Alan Moore's *Watchmen* dropped into the mid-80's Zeitgeist like a nail-bomb, embedding white-hot shrapnel into fertile young minds, shredding long-held preconceptions about the genre, and, all in all, signifying a new level of maturity to the medium of the 'illustrated lit.' - or comic books, if you prefer - with its adult themes and meta-narrative complexity. *Watchmen* tore through the boundaries, building upon the template of the "graphic novel" as pioneered in the early 80's, and therein expanding the potentiality of it ten-fold...it threw down the gauntlet, cocked the hammer of the duel-pistol; it challenged artisans to ~step up their game~, evolve beyond superhero tights and Golden Age clichés; it left a huge vacuum in its wake - and, as we all know, nature abhors a vacuum.
Thus we come to DC's Vertigo imprint, a label intended for mature stories, and more specifically to Grant Morrison and his *Invisibles*, the self-appointed (and occasionally self-conscious) heir to the post-modern *Watchman* wake. Begun in 1996, during a widespread industry slump due in large part to greed and mismanagement, and concluded at the end of 1999, on the eve of the new millennium, *The Invisibles* sought to achieve the depth, breadth and influence of Moore's juggernaught, to give a greater perspective to the fringe-elements of contemporary society, to reveal/ridicule/rise above the morass of ~popular paranoia~ as embodied by the X-files, Fortean Times, David Icke and other exploiters of conspiracy theory... "This is the comic I've wanted to write all my life," Morrison stated at the end of issue 1, "a comic about everything: action, philosophy, paranoia, sex, magic, biography, travel, drugs, religion, UFO's..." In no uncertain terms Morrison envisioned the be-all end-all illustrated compendium of out-there speculation, a kitchen-sink omnibus entailing all theories and systems, a 'hypersigil' that would influence/embody the outward reality it modeled itself on - and, hopefully, make our world a better, more entertaining place in which to dwell. For only with an open mind can we really reap the benefit of life's ongoing pageant, boogie down to syncopated pulse of the information era.
Morrison lacked neither ambition nor energy in his resultant craft, *The Invisibles*, a seven-volume conspiracy-epic that begins here, with 'Say You Want a Revolution.' Does it succeed even moderately to its stated intention? Well, yes - albeit somewhat fitfully. For this volume, besides being the opening gambit of the whole affair, nicely encapsulates the heady potential of Morrison's material, the verve and style, as well as the excess and superficial assimilation that occasionally brings the whole thing into the perilous straights of pretentiousness, of under-compensated imagination-overload. It is fantastic, frustratingly vague, epic and tangent-flabby, a borderline-smirk to all its influences and to those influenced. It's like nothing else on the market - and that alone assures its position on the top-shelf graphic novel 'classics' space.
*The Invisibles vol. 1: Say You Want a Revolution* compiles the first two story-arcs of the series: firstly, the initiation of Dane McGowan into the mysteries of the Invisible order, and secondly, the Arcadia time-warp continuation. The first story is arguably the better and more effective of the two, being a variation on the classic hero/fool's journey from wild agitator to learned acolyte. The art reflects the influence of the 60's that infuses Morrison's storytelling: the draftsmanship, inking, coloring and framing is highly reminiscent of the Ditko/Kerby et al. styling of the Aquarius-Era renaissance in comic books. The second story, Arcadia, veers between two dovetailing plotlines: the Invisibles journey back to the French Revolution to secure the 'psychic projection' of the Marquis DeSade, and find themselves trapped in the libertine's most infamous work, while the Romantic poets Shelly and Byron pontificate about literary influence ("a cannon fires only once, but words detonate across centuries") and cope with personal tragedies. This second story-arc gets a bit messy (literally), but also contains superior writing and art, and builds into an effective climax that, in the end, had me scrambling to collect the rest of the series. Morrison's hypersigil had me.
A literati l'enfant terrible, the author packs his narrative with a mind-boggling assortment of allusions, occult references and outright assimilation. A short list (deep breath): Egyptian symbolism, Situationist propaganda, Rock n' Roll quotation, Irish mythology, psychological probes and split-personalities, Mind Control, Satanic sacrifice, Freemasons, Templar Holy Grail metaphors (including the head of John the Baptist!), the Tarot, UFO's, Alien paradigm-shift assistance, syntax-manipulation, Gnosticism, Aztec demonology, multiple dimensions, etc. etc. Literary references include Shakespeare (King Lear), Carlos Castaneda, Browning, Shelly and Byron, and most explicitly, DeSade's *120 days of Sodom.* Some of these influences are made obvious, some are revealed only via visual interpretation, and some reach the threshold of gratuitous - not all works as well as it could (envisioning DeSade as a contemporary anti-hero is a bit of stretch) - but, overall, the confidence Morrison displays, and the generally successful accruement of his various sources, lends *The Invisibles* the impressive resonance of the meta-narrative, the glamour-sheen of a work in tune to the reverberation of the Zeitgeist, more than ready to challenge its current state, insert the past into the present and therein shape the future mass-consciousness. Morrison claimed that *The Invisibles* would have the same sort of repercussions as the Sex Pistols, hence my review-title; I'm doubtful of this claim, given that *The Invisibles* still remains relegated to underground highbrows, but it ~did~ influence those who made *The Matrix* (striking parallels can be found in the hero's journey segment of this book) - and that cinematic epic, for better and for worse, has forcibly inserted hyper-referential meta-narratives into the cultural identity.
It's easy to criticize ambition. Certainly this book is messy, occasionally pretentious, overly stylistic and a bit smarmy in tone - but throughout, Morrison's intent remains pure:
"And in my mind, I see the sun rise on a new and better world."