I’ve started reading The Invisibles because I wanted to read something very unlike regular comics, and something I’d want to respond to. It half-worked. The Invisibles is, in its allusions, its characters, its narrative, and its aims far different from mainstream comics. I don’t have much to say about it, though, at least not at this point. Part of that is its departure from comics.
No one can say that Grant Morrison doesn’t fully flesh out his characters. They’re great, voluptuous, curvy things by the time he gets done with them, which is why they so often bother me. The central character of volume one, who becomes Jack Frost and who I will refer to by his ‘superhero’ name for simplicity’s sake, starts out as a mean, ungrateful, character who has a mind but prefers not to use it, opting for mindless violence. The book starts out with him burning a library. Perhaps a loftier reader could look at this with a detached interest. I really can’t. My immediate reaction to things like that is to mutter, “You ass! You’re ruining it for everyone!” After that, I nurse a dislike for the character, a little like a sore spot, to the point where I giggled just a bit when someone snipped off his finger. (I’d flipped to the back to make sure he came out okay, first. I’m not a monster.)
The problem is I couldn’t enjoy my dislike, because of the scenes in which it shows, in part, why the kid was screwed up the way he was. It seemed like every time he asked for a break, or looked to someone for basic compassion and understanding, people turned away. Which is why I could understand when, after being caught by police, sent to a sadistic indoctrination center posing as a correctional facility, and living on the streets until he nearly starves, he grabs on to the first person to be even the slightest bit nice to him. Luckily, Tom seems to be on the side of the Invisibles, if not the angels, and dispenses wisdom in manageable bunches. What I didn’t understand is why Tom tended to dispense that wisdom via eye-stealing, pushing off cliffs, or brutal ass-kicking. I suppose some comics conventions can’t be discarded.
The middle third of the story can be roughly described as Tom using compassion, dogged-perseverance, magic, and the occasional beating to gradually get the kid to shed all the miserable stuff he’d believed made him strong, and then Tom symbolically dies and turns the kid over to The Invisibles, a group of misfits fighting a personified conformity. They go back in time. Mary Shelley, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and (unfortunately) the Marquis de Sade make appearances, sometimes in their time, sometimes in our own, and sometimes in a surreal dream space. A guy with somebody else’s face attacks them. They split up and star in vignettes about individuality. Jack Frost quits the Invisibles. We all know he’ll be back.
And that’s where The Invisibles shakes me. It’s not that I don’t think the various stories indicate inventive ideas, and it’s not that I don’t think that that’s valuable. It’s just that at some point the first volume becomes like being told a person’s dreams; and not their first dream, or their most interesting dream, but an entire night’s worth of dreaming. If there’s one thing you can rely on mainstream comics for, it’s a story set around a clear central concept. If you forget what that concept is, it will be restated up to three times per floppy. I like structure – a plot that snaps together. This is one of the reasons I liked the Rogers’ Blue Beetle series so much. Random digressions happened all the time, but in the end the entire series stacked up to something with a structure. Still, this is the first volume of The Invisibles. We’ll see how the rest progress.