The truth is in here
Everybody loves a good conspiracy theory. Books, movies, and television are chock full of fictional and non-fictional attempts to make sense of the world — not with the simplest of explanations, but in the most interesting way possible. We want all dots to connect, even if matching point A to point B is frightening, because a world without a master plan is a much more chaotic place to live. It’s too easy to lose one’s sense of self in a sea of random occurrence and unrelated happenstance. The comfort derived from knowing that it all (finally!) makes sense is pretty compelling, after all.
Therefore, I subscribe to as many conspiracy theories as possible — not with any seriousness of course, but I find it makes our world a much more fascinating place to inhabit. I’m not particularly troubled by the tracking device that was injected with my first measles vaccine, particularly now that I carry a smartphone with me everywhere I go. If they want to find me, I say have at it. I’ll likely be at work. Or at home. Or at a comic book shop. Thrilling. I frequently see individuals on the train or walking down the street who look oddly familiar, like younger or older versions of friends or acquaintances. Merely coincidence, or do the past, present and future all exist simultaneously in our three-dimensional space? Tough call, but I like the road upon which this line of questioning travels.
But what if every conspiracy, every crazy idea ever to grace the pages of the Weekly World News, was actually true? What if the deepest and darkest secrets you’ve only heard whispered about in dreams are happening behind the closed doors of the highest offices in the land? What if they really are out to get you? Then you’re experiencing something like The Invisibles.
Originally published in three volumes from 1995 to 2000 from the Vertigo imprint of DC Comics — and now available in one complete omnibus edition — The Invisibles is the brainchild of writer Grant Morrison, and perhaps one of his finest and most complete works to date. For centuries, the Invisible College has worked in secret to combat forces that would see humanity enslaved through physical and psychic means. Their foes are the Archons of the Outer Church, extra-dimensional beings whose only desire is complete and utter control of the minds and heart of the human race. The Invisibles will use any means at their disposal — magic, time travel, psychic projection, guns — to free us and ensure our elevation to the next level of existence. As we tread quickly towards the end of the world we know and the beginning of the next, the Invisibles are always there, working in the shadows to prevent our complete and utter oppression. And where the Invisibles are, their opponents are not far behind.
Morrison weaves an enormous tapestry with this series, tying historical data with the wildest of conspiracy theories imaginable. No stone remains unturned in this series, as everything from alien abduction to the Marquis de Sade is laid out on the table for inspection. The world the Invisibles inhabit is certainly complicated, at times mind-boggling in its detail and contradiction, but at the same time refreshingly strident in its convictions. There is an intrinsic good and bad in the universe, or so we believe at first glance. But the deeper into this dark world we go — past the flash of a gun barrel and beyond the elegant gore of the enemy’s cloaked face — the more smoke is created in this massive conflagration. We’re never truly sure who the real enemy is, and how insidious their reach is within the very characters we come to root for. Is there really an Outer Church, or is that simply the backside of the Invisible College itself — two sides of the same coin — hurdling ever more decisively towards December 22, 2012, the morning after our supposed armageddon? This dilemma only gets more confounding as we read this narrative in a post-9/11 era, where terrorism, no matter what the cause, elicits a distinct knee-jerk reaction of antipathy. Where does the line fall between the fight for freedom and a spread of terror? Even the characters themselves rarely have the answer.
Broken down into potentially hundreds of cells, with relatively little communication amongst them, these Invisibles represent the height of Enlightenment individualism and opposition to societal abuses. Every cell consists of five members, exemplifying the core aspects of the metaphysical world — air, fire, water, earth and spirit. For most of the series, we follow a single British invisible cell, only getting peeks of and guest visits from other freedom fighters around the globe. At the center of the action is King Mob, a mystery novelist turned James Bond, and most commonly thought of as a direct representation of the author himself (He even takes on the nom de guerre of “Kirk Morrison” when interrogated ruthlessly by the enemy.). Mob is the spine upon which all three volumes and their characters attach themselves, and we’re treated to the inside of his head far more than almost any other figure. That said, there is an intense physicality to King Mob that drives much of the action, from his advanced martial arts training and bloody gun-fighting to his intense lovemaking with fellow Invisible Ragged Robin. Even his spirit form, sent back to the 1920s to unravel alchemical secrets, manages to copulate so furiously as to set a magical severed hand into five-dimensional motion. And as King Mob gets most out of control and unfocused, so too goes the team, spinning towards madness.
It’s difficult not to empathize with protagonists that want to free the world from endless submission, no matter what their means, particularly ones surrounded by such fascinating personal history. Lord Fanny, a Brazilian trans woman shaman, is truly a light throughout the series, exhibiting adept prowess at magic and psychic ability, not to mention a sharp tongue and even sharper sense of fashion. Lucille Butler, the conflicted operative known as Boy, was once part of the establishment herself, a New York City police officer whose brother disappeared after boarding a black train to one of the United States’ 23 secret concentration camps for dissidents. A troubled lad from Liverpool, Jack Frost is destined to be the new Buddha — the new age messiah who will ultimately usher mankind into its next state of being. His path towards enlightenment is both bloody and introspective, and he more than any other character represents doubt. Is any of this really happening, and if it is, what chance does humankind really have?
Ultimately, the ill-fated, time lost Ragged Robin is above all closest to my heart. Star of the deeply compelling second series, Robin is illustrated magnificently by that volume’s primary artist Phil Jimenez. While the work of many exemplary pencillers grace the pages of this enormous tome — including Jill Thompson, Chris Weston, and Steve Yowell — Jimenez’s crisp line and attention to detail serve Morrison’s story best of all, lending a sense of realism to an otherwise chaotic set of circumstances. His Robin, newly appointed leader and still a mystery to her comrades, is an exceptional beauty clad in a warrior’s garb of black leather and fishnet stockings, with sharply curved eyebrows just reaching around the edges of her Raggedy Ann-inspired face paint. It is through Robin that we come to understand much of Morrison’s grander plan, as time speeds up towards both the end of the world we know and the coronation of a new British king — an Archon who would bring about the utter devastation of the human spirit at the turn of the year 2000.
Truthfully, the sheer breadth of ideas Morrison spreads on this canvas is too overwhelming to take in on a single read — or a single analysis. Having read this story of relentless domination and heroic destruction more than a half dozen times, I’ve only begun to crack the seal on Morrison’s true genius. Morrison’s initial intention for The Invisibles was that it function as a hypersigil, a magical focal point for jumpstarting intellectual freedom in the years leading up to and beyond the millennium. Indeed, that magic permeates every page, reflecting Morrison’s own experience (legend tells of his own abduction by aliens, mirroring that which he wrote) and refracting it outwards towards the reader’s internal life as well. Beyond the mad conspiracy and shades of ultra-violence rests a story of genuine hope through perseverance and honor among compatriots. One needn’t believe every word of what Morrison writes to get to the core of the story — you only need to believe in the power of man, armed against overwhelming darkness, to experience a great appreciation for the battle he lays out before you on the page. And frankly, the conspiracy doesn’t need you to believe in it anyway. It’s going to get to you either way. Of that we can be certain.
Want more about The Invisibles? Return to The Idler in just two weeks to count down the end of the world and explore what comes next. Join us as we examine Morrison’s understanding of Supercontext, BARBELiTH, and the last days of humanity as we know it.
Matt Santori-Griffith owns one business suit, three pairs of shoes, and over 15,000 comic books. He is an art director for several non-profit organizations, senior editor for Comicosity.com, and still manages to find the time on dark nights and weekends to fight the good fight on Twitter.com in the guise of @FotoCub. He has not yet saved the world, but isn’t giving up quite yet.