Trouble with Comics
TWC Question Time #25 Romance!

This week’s question: What’s your favorite romance in comics?

Logan Polk: Thanos is one of my favorite characters. I think he’s endlessly compelling when handled right, and a big part of that is his love life. So, my favorite romance in all of comics has to be Thanos and Death. Okay, it’s more of an obsessive and unrequited love than an actual romance, but it’s a story that I’ve followed for most of my comics reading life, and one I still find completely fascinating. To want the approval and affection of someone so much that you would seek godhood and attempt to wipe entire portions of the galaxy out of existence? That’s an epic love story. What can I say, I’ve always been a fan of the bad guys just as much (or more) than the good guys.

Tim Durkee: Even though it is not as popular as his first fling with the human Lois Lane, I enjoy the chemistry between Superman and Wonder Woman. I was first introduced to their relationship with the Kingdom Come miniseries, an Elseworlds tale. That is a story that does not take place in the current time frame of stories in the DC Universe. I’m not sure if he was seeing the Amazon on the side and decided to go full-time after Lois Lane’s death, sorry for the spoiler. They both are also an item in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight universe. More spoilers: Superman and WW have a child together and another on the way. The impression is that there was still a relationship between Clark and Lois before Lois’s death. I can understand Lois being all gaga over the Man of Steel, I just can’t see him seeing any interest in her, so having him with the most powerful woman in the DCU makes more sense to me. Now, the new 52 universe has them together, so I’m told. I have read some reviews about them together. Some love hate, more hate it. I am curious what direction the DCU films will take with the introduction of Wonder Woman.

Mike Sterling: I never really paid much attention to romance in comics when I was younger. Generally, that was for good reason; in most of the superhero comics, it wasn’t so much “romance” as “plot point” or “character description.” You know, “Lois is Superman’s girlfriend” or “Iris is Flash’s wife” or whatever. Love interests existed to be threatened by villains, or to be nosy about secret identities, or to be pined over, or whathaveyou. It was a technical point, not an emotional connection.

So, as will come as no surprise to most of you who are familiar with my online shenanigans, it was the romance that popped up in, of all places, Swamp Thing that caught me off guard.

Yes, Swamp Thing, the comic about a monster who fights other monsters while hangin’ out with pals who are related to monsters or are monsters themselves. That’s where a comic book romance finally hit home with me, and yeah yeah make your jokes, but it was one of the most totally out-of-nowhere-but-yeah-of-COURSE moments I’d ever read in a comic at that point. I’m talking about Saga of Swamp Thing #34 (March 1985) by Alan Moore, Steve Bissette and John Totleben, where Abby tells Swamp Thing of her feelings for him, exclaiming “how could you love me?” Swampy’s response: “Deeply…silently…and…for too many…years.”

That pair of awkward admissions between a couple of characters I’ve been reading about for so long…that was the sort of honest emotion that’s not present in the eternal running-in-place of Superman and Lois, or most other superhero books. Particularly for someone like me, who’d been invested in these characters and was suddenly blindsided by this step forward, a change in the status quo in a storytelling industry that doesn’t like changes in the status quo.

Naturally, the relationship was fuel for melodrama, as this is comics, after all. Abby getting up to some plant-lovin’ becoming fodder for tabloid journalists, losing her job as a result, etc. etc. – all part and parcel of the soap opera style of funnybook storytelling, but through everything, Swamp Thing and Abby felt like an actual, and oddly normal (or as normal as they could manage) couple.
It didn’t last, sadly. Now, a couple of Swamp Thing series and a line-wide reboot of the shared DC universe later, Swamp Thing and Abby's life together is no longer at the center of Swampy’s adventures. It's nice, though, to recall a time when I could be genuinely surprised at a turn of events in a comic book. And not the usual "THIS ISSUE - SOMEBODY DIES!“ type of nonsense that’s no longer really working anyway - but just a couple of characters that you’ve read about for several years, quietly and shyly admitting their feelings to each other.


Joe Gualtieri: Growing up, I was the weirdo in your group of comic-loving friends, the one with really weird taste. You see, I vastly preferred Cyclops (Scott Summers) to Wolverine.

