Friday, January 28, 2011

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?

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