Trouble with Comics

Christopher Allen on The Invisibles Vol. 1 Interlude: “Hexy”


Absolute Vertigo 1995

Writer: Grant Morrison

Artist: Duncan Fegredo

Vertigo Comics, from The Invisibles Omnibus $150 USD.

"Hexy" is a short King Mob solo adventure, from an anthology special highlighting then-current Vertigo series with exclusive original material. Fegredo has a much more aggressive style than Steve Yeowell’s on the previous Invisibles story arc, changing the position of the "camera" with every panel and using black borders around each panel, sometimes changing to a full bleed page with panels inset. Morrison has talked about King Mob being his avatar, the man he would will himself into being, and one has to believe Fegredo gets closer here than Yeowell did, as this Mob is more overtly violent and sexual, crotch thrust forward in tight trousers, torso exposed under open spiky leather jacket, and Mob is completely comfortable speaking with dominatrix Joni.

The reason he’s speaking to her is that someone has left him a fetish, a cursed object that will bring a bad hoodoo on him in short order, and he thinks Joni might have some answers. The story is packed with magical details, as if young magician Morrison is breathless to tell readers everything he’s learned so far. I found it kind of charming, but some might find it show-offy. 

Joni says he could reverse the hex current if he found the appropriate sigil of his antagonist, the implication being that when you’re an Invisible, you’re attuned to this kind of thing and will certainly find the right sigil eventually, but it just might not be in time to save you. Mob takes a drive, offering Morrison the opportunity to make a nice point in a radio broadcast Mob listens to about how easy it is to erode civil liberties when you get the public scared enough of boogeymen in their midst. Points for prescience.

Morrison also has Mob making an assertion that the English have a kind of inherited sadomasochism within them. It’s not explained, but really just serves as an aural trigger for the observant Mob to realize that his tormentor was actually Joni all along. He finds her torturing a politician and confronts her, her reason for betrayal simply money, in true ’40s film noir femme fatale fashion. Slipping down the wall, her hands staining it with her own blood, Mob finds in the blood the sigil he was after. He kills the dangling politician after finding the same sigil on his person, so apparently he was the one trying to kill Mob, not Joni? The politician weakly threatens that they’ll get Mob and the Invisibles in the end, before Mob suffocates him in his gimp mask. 

It’s a good-looking, moderately successful story that could, for all I know at this point, stand as a microcosm of The Invisibles series: lurid sex and easily justified ultraviolence against faceless villains mixed with esoteric philosophies and sparse social commentary. It will be interesting to see the comic’s battle between big dick and big brain.

—Christopher Allen

Christopher Allen on The Invisibles Vol. 1 #3

"Down and Out in Heaven and Hell Pt. 3"

Writer: Grant Morrison

Artist: Steve Yeowell

Vertigo Comics. From The Invisible Omnibus $150 USD

The first story arc of the series concludes this issue, with few surprises but it’s executed well. After a sweet scene of Dane and Tom O’Bedlam tossing the ol’ Frisbee around like best mates, Dane bids goodbye to his angry, ignorant childhood by firebombing his last stolen car. Tom, as expected, is ready to move on or die, having taught Dane as much as he can, but there has to be one very real leap of faith to complete the journey to becoming Jack Frost, his Invisibles codename.

They ascend to the top of a London skyscraper, Dane having already smoked some more of that magical blue mold, and then Tom grabs Dane’s hand, imploring him to trust him. And down we go. Dane lands alone, in the park, a huge red sun seemingly floating just above him, showering him with transforming radiation. It then changes colors and seems to follow him, reminding me of that horrific white ball from The Prisoner, before it finally changes into a facsimile of Saturn, burning orange and rainbow-ringed. 

Tom left Dane an address, and he finds the place, an empty schoolroom with a pink grenade with “Smile” on it sitting on the teacher’s desk, so much more useful than an apple. King Mob reappears (presumably the teacher), as does Ragged Robin, and the rest of the team is introduced: Boy, an African-Briton who so far only stands out for having one or two more earrings than King Mob, and the much more flamboyant Lord Fanny, the transvestite from issue #2 who gave Dane a five pound note. 