As the kid in your class who literally would remind the teacher to give the class homework, I suspect this is part of why Scott Summers appealed to me, along with the hyper-competence. I suspect it’s also worth noting that my first X-title was X-Factor #65, and I started regularly reading with X-Men #1, so more than five years after the ugliness with Madelyne Pryor occurred, and a couple years after Pryor was firmly established as a clone of Jean Grey created by Sinister, so that controversy was essentially a settled matter when I began reading. So I was Cyclops fan, and I was really into his relationship with Jean Grey. When John Byrne and Fabian Nicieza teased an affair with Psylocke, I didn’t take it seriously as storyline (nor, rereading those issues, should I have. There’s nothing there, really). Years later though, when Stephen T. Seagle hinted at real cracks in their relationship, I was apoplectic, and wanted him off the comic, which happened not long after, and after a few terrible issue by Alan Davis, I dropped the X-Men comics for the first time in about eight years. I soon started buying them again, as Davis finally did “The Twelve”, a story the X-books had teased since the late 80s. That arc ended with Cyclops apparently dying after being possessed by the soul of Apocalypse (this is all actually relevant). That was basically it for Davis, as Chris Claremont returned to the X-title for a disastrous run both creatively and n terms of sales. Marvel’s Editor in Chief Bob Harras was basically fired over it, he was replaced by Joe Quesada, who brought in Grant Morrison to revitalize the X-franchise. Oh, and Scott Summers returned from the dead prior to Morrison’s run starting in New X-Men #114.

Morrison’s run infamously begins with the line, “Wolverine. You can probably stop doing that now” foreshadowing how the series would focus on the idea of change and nowhere would Morrison affect more change than in the character of Cyclops. Following his resurrection, Summers’s marriage to Jean Grey is in tatters, the two not having touched each other for five months. Cue Emma Frost joining the team. She almost immediately hits on  Summers, and Morrison leaves the result of her come-on ambiguous at first. Gradually, it’s revealed that the pair involved, but only psychically, as a sort of sexual therapy for Cyclops. Jean Grey-Summers learns about it at the end of “Riot at Xaviers”, and the fallout carries into the first part of “Murder at the Mansion”. To Jean, the affair is just as real even if it’s happening on the psychic plane, and it soon turns out that despite her detached demeanor, Frost has real feelings for Summers. The reveal comes on one of my all-time favorite pages (drawn by Phil Jimenez) as she break down in Wolverine’s arms, the panel layout narrows until she has to ask, “Why did I have to fall in love with Scott Bloody Summers?”

The relationship hits the back-burner for the series from there until the final arc, “Here Comes Tomorrow” (the title an allusion to James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake), a new take on “Days of Future Past” where the key moment is Summers walking away from Frost at Grey’s grave (she died at the end of the previous arc). Jean Grey, in a superhero afterlife, heals reality, urging “Live. Scott.” Which prompts him to embrace Frost, after answering her question, “Don’t you want to inherit the Earth” with “I… yes.” The “yes” and scenario reads as a gender-flipped allusion to Molly Blooms long soliloquy that closes Joyce’s Ulysses:

[…]how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will yes.

As the Blooms do not have a perfect relationship, but love each other, the allusion suggests that rather than the story-book, “perfect” romance of Scott Summers and Jean Grey, Summers and Emma Frost will have a more realistic and messier relationship. Subsequent comics certainly bore this out and while the relationship seems to have run its course (plus Cyclops is dead again), the beginnings of their relationship make it my favorite in comics.

TWC Question time #23: First Appearance

This week’s question: what’s your favorite debut by a comics character or team?

Mike Sterling: For my favorite first appearance of a team, I’m going to go with a comic that hasn’t particularly aged well, but still holds some nostalgic value with me. All-Star Squadron, DC’s attempt in the ‘80s at a new super-team book set in World War II (on Earth 2, no less) began life as a 16-page insert in Justice League of America #193 (1981). Now, those inserts were very effective on Young Mike, basically giving you a second whole-other funnybook in a comic you’d already plunked your fifty cents (or whatever) down for. That’s how DC got you to check out New Teen Titans (inserted into DC Comics Presents) or Blue Devil (in an issue of Fury of Firestorm) and a handful of other titles. Marvel follows a similar strategy now, putting full issues of recent debuts in other, more popular comics…most recently including Vision #1 as a back-up in Spider-Man/Deadpool, but perhaps I’m getting slightly off-topic.

