Top critical review
47 people found this helpful
on March 21, 2013
I read a lot of books (including graphic novels), but rarely write reviews. This is because I normally agree with the book's current rating on Amazon, as well as most of the reviews. After finishing the Invisibles Omnibus, however, I felt compelled to write this review in order to warn others away. Despite what the other reviewers have said, the Invisibles is simply unreadable. I've read A LOT of graphic novels and comic series, and this is literally the worst.
I first became interested in Grant Morrison after reading his 26-issue run on Animal Man. Parts of that run, especially the Coyote Gospel, were simply brilliant. After reading around online, it seemed that most people regard the Invisibles as Morrison's seminal work. Unfortunately, the Invisibles is a perfect example of what can go wrong when a writer, normally controlled or contained by being forced to work with an ongoing character or plot, is permitted to write whatever he wants without limitation.
At times, the Invisibles is wholly incomprehensible. Morrison purposely wrote the Invisibles so that it cannot be understood in a single reading. (I refuse to read it a second time, and don't really care that I will never understand the intricacies of the plot. For the sake of this review, I will give Morrison the benefit of the doubt and assume the entire plot makes sense when reread.) Certain writers, for example Alan Moore, have produced graphic novels that are a joy to reread. For example, one can read the Watchmen or LXG ten times each, picking up on a few new details or puzzle pieces each time. The Invisibles is different. Morrison often drops single panels that are incomprehensible at the time and offer nothing to the plot. Morrison may then reference these panels twenty or more issues later, by which time they have been forgotten because they were meaningless in the first instance for lack of context. This tendency, amongst other things, makes the Invisibles a chore to finish. I have never had such difficulty finishing a graphic novel in my life.
Regardless of whether a book is "intelligent" or has a meaningful message, it should not be unpleasant to read.
For a number of reasons, some already mentioned, the plot cannot be followed. As other reviewers have commented, the artists constantly change throughout the series. Because the artists may have drastically different styles, this results in the characters frequently being hard to tell apart. In addition, and as discussed below, all of the characters are instantly forgettable. Sometimes, entire pages will go by with several characters speaking nonsense. The reader doesn't follow who is talking, what they are talking about, and what possible implication this can have on the plot. Nor does the reader care, since he just wants the issue to be over.
It should also be mentioned that Morrison experiments with the telling the story out of order, as if this might improve the plot. Its as if he wrote a lengthy story, then randomly shuffled all of the pages together.
The characters are all flat, uninteresting and unrealistic. For example, the lead character is some sort of Eastern-monk assassin horror-novel-writer who is covered in piercings, listens to alternative music, can travel through time while meditating, goes everywhere shirtless with a leather jacket, and practices tantric sex. Sounds "cool," right?! I'm sure most fifteen year olds would find the concept mind-blowing. For the rest of us, it is trite and obviously uninspired. Each character concept is equally as preposterous and immature. (Voodoo rap-star martial art expert who drives a hearse, South American drug addict transexual sorceress, etc.) To be clear, the characters never display personality or human emotion, and certainly never develop. As such, it is impossible to become interested in them beyond a superficial level. Every character is instantly forgettable.
Sometimes the leads die or leave, and the reader barely notices. Other times, brand new characters appear without introduction or explanation. Again, this makes the plot more difficult to follow, while adding nothing to the story.
One suspects Grant Morrison is attempting to tell a complex story through layers of symbolism. He fails, for several reasons. The first problem is that Morrison does not know how to communicate with his reader at that level. As a result, we end up with splash pages wherein one can identify lots of items that are traditionally are given symbolic value. For example, one page might contain a cross, a sun, a crow, an upside down clock, a gun, a deformed baby, etc., all apparently randomly positioned. The panel does not otherwise advance the plot, or add anything of value. Staring at this mess, the reader might think "Grant Morrison must be hinting at some deep meaning in this panel." Whatever his intent, it remains jumbled and confused to the reader, who moves on. The entire Omnibus contains hundreds of such incomprehensible panels, none of which are ever explained. Its tempting to believe, as a result, that Morrison is simply at a level of intelligence beyond his reader. The more likely possibility, and the one I believe to be the case, is that Morrison is faking it. I'm convinced that the Invisibles has no real meaning, no real message.
The subject matter of the Invisibles appears to be everything Grant Morrison thinks is "cool," esoteric or risque. Thus we have an absolutely preposterous plot involving voodoo magic, anarchism, Bolshevism, sorcery, space aliens, time travelers, alternate dimensions, South American Indian Armageddon predictions, Buddhism, satanism, indie rock, transexuals, orgies, drug abuse, H.P. Lovecraft, etc.. I am comfortable stating, with certainty, that Morrison has a shallow understanding of most of these topics. His level of knowledge is what one would reach from watch a couple of movies on the subject. He is a dilettante putting on a show, trusting his readers will simply defer and accept the nonsense he tries to pass as a plot.
More often than not, Morrison tries to be clever simply for the sake of being clever. The Invisibles contains hundreds of meaningless pages of dialogue in which characters make dated pop references, swear at each and discuss sex fetisthes. Again, none of this advances or adds to the plot in any way. Apparently, it is Morrison's idea of character development.
The Invisibles is a jumble of purposely incomprehensible garbage disguised as a deep work of literature. It ultimately comes off as pretentious, arrogant and memorable only as an example of a writer aiming far beyond his ability. I am hard-pressed to explain all of the positive reviews the Invisibles has received. I suspect most of the other reviewers were fooled by Morrison's swashbuckling. Again, its tempting to believe the Invisibles has some literary merit. I suppose if one is willing to commit many months to rereading dry and uninteresting material three or four times, a message might be found.
Once more, I can't stress strongly enough how confusing, meaningless, boring and purposelessly/needlessly vile the Invisibles is.
My advice? Save yourself the time and go read Alan Moore's Swamp Thing or Garth Ennis' Hellblazer for intelligent, well-written graphic novels.