Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Learn To Be Invisible

We all have types. Funny books. Dark books. Various tropes. Long books. Dragons.

One of my various types is the big book. Not physically, but in terms of the ideas, the sense of scale built into it. Books that make me think and go wow.

Closely related are books that are batshit insane.

In celebration of the Big Book tag on Wyrd & Wonder, let me tell you about one of the biggest, maddest stories of all. Let me tell you about The Invisibles.

The case for the prosecution in the case of Sensible Reality vs The Invisibles is strong. Consider the following evidence:

Exhibit A - Grant Morrison claims to have received the idea for the story after being abducted by aliens in Kathmandu.

Exhibit B - When sales flagged and there were fears of the series being cancelled, Morrison suggested a simultaneous wankathon by fans in order to magically increase sales

Exhibit C - Morrison attributes time spent in hospital when writing it due to a magical connection between him and his author avatar in the story

Of course, the defence might submit the idea that Morrison is simply a man well-versed in the making of outrageous claims for the sake of PR. Certainly he has form there. Nevertheless, the prosecution presents this evidence for the sake of building a more informed picture. Having done so, let us move on to the main evidence.

Exhibit D - The Invisibles itself. It is a sprawling story where the members of the Invisible College fight in every possible way to resist the subjugation of humanity by the Outer Church, alien gods who've fettered us with chains of control. In doing so, the various characters enlist the Marquis de Sade to help build a better society, play chess with Satan, join conspiracies led by the King in Yellow, travel through time repeatedly, fight through a number of government facilities, are hunted by sickle-wielding toffs... and the list goes on.

A product of conspiracy culture and a seemingly omnivorous interest in the weird, Morrison takes every opportunity to make The Invisibles surreal and provocative. Even stripped of all meaning, it entertains as a trip, a catalogue of ideas thrown at the reader in a near-feverish rush. One moment a kid is recalling young love in Liverpool, the next they're fighting weird things in alien armour. One moment they facedown rednecks in a bar, the next it's rain dances in New Mexico. I enjoy the Urban Fantasy filled with detectives and Sidhe, shadowy mercenaries and Vampires, but this form of eclectic madness should have just as big a part to play.

The size of the conceit itself alone however does not make it big. It is the size of the ideas. Morrison says he wrote The Invisibles as a hypersigil, a spell aimed at changing humanity for the better, and whatever your beliefs about magic, the comics carry that out. Morrison is preaching here, although he's wise enough to let the story do most of the talking. At first it is a fairly simple message of Fornicate The Man but as the story marches on, the question of who The Man is and how you stick it to him gets more thorny. Take the following exchange:

King Mob: "Do you think we can stop bastards like us telling everybody how to live their lives - without killing them?"
Jack Frost: "You got to make friends with them. Make friends with them until they beg for mercy."

It's not King Mob's first or last admission that in his way, he's just as controlling and just as big a bastard as those he fights. But it is one of the biggest ones. And as King Mob is Morrison's author avatar, it is Morrison's admission too. There are so many ways you can binarily divide the world and if one of them is those fighting to enforce authority vs those fighting against them is one, there's also those trying to enforce their view on the world vs those who are not. The nature of the view is often less important than the willingness to enforce it, for there are so many ways to enforce it.

Violence, the foremost of them, is an understandable part of human nature, often glamourous. Sometimes it is necessary. The surest consequence of violence though is not the solving of problems but trauma, followed by more violence, something hammered brutally home by the issue Best Man Fall. The Invisibles wage bloody war against their enemies but it is not how the final victory will be won and it never was a war. It was a rescue mission all along and it will be accomplished by healing, by exorcism, and by love.

This is the arrow pointing at the big message of The Invisibles, a big, unevenly presented, sometimes contradicted message that has changed my thinking like very few other books. Morrison wants us to discard the ideas of tribe and identity that make us each other's enemies, make us prisoners of humanity's worst rather than psychonauts of our best, starting by making friends where ever possible. It might seem crazy and utopian but looking at the world we live in, surely crazy and utopian beats crazy and dystopian. Who knows? Maybe we're moving to this world. As The Invisibles shows, sometimes the birth of a new world is a painful and difficult thing.

Maybe someday our sentence will be up.

But if that never happens - or if you never agree with the message - The Invisibles is still a looney tunes whacked-out thrill ride that's really worth reading.

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