Placing that All-Star Squadron insert in Justice League of America was certainly well-planned, given that the JLA regularly crossed over with their Earth 2 counterparts, the Justice Society. That was definitely how I was introduced to those characters, discovering that there was a whole parallel universe featuring older counterparts (and entirely different superheroes) to the familiar heroes of the League. Here’s Superman…and here’s older Superman. Whoa. And now here’s All-Star Squadron, set back in the 1940s when these Earth 2 characters were in their prime, and in an entirely separate team from the Justice Society so that writer Roy Thomas could do his patented continuity plug-ins without too badly disrupting what had already gone on before in those actually-published-in-the-1940s All-Star Comics that featured the JSA. 

And it was those continuity plug-ins that was a huge part of the appeal. It was through All-Star Squadron (and especially in a contemporaneous related mini-series, the history-spanning footnote extravaganza America Vs. The Justice Society) that readers were introduced to characters and situations from those old issues of All-Star Comics. There may have been the occasional “AS SEEN IN ALL-STAR COMICS #17” editorial note, which, you know, sure ol’ Roy had a full run but a fat lot of good that did most of us reading the comic, but it still spoke of a long legacy to these characters, an unseen history aside from maybe the rare reprint in one of DC’s digests. All-Star Squadron gave us kids a new appreciation of what had come before, and for that I am grateful to that unexpected insert in that long-ago issue of Justice League

As I’d said, the appreciation is more nostalgic than anything else. Going back and rereading them as an adult, the flaws become more obvious, the clunky storytelling more apparent. I can appreciate the effort put into the title, but to more modern sensibilities it’s rough going. Even that beloved America Vs. The Justice Society has become bit of a slog, even with the nice art (sabotaged though it was DC’s unfortunate early flirtation with flexographic printing). Even still, I’m quite fond of that old All-Star Squadron insert. To be frank, I couldn’t even tell you exactly what happened in that debut installment, only that I was still young enough to be excited by the prospect of a new comic book showing me adventures and characters I hadn’t experienced before. That’s a valuable memory all by itself.

Logan Polk: This August will mark the twentieth anniversary of the debut of Aztek, the Ultimate Man. Created by Grant Morrison, Mark Millar and N. Steven Harris, I still remember being blown away by that first issue. It was almost the antithesis to what was so very popular (and sadly still is), the grim n’ gritty superhero. So much so that we see the as-yet-unnamed Aztek take on a Punisher knock-off named Bloodtype in the first issue. Bloodtype is attempting to stop a robbery by a low level villain with lethal force, and as happens in the world of caped crusaders, the would be hero happens to be in line at the time and eventually comes to the defense of the pummeled bad guy. I still get a kick out of the fact that Millar would go on to write some incredibly dark material and Morrison went on to have a lengthy run on Batman, concepts and a character they are pretty much taking down a peg with the first issue of Aztek. I haven’t revisited it the book in awhile, but it’s a character whose first appearance definitely had an impact on me, and made me rethink what I wanted from superhero comics.

Joe Gualtieri: I’m cheating slightly with my answer, in several ways. Back in 1996, at the conclusion of the Onslaught saga, Marvel killed off the Fantastic Four and the Avengers. Hard to believe in this day in age, but sales were not great, so they hired Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld to try their hand those books, free of regular Marvel continuity for a year. With a chunk of the line gone, Marvel revived some old concepts (Heroes for Hire) gave some newer characters their own on-going series for the first time (Deadpool) and put out one all-new book, with some incredibly generic looking characters, titled Thunderbolts by Kurt Busiek and Mark Bagley.