It’s kind of fun that King Mob says, “It’s a man’s life in the Invisible Army,” because having one woman and one transvestite (could be transsexual, not sure yet) on the team announces that we’re going to be handling superheroes and espionage and whatever kind of typically-macho genre story material in a different way, that the notions of what being a man is will go deeper than being virile and brave and being good with one’s fists or a gun. 

There’s also more interesting coloring in this issue, the lavenders offsetting the Saturn carrying over to the walls and signage on the next page as a sign that Dane has truly crossed over. Yeowell’s art looks about the best it has on the series, not so much that he’s changed much, but Morrison has given him more things to draw on each page. What I mean is, a page of Dane reacting to this moon/planet following him is more difficult, as it’s different angles of basically the same thing. But a page with Big Ben, then a close-up of a gold phone on a table with bloodstains, then a shadowy figure using that phone, with candelabra behind him, then a shot from outside the window looking in, and then outside the door—that’s diverse. Things are moving and changing. It gives Yeowell a better chance to succeed. When you give him a page that’s mostly talking, interest flags, because his staging is flat, he uses very ordinary grids, and they’re not always well-chosen, often leaving lots of negative space that drains the life from the panel. 

Anyway, the rest of the issue is mostly exposition and little teases of information. We find out the fox hunters were actually King Mob and the rest of the Invisibles, which I didn’t catch before. The shadowy figure name-drops Rex Mundi (which translates not so different from King Mob). We find out Harmony House was connected to this bad guy, so there are apparently some evil things they do that are pretty out in the open in the so-called real world. The bad guy (who is also, like King Mob, bald) dispatches agents Ragged Robin refers to as Myrmidons (which basically just means minions) to get the Invisibles. Dane is given a choice of taking off with the team or trying to survive on his own, and of course he makes the choice to go with the guys from the title of the book. We see Tom walk off down a darkened subway tunnel, and then the myrmidons show up, finding the Invisibles gone, but having left behind the Smile grenade with the pin pulled. Win. It’s not an elegant or startling issue, but everything in it was intriguing and the issue was much better paced than the previous two.

—Christopher Allen

Christopher Allen on The Invisibles Vol. 1 #3

"Down and Out in Heaven and Hell Pt. 2"

Writer: Grant Morrison

Artist: Steve Yeowell

Vertigo Comics. From The Invisibles Omnibus, $150 USD.

I noted that the second issue seemed to be a sort of rethink or regression from the first issue, a way to approach neophyte Dane’s entrance into the world of The Invisibles from a different angle. I suspect that part of the reason may be because Tom O’Bedlam makes for a better tour guide than King Mob, as a) he can couch his truths in enigmatic verse, and b) he’s old and probably expendable, his death showing Dane that the world beneath the world he knows is very real, and very dangerous.

Now, Tom is very much alive here, and as I’ve said, this is all new to me, so I could be wrong. This issue is relatively free of action and conflict, as the cliffhanger last issue regarding the evil men in fox-hunting garb is resolved for the moment with them capturing Dane but letting him go, telling him they can kill him any time they want, when he least expects it. Tom isn’t there to protect Dane, leading to an argument, but soon Tom starts to show Dane more of the power and knowledge at his fingertips, and this lasts the rest of the issue. Tom touches Dane, giving him black eyes like a pigeon, telling him that he and Dane are like the pigeons or rats, small, scurrying creatures who can get around because they’re hardly noticed. Not seeming to pose a threat is the essence of subversion, the foot in the door. He then puts Dane through a kind of primal scream therapy, removing the emotional dampeners “they” give us so we don’t feel anything and don’t question why things are the way the are (or seem to be). Dane is returned to a state of grace and innocence and awareness. 

Although not much happens in terms of moving forward the plot, this transformation is obviously important enough to Morrison that he even uses a full page of whiteness to depict it, a real luxury for a 22 page comic book. Yes, we do get a few bits filled in, such as confirming that Tom is an Invisible and a peer of King Mob, as well as hints that Dane’s father’s disappearance may have more to do with an evil plot than irresponsibility, but it’s enough that we finally break down Dane enough that maybe he can accept what he’s been shown and taught and then become a force against evil. I still have my misgivings about the artwork, but while it’s not all it could be, it works.

