Saturday, 26 April 2014

The Invisibles, Volume 4: Bloody Hell In America Review (Grant Morrison, Phil Jimenez)

Set a year after his torture session with Sir Miles, King Mob is resting up in America with Robin while the others swan about New York City. They meet Jolly Roger, leader of another Invisibles cell, who has lost all of her team members after a failed strike against an underground government facility where they discovered the cure to AIDS, and decide to team up to liberate the cure.

Changing tack from the last volume, Grant Morrison gives us a slim, faster-paced volume collecting four issues of a singular storyline rather than the usual eight-issue volumes that gleefully jump about the place. And I suppose that’s a concession and/or appeal to make The Invisibles more appealing to a larger audience, but it’s only a half-hearted one that doesn’t quite work because Morrison just can’t do dumb action - he has to to throw in elements of history, cross-cultural magical rites, semi-philosophical discussions, and so on! 

But you can more or less follow what’s happening - the Invisibles storm a Bond villain hideout and win, basically. This involves an interesting mix of stereotypical and original moments like lots of guns being fired while running around and messing about with plastic explosives, while also psychically battling a midget in a noh mask and masturbating to bring about a deadly hail storm. 

I like that Morrison’s expanding the world a bit more by introducing other Invisibles cells who’ve only been mentioned so far and, besides Jim Crow, we haven’t seen yet. Phil Jimenez’s art is outstanding as well with incredibly imaginative layouts and awesome character designs - I particularly liked his rendering of King Mob’s hairy war mask that makes him look like both Han Solo and Chewbacca in one! 

But there’s a lot of things about the book - and I suppose the series so far - that irritated me. We’re over the halfway point now and though we’ve gotten to know some of the characters a bit, they’re all still pretty much undeveloped. Robin in particular remains a complete blank but she’s now been made the new leader and features prominently in this volume. Yet all we know about Robin is that she’s apparently eight years old (but looks to be in her twenties), she wears clown makeup (ironically parodying makeup in general?) and she’s now in a relationship with King Mob (which, if she is really eight, makes him a paedo!).

The problem, for me anyway, goes beyond knowing very little about the characters - what little I do know about them just isn’t very endearing. When Lord Fanny, Jack Frost and Boy make their entrance (and it is an entrance), they stand in the doorway, posing and yelling out their arrival as if they should be greeted with a standing ovation. Throughout the book the characters do “cool” things like going to “spiritual” places and drop LSD while talking about visions they’ve had; other times proving how progressive they are by showing up ordinary peoples’ prejudices against trannies and/or homosexuals; they have tantric sex (because regular sex isn’t chic) and talk about the movies of the day and their secret meanings. Basically I realised the Invisibles are very self-aware that they’re “cool” and come off as obnoxious showoffs that in real life I would cross the street to avoid. 

The book, and series, is very dated, especially in that scene where they’re talking about current movies like Speed, Pulp Fiction, and Independence Day, not to mention the recurring mentions of “smart drinks” (a staple of the 90s rave scene, which Morrison was a part of) and Kula Shaker records (Bing it). It’s not just the films though, it’s the banal interpretations of the films that I think a lot of readers of this comic would have already heard - that Marsellus Wallace’s soul being in the briefcase, etc. - being repeated, or else ascribing an overly-intellectual meaning to a piece of shlock, like saying Speed is an allegory about the end of the world. It goes back to not liking the characters and because they’re coming off as more and more pretentious. And you can’t get more dated than an actual date that was the future then and is now the past to us - Morrison puts the apocalypse down as December 22, 2012… 

Morrison continues to pursue the theme of individual identity over conformity but fails to develop it further. The same arguments are brought up as they were earlier in the series. King Mob guiding one of his crew into reminding them of their training to overcome the mental conditioning of the evil government types, while the baddies sit around and talk about how they want everything to be homogenised and sterile. It’s getting repetitive now and has the opposite effect that Morrison’s going for - it’s become a stale and tired message. 

The story didn’t grab me, partly because I’m not really into conspiracy theories so “shockingly” revealing that they’re true didn’t make it more exciting to read, and partly because there’s not much of a story here to begin with. It’s straightforward dull action featuring anti-heroes I’m increasingly becoming ambivalent to against cliched bad guys behaving in over-the-top evil ways, most of whom are actual monsters! I can understand what’s happening but I’m not really that invested in it or anyone in the book. 

I think at this point in the series, if I’m not liking the characters, I don’t think I’ll ever like them - that might change, and I hope it does, towards the end, but I’m going to bet that it doesn’t. I’m starting to get the creeping sensation that The Invisibles will go down as one of those Grant Morrison titles that simply wasn’t for me. I’m still going to see where the series ends though (not least because I’ve bought the remaining three volumes already!) and hope I’ll become more drawn in as we near the end. 

By the way, the correct Oppenheimer quote is “Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds” not “shatterer of worlds” - what a weird thing to get wrong!

The Invisibles: Bloody Hell In America

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