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The Invisibles, Book 1: Say You Want a Revolution
on March 15, 2005
The Invisibles is the only comic I've ever collected from first issue to last. When it started in 1994 I was a sophomore in college, and when it ended a few months into 2000 I was holed up in a soul-sapping corporate job. Regardless, during those 6 years I was able to get my hands on each issue, despite the fact that I'd "quit" reading comics in high school. But there was something special about the Invisibles, and it kept me coming back for more; I even set up a service with the local comic store so they'd hold each month's issue for me, and I'd come in every few weeks, grab them, and high-tail it out of there.
The Invisibles, as a whole, is as important to the `90s as "Naked Lunch" was to the `50s, as "Illuminatus!" was to the `70s. I suspected this when reading the comic monthly, but now, years later, I know it for a fact. Unfortunately, it's doubtful more people will come to this realization, as the Invisibles is simply too big to fit into one handy volume, a la those aforementioned subversive classics. To digest the entire story, you need to track down seven trade paperbacks. No doubt this will stunt the virus-like growth the Invisibles would otherwise engender on the innocent minds of those who read it. This series can change lives; this has been proven and accounted for.
"Say You Want a Revolution" is the first book of the Invisibles, and this early out, things are presented in more of a black and white/us versus them scenario; it is only in later volumes that writer/creator Grant Morrison begins to subvert and reveal the "larger picture." Here we are taken by the hand and led into the underground and bizarre world of the Invisibles by tagging along with Dane McGowan, an unruly, teenaged Liverpudlian street punk who just might be humanity's last hope in the battle against the Archons, demonic enforcers of Order. The opening half of this book details Dane's initiation, and here we meet the cast of characters who will carry the series till the end.
First and foremost, there's King Mob, a multi-pierced assassin excelling in physical and psychic combat. Next there's Ragged Robin, a sometimes-crazy redhead with psychic powers who claims to be from the future. There's Boy, the ironically-named black woman who's an ex-cop with all sorts of skeletons in her closet, and a black belt in every form of martial art to boot. And finally there's Lord Fanny, transvestite shaman supreme. Dane himself is a ragamuffin of a lead character; you'll probably dislike him for the first few issues, until the human is revealed beneath all of the cursing.
"Say You Want a Revolution" begins with a quick pace, Dane being locked up in a sinister boarding school by agents of the Archons, and King Mob coming to his rescue with guns blazing. After that things slow down for a while, as Dane is tutored by the magically-powered Tom O'Bedlam. This section is good reading, as gradually Dane becomes a more likeable character, but the rest of the Invisibles disappear for a while, and some of the dialog (particularly from Tom) comes off as Morrison pontificating to his audience. It gets to be a bit too much after awhile.
At any rate, Dane is soon initiated (which entails a jumping-from-a-skyscraper test that was completely stolen by the producers of the Matrix), and his adventures with the Invisibles proper begin. However, those expecting the slam-bang escapades hinted at in the early issues will have to wait; instead of more fireworks, the team (or "cell" as they call themselves) mentally project themselves into the past, to bring one of their own back to the 1990s. This Invisible of the past is none other than the Marquis De Sade, and this section of the book, complete with sideline discussions between Elizabethan poets Byron and Shelley, is undoubtedly the most "literary" comic ever written. Unfortunately, this story arc was also nearly the death bell for the series, so early into its run: sales dropped to negligible levels.
The Marquis De Sade storyline is wrapped up in time for the volume's end, however we're left with one heck of a cliffhanger. And that's pretty much it. If my review sounds a bit negative, don't be fooled. It's just that these opening stories seem very static when compared to what comes later. I realize this was not only intentional but necessary; had the series began with the whirlwind events presented in later volumes, a lot of people would have jumped ship in confusion, and the series might never have been completed.
Morrison's writing is his trademark bevy of ideas, one-liners, and profundities. Some of it can come off as a bit too self-serving (King Mob's conversation with Boy in the club, for example), but not so much as to annoy. The Invisibles in a way works as Morrison's autobiography; no doubt it will be what he is remembered for, in decades to come.
The art, however, is where the trouble comes in. The Invisibles was plagued with a procession of artists throughout its run, some talented, some workmanlike. The closest the series ever got to a "regular artist" was Phil Jimenez, and he only lasted for about fourteen issues. Here the art chores are split between Steve Yeowell and Jill Cramer. Yeowell's art is a bit too scratchy and ragged for my tastes, but it gets the job done. Cramer's is a bit more "artsy" and elegiac. Both artists are fine, but future volumes boast great material by Chris Weston, Phil Jimenez, and the unrivaled Frank Quitely.
This first book of the Invisibles is your introduction to one of the greatest works of the 20th Century (and I truly mean that). Once you read it, you're either in or you're out. To quote the phrase that adorns each of these collections: "Which side are you on?"