The team first appeared in Incredible Hulk #449, which hinted at secret for the team. From there, they briefly appeared in Tales of the Marvel Universe (mostly a preview book for the post-Onslaught line, like the All-New Marvel specials today). Both of these stories, however, occur-in universe after Thunderbolts #1, so in a way, it is still the teams debut. As expected from those generic ads, Thunderbolts #1 is pretty boring. Competent, but boring. The team consists of Citizen V (the team patriot), Techno (the tech guy), Atlas (the big, strong guy), Meteorite (the hard-nosed female character), Songbird (the ingénue), and Mach-1 (the guy in a powered suit). Then, about three-pages from end, while the rest of the team is watching about themselves on TV, Citizen V strolls in without his mask on, and also without a face, because he’s actually Helmut Zemo and the whole team are members of his Masters of Evil team from Roger Stern’s “Under Siege” story that ran in Avengers #270-277 (so again, not really the team’s first appearance).

It’s impossible to imagine this happening today. Someone would leak something to a rumor site or Marvel would tell a mainstream news outlet the Tuesday before Thunderbolts #1 hit shelves. At the time, this was something a friend told you about, and told you nothing about it except that you absolutely had to go buy Thunderbolts. That twist is one of my all-time favorite moments reading comics, and one bolstered by how great the subsequent eleven issues are, as Busiek and Bagley explore how being seen as heroes affects (or doesn’t) the Thunderbolts. Of course, the book lasted past that initial arc as well, becoming a Marvel mainstay.

Things I Think About When I Think About Batman by d.emerson eddy


1. Batman Always Wins.

2. Although definitely not the most famous, longest, or even necessarily the “best”, my favourite run will always be the one in the early to mid ‘90s by Doug Moench and Kelley Jones.  When not interrupted by catastrophic life-changing “everything will never be the same events,” their run focused on some of the weird and supernatural aspects around Batman.  While not an outright horror title, they did touch the darker corners of the DCU, even managing to pull of a “kind of” crossover with Vertigo’s Swamp Thing at the time.  It also was decidedly fun.

3. Keeping with this theme, I always thought that Batman stories tended to work best when either touching upon the horror/supernatural or straight-out mystery/detective genres.  Stories that pay homage to his pulp inspirations always seem to pop better for me.

4. I really liked what Grant Morrison was trying to do with Batman and the story he was trying to tell.  It really seemed to come together with Batman & Robin but I still feel interruptions and then a linewide reboot/relaunch/reshuffling really messed up the pacing, timing, and endgame.

5. Legends of the Dark Knight is probably my favourite Batman series.  Just so many good stories including “Shaman”, “Masks”, “The Sleeping”, “Prey”, and “Gothic” were told in that series.

Graphic Language Podcast Ep. 001 with Yan Basque and Alan David Doane

Yan Basque and Alan David Doane’s Graphic Language is Trouble With Comics’s new weekly podcast (check out last week’s zero episode). This week, we discuss a couple of Grant Morrison titles, Dark Knight III (or is it IV?) and more. We welcome your questions, suggested subjects and feedback. You can email us anytime.

WARNING: Contains graphic language and language about graphics.

Direct Download: Graphic Language Ep. 001

Ep. 001 Notes:

:00-:52 - Important discussion of recent viral internet video.
:52-1:08 - Graphic Language Theme by Great Vowel Shift.
1:08-1:44 - Introduction.
1:44-28:50 - Joe the Barbarian and Flex Mentallo discussion. Also discussed: Marvel Boy, All-Star Superman.
28:50-31:56 - Ta-Nehisi Coates is new Black Panther writer. Also discussed: Ms. Marvel.
31:56-39:13 - Dark Knight III: The Master Race
39:13-40:33 - Conclusion.

Join the conversation about comics with the writers of Trouble With Comics. Head over to Facebook and join our new TWC Readers Group.

Grant Morrison’s Eroding Significance Apparently Bothers Him Very, Very Much

I understand completely why Grant Morrison is so insecure about his place in comics history in comparison to Alan Moore, but someone should really explain to Morrison how much weaker and more inferior he ironically makes himself appear with such verbose defensiveness. The work of the two writers should speak for itself, Grant, and let history decide how much you did or didn’t matter. This piece reminds me, more than anything, of Straczynski’s desperate, pathetic need to justify his participation in Before Watchmen by tearing Moore down, despite the fact that the worst thing Moore ever wrote is twice as interesting and enduring as the best thing Straczynski ever did. The last couple sentences of this article at The Comics Reporter really say all that needs to be said.

