Sep 18, 2013

Pop Medicine: "So Inconclusive.

Pop Medicine is a column by Travis Hedge Coke for the Comics Cube! Click here for the archive!

“So Inconclusive.
Pop Medicine
Travis Hedge Coke

Mister Six is a character in The Invisibles who’s based himself on a character from a 70s cop show. He has a wonderful moustache and a button on his jacket that has, not his face, but the face of the guy he’s emulating.

There’s a realm where sexy and incredibly awkwardly geeky are difficult to differentiate. But, I’m not worried about that. I’m looking for a good title.


I had this idea to do a column of things I like about The Invisibles, and things that bug me, because post-Invisibles everything seems to circle it even as it recedes from significance for me. (That’s why I bought the omnibus, yes, because it’s receding in significance for me – this is called posturing, run with it on my behalf, won’t you?) I can make the lists, no doubt. I can gut the comic and dissect it. I can hold up the guts and bones for you and show how beautifully they work, pumping blood or bile where it’ll do the best.

I started out with a list, but it pared down in the work. It boiled down and sublimed and there’s fictional-boyfriend residue, sexy Bond woman glamour notes left off the screen and little of the intention I began with. Mirror-selves and fantasy proxies.

I think I know now why I love the jam effort towards the end, why I love the turnover of artists, the off-panel dramas and comedies of the talent, the references that don’t register, the stuff I forget. Perspective hurts The Invisibles. It’s perspective that makes the flaws, perspective that gouges its criticisms with hypocrisy and muddies the detail work. The Invisibles isn’t the work of one man, so many thanks for so many deities for that. The comic’s salvation is in divers hands. And in divers’ hands. You’ve got to get up in there, to make it. And, by make, I could mean the talent creating the comic or the reader grasping it, any of us surviving and outlasting it. Inlasting.

“Everything seems to circle” The Invisibles for me, this is true, but this is true of many works of entertainment, many people, several memories. And The Invisibles sets itself up for it, at least, which the memories may or may have not. The comic is a version of that game where, if you remember the game, you have lost it. It alludes to a number of specific cultural artifacts and elements, books, movies, paintings, songs and celebrities, but it also utilizes inference and strong symbols, sometimes without fully delineating how the symbol should be read. Context is a weak thing where this comic is working. When we are presented apples in The Invisibles, they can be seen to symbolize the world (as the one with the continents pictured right on its skin), temptation, knowledge, a gift, a curse, a trick, but right after Robin says of an offered apple, “Eve may have fallen for that one. Ragged Robin’s not so dumb,” she starts eating the fruit.

What does that say? It shows she ate the fruit. It does not even do that, though. It shows us some ink on paper that makes certain colors, certain shades, and we interpret those as Robin eating an apple that could be many things more than only an apple. Heck, we don’t even see an image of her eating the apple. We see bites are missing and she seems to have something in her mouth. Zeno’s fragging arrow.

The Invisibles covers this confusion more than once, this conflation of entertainment and reality, performance and truth. Plays are people walking prescribed paths speaking from memory, egging on an audience. Or they are words you can read giving dialogue and instructions. A comic is images and words combined in a way we understand to be a comic. None of what it makes us think may have happened, but everything we see, the ink and the effort, did and is happening. The ink lines don’t go away when you close up the covers.

But what is “really” there is, possibly, the least interesting of all options. What could be there is a little better. What we remember, or understand, those are good.

The omnibus has some interesting backmatter, including sketches from various hands, including Morrison’s, notes from artists and editors, pitch documents and early advertisements. King Mob, who Grant Morrison famously made himself into to some degrees as the comic ran, does not look like Morrison when drawn by Morrison, himself. But his Lord Fanny really does look like early 90s Grant Morrison in drag. That’s apt. And, Ragged Robin, before-the-comic to be called Raggedy Ann, she’s a sad mess. A pitch sketch, by Morrison, is all cleavage and holding herself. His description in the pitch admits she is “fairly underdeveloped” and “She’s the Death/Crazy Jane type of female figure beloved by boys who read Vertigo comics.”

