Dec 20, 2012

Pop Medicine: Replaying the Invisibles

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

In to Out With The Invisibles
Pop Medicine
Travis Hedge Coke

The Invisibles self-defines as “It's a thriller, it's a romance, it's a tragedy, it's a porno, it's neo-modernist kitchen sink science fiction that you catch, like a cold.” The Invisibles wants you to read it. And you. And you. But not you (yet). You and you. You should read The Invisibles. Or, if you have, then reread it.

The comic has a weird relationship with (potential) audience, spawning fan forums that eventually couldn’t stand to be thought of as having anything to do with Morrison or The Invisibles, generating nonfiction books of annotations, analysis, reminiscences, and also massive amounts of internet hating, a bit of a legal issue when it talked about boosting cars early on, and a white-painted button you still see occasionally worn in WeHo by kids who may as likely tell you it came from “some punk thing.”

Every so often, The Invisibles would try a different way to bring in a different audience, as if unsatisfied with the idea that everyone on the planet wasn’t enjoying this comic or at least one story in it. Almost as frequently, The Invisibles would develop a deliberate firewall to stall out readers and cast them off, such as the second storyline’s deliberate prizing of ideas, symbolism and didacticism over naturalistic conversations and subtle characterization. It really was “some punk thing” even when it was fresh and newly on the stands, all bright colors, hope and sentimentality.

And, here we are upon the date when Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles ends. It’s a big, mythic date by the time the series ends, and it’s a big mythic date today, in the really real world. So, we are faced with a question as that date comes close, as it threatens to pass, of whether the series will be worth revisiting once the big moment is gone. Every story that reaches into the near future faces this, from Terminator to Neon Genesis Evangelion.

There is a difference here. It’s an important date in the comic and it is also an important date in the real world for the same reason, a reason that no one seems to want to face head on: December 22nd, 2012 is important to those who believe it is important, and to the rest of us, because we are all aware how important it is to the right (number of) people. That’s it. The important dates in the abovementioned Terminator or Evangelion measurably change things. We have no sufficient way to measure the major future events of The Invisibles. We’re shown what the moment is like for two people, but let’s face it, those two people see shit and are, nice men who’ve shot people in the face as they both are, they’re unreliable.

So, is it going to be worth reading, even if nothing happens on Dec 22? Well, is Terminator worth it, even if the machines haven’t taken over yet? Is Split Second worth watching even if London isn’t flooded and besieged by a demonic serial killer yet?

The value of The Invisibles was never in prophecy. It was never in the future, for all the scenes taking place past its original publishing dates, or very of the past, despite jaunts back to the French Revolution, the Roaring Twenties, Nineteen Forty-Five, and the traumatic and dim Eighties.

So, it is worth reading a time capsule of a comic, then?

A time capsule is not just so you can have a nostalgia trip twenty years later, or to pretend there was a golden age and now it has passed. The perspective of a culture, a subculture, a group, a person, as self-defined, of a time and place, it’s just that: a perspective. The Invisibles is a fairly comprehensive perspective; a way to look at music, sex, government, fashion, violence, dance, superheroes, guilt, games, aging, depression, love, fads, babies, conquest, death, soft drinks, and romance.

And this capsule, The Invisibles, comes in multiple introductory flavors. There are three volumes of The Invisibles, over a series of collections (and now the massive, on sale for a huge discount most places hardcover collecting it all), and those three volumes each start with a very different taste and pace. The series ends on an issue marked #1, and it, too, is an introduction. So, if you don’t groove on the very traditionalist heroes journey that turns into didactic time travel murder mystery that starts off the first volume, jump to Bloody Hell in America, which opens volume two. Volume Two is guns, explosions, sex and oversized American Hollywood bullshit, with an underscore of sweat, tears, and debt to keep it grounded. The monsters are bigger. The explosions are massive. The guns never run out of bullets. And every line is a catchphrase. And, if you’re done with stories of posturing through guns and orgasms, there’s volume three, a twelve issue fugue bringing fun loving terrorists, occult detectives too into 70s cop shows, deeply-concerned government stooges, soldiers, and musicians together to fight, to laugh, and to carry us into a future of endless war and slavery or total party all the time now.

The Invisibles keeps trying to find a new way to get a different subsection of humanity to enjoy it. The first volume changes gears every few issues, each potentially appealing to a different audience who’ll then stick around and try the rest. The second volume goes full on populist not by being safe but by being loud and bright and pop. The third just refuses to stop, the increasing beats per minute rumble and pitch shifts that defined the turn of the century. There are stories in the comic that are straight up gothic (and class) horror, there’s love stories, some good pure action comics, sounds of science fantastica, bildungsroman on the streets. Every shift in the comic seems an attempt to bring more audience into the fold and to shed anyone who isn’t interested, or willing, to keep up.

The characters we are asked to sympathize with or align to range from British to Brazilian, young to old, varying in gender, ethnicity, social status, hobbies, style, from the current day to the past and future. They include a pissy kid from Liverpool who steals cars and kicks his history teacher in the head, an angry government agent who subscribes to safety through authority, a linguist who lies constantly, the ghost of the Marquis de Sade and his operatives, a single mother, a murdered soldier, a rap star who’s queer for death, office workers, prostitutes, wealthy socialites, scientists, shootists, corrupted spirits, and a man who might be Satan. The world, basically. In the end, we’re being given as wide a range of characters, often blatant stereotypes differentiated from their stock icons only by their subtleties and individuality, and asked to try as many of them on for size as we can bear.

The Invisibles keeps opening up to us and then closing down. It keeps showing us conflicts and confrontations, then shows that two hands clasped to arm wrestle hold air between the two palms, and the hands exchanging heat, they are putting a show on for anyone else in the room, and besides that, belong to arms that belong to bodies that belong to people who’ve had a life before that moment and will continue to have the rest of a life after. The first issue told you, in its letters page space, to buy the issue, read it, but afterwards, junk it and move on. Morrison and the many artists seem to want to bring you in, but also to drive you back out into the rest of the world, and perhaps it is best for that. Come in to go outside.

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