Alan David Doane 

Christopher Allen on The Invisibles Vol. 1 #7

“Arcadia Part 3: 120 Days of Sod All”

Writer: Grant Morrison

Artist: Jill Thompson

Vertigo Comics, from The Invisible Omnibus $150 USD

I have to hand it to Morrison: only half a year into the series and he spends a issue on Sadeian cruelty and depravity, challenging material for a publishing imprint very early in its lifetime, its “edgy” material thus far mostly to do with extreme but not overtly sexualized violence. The title is an English pun on the Marquis de Sade’s famous, unfinished novel, 120 Days of Sodom, in which four rich noblemen in an inaccessible castle commit unspeakable acts of depravity on teen girls and boys, with the assistance of brothel keepers and studs, servants and others. The book was only found in 1904 and almost destroyed by the French government in 1955, though it has come to be respected by some as a satire on the lofty goals of The Enlightenment.

King Mob, Boy and de Sade himself, who we saw plucked from his timeline and plunged into their time machine, find themselves observing this fiction, which, while not part of the plan, is according to Mob unavoidable. They just have to get through it until they find the exit, or the next stage on their journey. And yes, I’ve already forgotten just what the journey is about, but I think it had to do with getting away from the murderous Orlando, who had appeared in their time. They’re only metaphysically successful, as Orlando has found their corporeal forms, and has cut off the pinkie of the awakened Jack Frost. His protestations awaken Lord Fanny, who fights Orlando to no avail. He seems beyond physical pain, a malevolent force. Again, he appears like a dark half of King Mob, also bald and fashionably dressed. 

We also find Ragged Robin on her own, meeting a man at Rennes-le-Chateau who tells her of the church’s history, explored in 2003 in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code but long before then legendary for various conspiracy theories relating to treasure and certain odd features of the church, such as the Devil figure supporting the holy water stoup (rare but not unique) and a Latin inscription Morrison translates as “This place is terrible,” but is more accurately, “This is a place of awe.” As I’ve written before, I find Morrison’s knowledge dumps pretty entertaining, and I like his enthusiasm to try to tie whatever he’s been reading into this work, though he is starting to build up enough of a Jenga of famous people and places that it seems in danger of falling apart if he can’t pull it off.

We catch up with Lord Byron and The Shelleys, Percy mourning the death by dysentery of his daughter and speculating that Byron should be proud to be proved right, his cynicism trumping Shelley’s idealism and naivete. But Byron takes no pleasure in this, and attempts to take Mary Shelley’s mind off her grief with talk of his new romantic poem, Mazeppa. an interesting choice, as the poem is a transitional one for Byron, marking an uneasy end of his romantic period and the start towards the irony of Don Juan. It will be interesting to see where Morrison’s sympathies lie most, as so far, The Invisibles has been mostly earnest, with humor not generally of the ironic type.

Mary is here made of sterner stuff than Percy, but at the same time a staunch defender of the right of the poet to suffering (essentially, navel-gazing and obsessing), as, “They steal the power of creation from the gods. They remake the world with words and in the image of their dreams.” Through Mary, Morrison is giving himself license to embroider his growing tapestry of conspiracy, philosophy and sexuality as much as he wants, as it’s nigh unto a holy calling. And, you know, what writer wouldn’t agree?

The degradations of Castle Silling take up a large portion of this issue, and they’re about as unpleasant as intended, though it’s still probably PG-13 or a soft R. There’s an interesting decision, presumably by colorist Daniel Vozzo, to render most of these scenes in browns and tans, thus muting the impact of the cruelties performed. That is, it’s all still there, not obscured, but the coloring fits Morrison’s idea that these noblemen, trying to push the limits of Reason, reach a creative dead-end. Perverting or willfully disintegrating their humanity, they lack the necessary tools (love, compassion, imagination) to reach true Enlightenment. Their stagnancy is represented in rather simple visuals as a harsh winter giving way to the Spring flowers emerging from the snow, the true Enlightenment that The Invisibles represent. 