Jill Thompson saved Ragged Robin. Oh, yes.

See, again, The Invisibles can be self-correcting. I was never Dane, reading the comic, even though Dane is basically my age, my generation. Dane was a kid. I wasn’t a kid at that age (sure, sure). Robin had great style in those early issues, she and Boy were the undealt cards for the longest time, and Boy just seemed tedious. But Jill Thompson drew Robin as less of a caricature than the other cast could be. She had attitude in her body language, pitch and direction. And she seemed the goofiest. Morrison’s writing helped, of course, but it’s that early Thompson-derived visual that most clicks for me. Robin’s the one who gets off by herself during “Arcadia” after all, it’s Robin who begs mysteries with every appearance, even when she’s not got a nanite-friendly bracelet going or showing off circuitry under the skin of her scalp. Maybe, it’s just that her version of cool doesn’t involve having to see people hurt, the way King Mob’s does, or Boy’s.

We get more of the display kit version of Robin in the “We’re all Policemen” short and in Volume Two’s reinventions, but once she’s a person, she’s a person. I always loathed the suggestion, in Anarchy for the Masses, the commentary book on The Invisibles, that Mob’s flat butt belongs to a “real human,” and Robin’s more rounded ass, by inference, isn’t. Supposedly a fan shared with Morrison some fanfic of her as Robin writing her way into the comic, and that comes out in the “official” version, too. It’s canon that Robin wrote herself into The Invisibles, which is seen in the comic as contemporary comic, a memoir published in the past, and – who knows – Mason probably financed an Invisibles movie, too. Or maybe he just produced The Matrix. Who knows.

Robin was never my fictional girlfriend, even though I was definitely one of the “boys who read Vertigo,” having traded a bunch of Jim Lee X-Men for issues of Nancy Collins’ Swamp Thing, and constantly rereading a stack of Rachel Pollack’s Doom Patrol given to me by Peter Lamborn Wilson, that got me through all the hormones and weirdness of early double digits. I was primed. But, but I didn’t want display case Robin even by the time we started to get her, and oh so sexy assassin-in-leathers Mob wasn’t my imaginary boyfriend for even a second.

For every panel of Robin hanging out a car window, yelling for more smart drinks and smiling broadly, there’s “We’re All Policemen” and Mob creating Robin out of pornoplasm that looks like his ex girlfriend. “I want the nerdiest boy in high school turned into the hottest sex queen” or whatever it is, “give me LA porn.” Not that there’s anything wrong if you happen to be the nerdiest guy in high school now turned into the sexiest woman with implants, but it didn’t particularly ingratiate either character to me. I know they’re constructs. I don’t want to remember they’re constructs.

“I’m as deep as this high ceiling,” to steal from Lou Reed, but I don’t want to be reminded I’m shallow. I don’t want to be reminded I’m deep.

The Invisibles keeps trying to sex you. It is a seduction. Maybe, Helga got close for me. She’s a walk on in a scene to show how swinging Six is, and somehow she walks on and then carries the title to its end. There’s my fictional girlfriend. A Philip Bond beauty, me but better looking and hella smarter, I think she vomits twice in less than twelve issues. Patrick Meaney, in Our Sentence is Up, the other commentary book on The Invisibles, seems to take her a lot more seriously than I can. Helga makes shit up. She even says so at once point, but you can catalogue out her lies and bullshitting starting with Six’s statement that she’d say she has no siblings, even though she later claims she impregnated her brother. I like Helga. Helga’s nuts. Mister Six is like that, too, really, so he can be my fictional boyfriend, while the bulk of comics diehards have Kitty Pryde or one of the various Supergirls all aliased Linda Danvers.

(And, because it all comes around and through again, I am reminded that one Supergirl was not, I think, called Linda Danvers, but, instead, she was called Matrix. And, one of her favorite tricks was to become invisible.)


You can get the Omnibus here:

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