Friday, November 19, 2010

The Invisibles: Entropy in the UK

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of The Invisibles: Entropy in the UK (Volume Three) (Vertigo, 1996)

So I've been rereading Grant Morrison's late-90s series The Invisibles and I had completely forgotten what a bear the third book in the series of seven is. It isn't at all bad, and compiled in one volume it's not too great a chore, but when this was first published, it really was an exercise in testing readers' loyalty.

At the end of the previous volume, two of our heroes had been wounded and captured by the enemy, a grand conspiracy of the British gentry with interdimensional beasties. Remembering that this was a monthly comic, there followed three issues where Sir Miles tries to break down the psychic defenses of his captive, King Mob, and get through an elaborate series of defensive fictions to find his identity and origin. Then there were two one-off chapters looking at the other characters before the protagonists and their allies reassembled to rescue King Mob. This took eight months in all. I really wanted to love this series, but this was a period where it was really trying my patience. It reads much, much better over the course of one week.

That said, the second half of the rescue story is really among the most challenging scribblings from Morrison's pen. Legend has it that the writer was suffering from a massive infection that nearly killed him at the time, and much of the narration reads like a fever dream. This is apparently one of several moments in the series where the fiction he was writing started influencing the reality of his life, and it's interesting to see how the story begins with Sir Miles and his associates injecting King Mob full of toxins to induce cellular breakdown and organ failure, and see how this creeping degeneration impacted Morrison himself.

Some of the visuals in the second half are a little disappointing. No matter how much I typically enjoy Steve Yeowell's artwork, there's no denying that he really was up against one of his biggest artistic challenges with some of the lost-in-a-void magic business of the story. Sad to say the result looks pretty flat and dull, particularly when weighed against the vibrant opening chapters by Phil Jimenez, the breaks by Tommy Lee Edwards and Paul Johnson, and a really terrific epilogue by Mark Buckingham.

This last chapter really renewed my interest after the previous challenging months had sapped it somewhat. It's a one-off which reveals that the schoolteacher from the series' first episode, who was later revealed to be a deep-cover Invisible with the code name Mr. Six, has a triple-identity as a government agent. He's one of three paranormal investigators in a recently-reactivated team called Division X. Continuing the Invisibles' theme of tapping into British media as visual inspirations, Mr. Six dresses like the '70s TV detective Jason King, and his colleagues resemble Regan and Carter from The Sweeney. They have a weird and wild case which visits a casino and uncovers a pornography ring for fetishes involving aliens and royals, and meet a very curious dwarf called Quimper.

I remember loving this episode so much that, when the monthly series took a brief hiatus before relaunching as a second volume, I would have been perfectly happy to see the back of the difficult-to-love Invisibles in favor of an ongoing Division X series. Fortunately, the more straightforward scripting and wild surface action of this episode would point the way to how The Invisibles would be handled in the future, and the Division X characters would be seen again. It's a good set of stories, albeit quite dense in places, and it just left me hungry to start volume four soon. Just, you know, after a short break.

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