We end with Robin seeing the mole-like Ciphermen again, who, while ostensibly enemies when we first met them, nonetheless lead her to something they believe she wanted to find: the head of John the Baptist, lost treasure of the Templars.

–Christopher Allen

Christopher Allen on The Invisibles Vol. 1 #6

“Arcadia Part Two: Mysteries of the Guillotine”

Writer: Grant Morrison

Artist: Jill Thompson

Vertigo Comics, from The Invisibles Omnibus $150 USD

As with the middle of the first story arc, Morrison gets a bit jammed up with a multitude of ideas and attitudes he wants to get across, leaving artist Thompson with some crammed pages she does her best to make interesting. The Invisibles are in Revolution-era Paris, looking for a local agent who will take them to the Marquis de Sade, whom they will then transport back to their timeline, presumably to help counter enemy Orlando, who we find at the end of the issue going on a kill spree. Why de Sade? Who knows? He doesn’t know anything about The Invisibles, but perhaps Morrison is choosing historical figures (artists and authors–creative types–it should be noted) who thought outside the box relative to their era, so maybe the idea is that free thinking is a kind of superpower.

Jack Frost is sick, which King Mob says shouldn’t be happening, as they aren’t even corporeal, so maybe there’s some kind of psychic malaise which affects neophyte Jack more strongly. We meet Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, author of Frankenstein and wife of Percy from last issue, and a mysterious, unaging man boards her carriage and expresses admiration for her work as well as the work of her mother, a suffragette. He’s creepy but again, on the right side of supporting the power of the intellect vs. traditional notions of the way the world works, what women can achieve, etc.

There’s a new menace introduced, The Ciphermen, which sound quite a bit like the Cybermen from Doctor Who and aren’t thematically that different. They have lost their humanity, in this case by subliminal transmissions, though why that causes them to dress up in leather and gas masks and create illusions, Morrison doesn’t explain. They look good, though. But of course, King Mob is prepared, with a weapon that disintegrates the illusions, called the Ghostbuster. There’s a bit of action, and then The Invisibles meet de Sade, who is obese and useless, self-pitying, and nonplussed at seeing the Ciphermen feed on a female corpse, even though he has imagined and written about various outrages on female flesh. They grab de Sade and hightail it back to 1995, whereupon Orlando is waiting, taking Jack’s pinky finger off with garden shears for fun.

Christopher Allen on The Invisibles Vol. 1 #5

“Arcadia Part One: Bloody Poetry”

Writer: Grant Morrison

Artist: Jill Thompson

From The Invisibles Omnibus, Vertigo, $150 USD.

The issue opens with King Mob witnessing an Indian puppet show, the Dalang (puppeteer) depicting a battle from The Mahabharata. Mob’s friend, Agus, tells him that the Dalang is more than just a puppeteer. He makes you believe you are witnessing a war, but there is no war, only the Dalang. It’s a testament to Morrison’s belief in the storyteller as God, or how a man–not just a writer, any man–can will their own reality into being. 

He follows this with a full page of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Julian and Maddalo, a naturalistic, conversational poem/dialogue said to be inspired by the different viewpoints of Shelley (optimistic, Atheist) vs. his dear friend Lord Byron (cynical, raging). We then see Byron and Shelley holidaying together, drinking wine on a beach and then in a gondola, Shelley claiming that the present is not important, because their words will live on, will make them immortal, and that man can make his own utopia if he doesn’t succumb to despair, while Byron argues that all utopias (Arcadia is another word for paradise) are built on human suffering. If you’re wondering what happened to The Invisibles, well, we’ll get to that, but these sections are vital to the series even if they don’t necessarily move the plot forward.

