Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Invisibles: Bloody Hell in America

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: Bloody Hell in America (Volume Four) (DC, 1997).

The fourth and shortest volume in The Invisibles represented a last-gasp chance for writer Grant Morrison to refocus his plotlines and make his occult techno-conspiracy thriller a little more palatable for audiences who had been dropping the book during its initial run. After 25 monthly issues, the comic took a one-month break and came back relaunched with a new first issue ("volume two, number one," a common, desperate sales ploy in the industry that occasionally works) and a new regular cover artist in the reliable Brian Bolland. The plotting was planned to be more straightforward, with more pedal-to-the-metal action and gunplay to keep readers' attention.

The other new trick in Morrison's arsenal was the employment of Phil Jimenez as the regular artist, Rather than mixing up art duties for short arcs and one-offs, Jimenez was taken on for a dozen issues to give the series a more uniform feel. It works very well; Jiminez really does give this run of episodes a very personal stamp and his work is just terrific.

At any rate, while the story in the previous three collections feels like it takes place over the space of perhaps one month, this time out we get our heroes enjoying more than a year of downtime, relocated to the United States for King Mob to recuperate from his injuries in the previous episodes and begin a kinky affair with his teammate Ragged Robin. They've been operating from a safe house in upstate New York but need to travel to the American southwest when a local Invisibles cell gets decimated by the military while trying to liberate a supposed AIDS vaccine from a top-secret, high -security establishment.

I've always felt that Morrison's only real disappointment as a writer is that he often fails to establish his villains very well. He comes up with plenty of memorable, if not downright brilliant concepts, but every so often readers run into a shouty villain whose motivation is unclear and methods very vague. The general in charge of this facility, who's in league with the otherdimensional, weird, superconspiracy that we'd met in the England-based episodes earlier in the series, is one of Morrison's all-time worst bad guys, a loudmouth who is depicted without nuance or dimension. Oddly, around the time this comic was first published, Morrison had a similar, shouty American general causing trouble in the pages of the long-running JLA, which he was scripting. I guess with so many high-concept notions and characters to play with, including the return of the much more interesting villain Mr. Quimper from the previous episode, something had to give.

It's an odd lapse on Morrison's part, as the rest of the story is incredibly interesting, with several fascinating new characters and hints about Ragged Robin's still-secret past. There is a scene in a diner early on that tries a little too hard to appeal to Vertigo's outsider audience, but it gives us one of several really good Lord Fanny moments, so it's easy to forgive. As the low-priced reintroduction to The Invisibles that this was intended, it isn't a complete success, but it's not a bad read.

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