Sunday, January 16, 2011

Issue Two: Down and Out in Heaven and Hell, Pt. 1

The Invisibles

Volume One, Issue Two

"Down and Out in Heaven and Hell Pt. 1"

Dane McGowan, after being left on the streets of London by King Mob, quickly becomes a homeless beggar. After throwing a trash can through a store window in a fit of rage, he falls in with Tom O'Bedlam, a seemingly insane man who possesses certain magical powers - including the ability to render people invisible.

While being shown how to survive by Tom, Dane encounters The Hunt - a group of aristocrats who hunt and kill young people on the streets of London for sport. Avoiding them, Tom leads Dane into the undercity below London, where they smoke an apparently hallucinogenic blue mold that grows there. Dane sees the word "Barbelith" scrawled on a wall, and then has a mysterious experience that shares certain characteristics with an alien abduction.

Upon awakening from this trance, he finds himself and Tom in an alternate London, where zeppelins float over the city and unfamiliar fashions and statuary abound. While here, Tom appears to blank out all the lights of London, allowing Dane to see the stars. After this, Dane acknowledges that he would like to become Invisible.

Immediately after this, Dane reappears in the normal London, to see members of The Hunt bearing down on him with knives.

ELF, Elf, and elf
So, for reasons of time and clarity, I'm dropping the page-by-page thing I did for the first issue. It was a crutch, really - no need to organize thoughts when you can just lump them in by page.

That being said, let's start today with the first page of this issue, the first part of Dane McGowan's true descent into the world of the Invisibles, "Down and Out in Heaven and Hell."

And we start with a nutter talking in the park about the evil radiation is frying our brains and controlling our minds. It's all perfectly laughable stuff, of course... if maybe a little less so, knowing what we know about the sort of things that were happening to the human mind in Harmony House.

Specifically, he's worried about Extremely Low Frequencies, or ELFs. I might be diving too deep here, but I can't help but feel that there's a double meaning to that. Like I mentioned last time, Elves, fairies, the Fair Folk are all tied into the upper levels of reality in The Invisibles, higher-order consciousnesses unable to relate to their own. And there are also machine elves, common fixtures during hallucinations from certain drugs, described as "jewelled self-dribbling basketballs" that construct reality. More on reality altering/creating spheres or circles in a bit.

Down and out
So here we have young rebel Dane McGowan, brilliantly non-conforming by... dropping out of society. Going homeless, begging for food, getting sick, dying. Full of rage at the things he wants, can't have, and is disgusted at the world for producing. He's been effectively neutered, not by any malevolent force, but by the structure of society. If he wasn't being targeted for initiation into a glorious magical battle with the forces of evil, he'd be done for. Rebellion called off due to indifference and an unremarked death. Or maybe he'd get really unlucky, and get the attention of The Hunt.

The Hunt
Maybe I'm just a cynical bastard, but I find something blackly comic in the sequence that introduces us to The Hunt. There's just something about seeing those jolly good English lords and ladies - and their kids - all kitted out in their fox hunting regalia, sounding their horns - in the middle of downtown London. Of course, the conclusion isn't so funny, as they cut a young woman to shreds, just because they can, just because they're better than her.

The Wild Hunt, like the Fair Folk, is one of those old ideas that's always cropping up in stories. It's the prey/predator relationship at its most brutal: you run, we kill. Power abusing weakness, because that's what power's for. No wonder Tom's afraid of the dark magic of it, as the powerful men of the world exercise their privilege on the weak (as she beats her fists against a giant steel door marked "Private").

"Mad Tom is come to view the world again"
Confession: I've never read King Lear. Curse me for a Philistine if you like, but it's true. So until tonight, I'd missed the vast majority of the references built into the character Tom O' Bedlam when I read The Invisibles.

So, for the Philistines: In Lear, Tom O' Bedlam (which was old British slang for a madman - Bedlam being Bethlehem Hospital for the mad) is the guise adopted by Edgar, son of Gloucester, after his bastard brother Edmund frames him for the attempted murder of their father. Which is to say, he's a guise of madness into which a good and honest man retreats from the evils of the world. Later, he guides his blinded father to safety.

If you're following along on your Hero's Journey Bingo cards, Tom's introduction will let you cover up the "Mentor" spots (those of you who already filled in "Call to Adventure," "Rejection of the Call," "Supernatural Aid," and "Crossing of the Threshold" after our trip to Harmony House are obviously playing to win). And Tom's a good fit for that role in Dane's case, because here is a man who conforms to nothing. Completely absent from society, yet hale and hearty. And at the same time, completely divorced from and uninterested in the war the Invisibles are waging. He's the ultimate non-joiner.

So down we go with our mentor, into the city below the city. There's something about the places under cities that draws the imagination. Passing through that underworld on rigidly laid-out subway tracks, it's hard not to imagine the other tunnels, the ones we're not allowed into. The consequence of hundreds of years of human civilization all built on the same land, sinking into the earth.

Dane's pissed that someone's been here before, but isn't that the point? This isn't just caves in the mountains, this is humanity's place... for a while. Halfway, at least, until it intersects with a deeper/higher world. We'll be back here some day, to see those spires. Because what is it to be Invisible, if not to transcend and make meaningless the borders of humanity?

And then some aliens show up.

So, a few years before writing The Invisibles, Grant Morrison made a name for himself by taking a character called Animal Man and making him interesting. Animal Man - Buddy Baker to his friends - was a guy who was given powers by aliens that let him use the abilities of animals in his vicinity. That's it.

Morrison used this goofy character, with his goofy premise, to explore the relationship between fictional characters and reality. And he started with that origin, the one about the aliens. Early in his run, Buddy's origin gets rewritten - if memory serves, it was badly out of date due to the unchanging nature of comic book time, meaning Buddy had been Animal Man-ing around for twenty or thirty years, despite still being a young man. But the interesting part was that it was the aliens themselves who seemed to be doing the re-writing, acting, essentially, as editors to the story. They just look like aliens, because that's the shape that things from a higher reality (ours, in this case) look like when they dip into the fictional world to mess around with things.

So when Dane McGowan puffs on the blue mold, he sees, among other things, aliens. He also sees a solid circle of changing color. And his perception fragments into smaller and smaller boxes, but all of them hang under the banner of one word - Barbelith.

Go then, there are other worlds than these
And so we find ourselves in an alternate London, where statues of William Blake's Urizen (god of rationality and confining order) dominate the water, but which, as Tom O'Bedlam will remind you, are exactly as real as the London we've been reading about already. And it's here where Dane finally acknowledges that, yes, magic and knowledge and the stars in London are worth joining something. That being Invisible, unseen, outside of perception, is something he wants.

Of course, wanting to become Invisible and becoming Invisible aren't the same thing...

(That's actually almost exactly wrong. But you are going to have to show you want it. Cue the Hunt!)

1 comment:

  1. "...If you're following along on your Hero's Journey Bingo cards, Tom's introduction will let you cover up the "Mentor" spots (those of you who already filled in " Call to Adventure," "Rejection of the Call," "Supernatural Aid..."; see Kal's 510+ stage Hero's Journey at