There’s nothing writers hate worse than critics trying to discern their motives, but I’ve read enough of Morrison’s own words about himself in countless interviews to have an idea what’s going on here. Now, while this section reminded me a bit of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, in how Gaiman opened the book up from horror and fantasy to bring in real-life dreamers like Shakespeare, I have no idea if Morrison was inspired by that. At the least, though, it’s probably reasonable to assume that the wide-ranging Sandman (and Morrison’s editor, Stuart Moore), let him know that virtually anything was fair game for The Invisibles, as Gaiman had already found success with the approach.

I recall that somewhere around this time, Morrison was traveling a lot, doing drugs, and searching for knowledge. That’s what this feels like, a writer being very open to all sorts of stimulus, reading a lot, trying to find kindred spirits. I don’t know that Shelley and Byron are integral to the Invisibles concept, though later in the issue there’s a mention of the the Invisible College, not an actual college but a group of philosophers in the 1600s, a couple hundred years before Byron and Shelley. In the dialogue between the two, one might see a battle between two sides of Morrison, the utopian and the opportunist, but I think most of us have similar battles. For anyone paying attention, it’s difficult not to try to put oneself in Morrison’s shoes, but without coming down on either side we can fairly say that his curiosity and willingness to ask some of the big questions (or is it more that he starts throwing out some answers here and the questions are inferred?) make this issue stand out as more progressive than the previous arc.

We do catch up with The Invisibles after this, and not to pick on poor Steve Yeowell again, but damn, it turns out Boy is an attractive woman when Jill Thompson draws her, not a man at all. She and Dane (Jack Frost now, though he dislikes the codename) have an exposition-laden conversation while doing yoga, no doubt another thing Morrison was into at the time, and also a decent way to make a lot of talking look not so boring. Boy explains that each Invisible sect has just five members, based on the five elemental symbols of earth, air, fire, water and spirit. Seems kind of limiting to me, but we’ll see how it goes. She says Jack has some latent psychic ability, too, so there’s that to look forward to, and that Jack needs a haircut, as it will get in his eyes while fighting. There’s the same old homophobic antipathy to Lord Fanny from Jack, which is annoying, but I guess it’s necessary that there be certain negative traits hanging on that he’ll have to shed later. Jack does seem to be on the right track of questioning his surroundings, asking Boy how he really knows he’s not on the other side.

We return to King Mob in Egypt, meeting a scrawny friend and her cyclopean, mutant baby. When he leaves, she calls out that he reminds her of Gandhi. Maybe it’s the bald head and round glasses. I’m not sure what the baby was about, other than maybe it represent’s one’s third eye, that ability to see different realities than the one seen by our other two eyes.

We kind of get into either Gaiman or Moore territory with a man in a park who is approached by a shadowy man in a white suit, who then seems to somehow become the first man by putting his parchment-like skin over the man’s face. It’s all well and good, though it would seem that early on, Morrison has realized that pitting The Invisibles against groups of people with the exact opposite mission–trying to spread lies and illusions–would get pretty boring, so instead, let’s keep a steady stream of monsters coming.

Just as King Mob is Morrison’s comics avatar, so too is Ragged Robin the spitting image of Jill Thompson. Unfortunately, he still hasn’t given her much to do yet but talk about King Mob and how great London shopping is. There’s some more exposition, needlessly explaining that the villain from Harmony House, Mr. Gelt, was a myrmidon on the side opposing The Invisibles, and that there are badges and other ways to identify allies. King Mob shows up for dinner with a ridiculous crop top mock turtleneck with plastic rings over the nipples, explaining that they need to make a trip through time, as the enemy assassin, Orlando (one of The Fleshless, so I guess he’s the guy we just saw with the white suit) is in London. Why they have to run away isn’t clear, but nonetheless, Jack has to hold Fanny’s hand as they all concentrate and leave their bodies. They arrive in what appears to be Bastille-era Paris, just as a man is beheaded on the guillotine. What better way to inculcate Jack in the need for a revolution than by exposing him to the one carried out by the French?

Although it’s hard to imagine many people preferring this to what Thompson’s art style would develop into, the storytelling is quite good and she doesn’t take any shortcuts. Morrison throws a lot at her in this issue, and under all the changes in scenery it’s a very talky issue, but the enthusiasm with which Morrison tries to share everything he’s been learning about is infectious.

–Christopher Allen

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