another clown.
The make-up worn by the Banker, the Duke, the Priest, and the Judge is a similar marker of theatricality. After all, in the same scenes where it's first shown, they're shown "getting into costume" as they put on their wigs and robes. De Sade was trafficking in the far extremes of brutality, not because it got him off (although... yeah, it got him off, and again we see that pull toward rage and darkness that sits in the man/movement, alongside the urge toward freedom) but to form an instructive lesson.

I'm not saying anything the text doesn't spell out on its own, but the events that Boy and KM and De Sade experience on the Ontic Highway (and, to jump back to our discussion of the cave and the shadows from a few days ago, ontic means "real" - we're into a "higher" level of reality here, closer to our side of the page, the stuff casting the shadows) are for our, the reader's benefit. We're the ones being addressed by the Judge after the world is ended in rage and despair. The original De Sade didn't write about "electronic tagging" or "DNA fingerprinting files." That's all for our benefit.

It can be easy to see the things that the Outer Church does and blame it on the archons - the monsters made me do it! But while they may supply the supernatural mojo, 9 times out of 10 it's us doing the actual killing and crushing and raping. Everybody on The Hunt was 100% human.

And even then, it's not them who pull the trigger. That's the last joke, that it's the prey, the blank brutalized faces, as Big Malkie might put it, who are the ones who actually end it all in our little playlet... once they've been put in front of the button, of course.

If Arcadia is about the conflict in the human spirit between idealism and cynicism, then last issue's trip through the Terror was cynicism's triumph in the "real world" - the shadow - and what we see here is the platonic ideal, the true object casting that shadow. This entire issue is tinged with failure - the events in Castle Silling, Dane's impotence against Orlando, Percy Shelley's descent into melancholy over his daughter's death, the Cyphermen discovering the head... The case that's being made to us is that humanity is flawed, un-savable, and the idealists are so lost in their ideas that they ignore the people they love and get them killed. It's a damn grim message.

Thank God this arc is four issues, not three, huh? See you tomorrow for the counter-argument, San Francisco-style!