THE INVISIBLES: SAY YOU WANT A REVOLUTION by Grant Morrison (BOOK REVIEW)
The Invisibles: Say You Want A Revolution – written by Grant Morrison.
Illustrators: Steve Yeowell, Jill Thompson, Dennis Cramer.
Colourist: Daniel Vozzo. Letterer: Clem Robins. Original covers: Sean Philips, Rian Hughes. Cover and design: Rian Hughes. (1994-1995)
“Look at it, Dane. Look at the city and the world in its proud array, like a cask of jewels laid open for you. It’ll offer you everything you ever wanted but it’s just pictures on billboards; dream cars, dream women, dream houses. Time to wake up now and say goodbye.”
The Invisibles is a comic series created by Scottish comic writer Grant Morrison which ran from 1994 to 2000 on DC’s Vertigo imprint. Telling the story of The Invisible College, a secret organisation devoted to fighting physical and psychic oppression across time and space, it’s the perfect introduction to Morrison’s gonzo psychedelic metafictional approach to writing comics and demonstrates why they are such an essential voice in the medium. The Invisibles: Say You Want A Revolution collects the first 8 issues of volume 1. Right from the start, The Invisibles is gloriously anarchic in form and content, with Morrison pushing the boundaries of the genre in an utterly bonkers multidimensional story that careers across multiple Londons, Lord Byron and the Shelleys, the French Revolution and the reign of terror, and the Beatles.
The story starts in 1990s Liverpool, with Dane McGowan, a disillusioned kid living at home with his single mum, bored at school and building Molotov cocktails for kicks. After a failed attempt to blow up his school, he is sent to Harmony House, an institute designed to instil conformity and respect for authority into wayward youths that is experimenting in more extreme and violent forms of social control. Dane is rescued by the mysterious and charismatic King Mob and his friends, Brazilian transwoman and shaman Lord Fanny, androgynous former NYPD Boy, and young telepath Ragged Robin. They are part of a resistance cell of the Invisible College, and they want to recruit Dane, alias Jack Frost, as their newest member. Jack Frost undergoes a brutal initiation, living as a homeless person in London under the tutelage of eccentric shaman Tom O’Bedlam who takes charge of his social deprogramming, introducing Jack to the forces of chaos and order struggling against each other across the multiple dimensions of the multiverse. Then it’s time for Jack to go on his first mission as an Invisible, a time travel escapade in which the Invisibles must recruit the Marquis de Sade to help save the future, dodge the guillotine and foil the forces of control across space and time.
The Invisibles is steeped in chaos magick, psychedelics and queerness, long-time fixations of Morrison. In the first issue they interrupt the story for a psychedelic invocation of John Lennon as a psychic guiding force, a sign pointing to how Morrison uses metafictional techniques drawn from their various interests to enhance the storytelling. The fragmented narrative style, pinballing between pulp and classical registers, mixing the Romantic poets and De Sade in with comic book monsters and demons, creates a kinetic bricolage that recalls the narrative experiments of Michael Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius stories. Alan Moore’s influence is also apparent. Morrison deliriously mixes all these elements into a sort-of coherent whole, one that manages to be as effortlessly fun and engaging as it is challenging.
Morrison shows the reader a world in which the forces of control are constantly in conflict with the forces of rebellion. The Invisibles themselves represent liberation from conformity in all its forms, which is reflected in their multi-ethnic and polysexual diversity. As such they find themselves drawn to figures such as De Sade, the Romantics, the Beatles; icons of countercultural rebellion and revolution. Their arsenal of weapons includes violence and chaos magick, subterfuge and trickery. They can be relied on to resist authoritarianism and fascism everywhere in all its forms. This embrace of chaos extends to the text, which switches rapidly between perspectives and time periods, embracing interruptions from magickal invocations, paratextual notes and letters, puppet shows and prophetic visions. Morrison takes chaos as a practice very seriously. Their roster of collaborating artists, including Steve Yeowell, Jill Thompson and Dennis Cramer, do a wonderful job keeping up with Morrison’s flood of ideas, matching their writing with vivid, eye-popping psychedelic art.
The Invisibles are necessary heroes, but no one said anything about them being nice. As part of their struggle against the forces of control, the Invisibles embrace violence and destruction. Jack Frost’s psychic awakening is a shocking and violent experience, one mirrored by the reader as they work their way through the comic. There are strong body horror elements, ranging from hallucinations of fleshy mushrooms to the disembodied head of John the Baptist to animated scenes taken from De Sade’s infamous work. No one said the revolution would be easy. But for Morrison, freedom is worth any price, especially a freedom to explore one’s sexuality and identity to the very limit, to experience and be a part of the magic present in the everyday world. Say You Want A Revolution ends on a cliffhanger, with Jack Frost suffering an attack from a terrifying skin-stealing demon on the Invisibles’ return to the present day and deciding that he’s had enough. The story continues with The Invisibles: Apocalipstick, which compiles issues 9 through 16. I look forward to following Morrison on the next stage of their great psychedelic adventure.