Christopher Allen on The Invisibles Vol. 1 #2

"Down and Out in Heaven and Hell Pt. 1"

Writer: Grant Morrison

Artist: Steve Yeowell

Vertigo Comics. From The Invisibles Omnibus $150 USD.

This issue feels like the first episode of a television series after the pilot, when some changes have been made. That’s not what happened here, of course; this issue was probably written before the first issue was drawn and it came out a month after the first issue was published. Still, after the first issue introduced Dane McGowan and got him together with King Mob, his would-be Invisibles mentor, one would expect that issue #2 would pick right up from there.

Instead, we find Dane a little older, homeless and begging on the London streets. King Mob did disappear at the end of the first issue, but it’s still a bit of a surprise that he’s been on his own since then. Before long, he meets a middle aged bum named Tom O’Bedlam, who’s prone to reciting verse—classics, limericks, and original rhymes that may or may not be meaningful or germane to what’s happening—and Dane follows Tom on a tour of a London he’s never seen, after Tom proves his credentials by somehow making Dane invisible to a policeman. During this, we see a young woman hunted like a fox by red-jacketed hunters, apparently murdered. 

Tom tells Dane that there are layers to London, different Londons than the one he sees, and he helps him see this when they smoke some blue mold growing in an unused underground train line. Up to this point, Steve Yeowell’s art has been suitable, as we’re still dealing with the mundane world of right angles and rigid lines that we think of as reality. But Morrison has written a drug trip scene here. While it doesn’t have to be swirly and psychedelic, necessarily—this hidden London is after all said to be as real as the clearly visible one—it nonetheless must be a revelation to the reader, a dazzling invitation to a deep, fascinating world that Morrison is going to be realizing and developing from here on. We get a sufficient, intentionally confusing sequence of small panels, in which it seems that Dane goes through some kind of initiation involving being scarred on the forehead by an alien. It’s okay. Having it as small panels makes them harder to stand out or have much detail, but making them small makes you look closer at them, studying, so it works as storytelling rather than attractive art. It’s functional. But when druggy Dane marvels at the colors emanating from a streetlight, and to us it just looks like any other streetlight, something is wrong. When they pass a statue of a bearded, sitting, crowned man named Urizen floating in the harbor, that needs to stand out as unusual, marvelous. I don’t know London, but it wouldn’t be hard to convince me that this statue actually exists. Again, something is wrong. It reminds me of a couple weeks ago, when I wanted to show someone Terence Malick’s The Tree of Life, which is a visually stunning film that also has some challenging sound design, with long stretches of operatic music and some almost whispered, extremely important, voiceover. We were at a house she was watching, and since they didn’t have a blu-ray player, I brought the dvd version that came in the blu-ray package. So that’s a slight downgrade right there. But then, since she hadn’t played a dvd on this setup before, we were somehow only getting sound through the TV speakers or the middle channel or something, barely audible. It just wasn’t going to work until we finally figured out the right button to press. I just didn’t have the right method of delivering this experience properly. That’s what Yeowell’s art is here, the wrong method of delivery for Morrison’s ideas. It’s not that he’s bad, but he’s not up to the task. 

The issue ends with the fox-hunting villains finding Dane, imploring him to make a run for it so they can have a bit of sport. There are two more issues to go with this storyline, in which I’m guessing Dane will find out not only more about these hunters, but that he can’t make it on his own without the help of The Invisibles. One thing I did like about the issue was a bit where Dane is selling a newspaper and gets a fiver from a transvestite. He makes a homophobic comment to Tom, who seems to be beyond such things, so it looks like Morrison will be exploring this subject as well, like if you’re an Invisible and see beyond the illusions meant to keep us in line and unquestioning, you’ll evolve beyond these limiting prejudices. Again, though, even beyond the artistic shortcomings, it felt like Morrison has sort of lost the momentum of the first issue for what amounts to not a continuation of that story but more of just another version of the same story—the punk kid being taken in hand and shown there’s more to life than what he sees. It’s doubly odd that the events in the first issue—the horror at Harmony House—took place in the “real” world, and yet was much stranger than the fox hunters or anything else seen here in the unseen London. 

—Christopher Allen