Belarius's Reviews > The Filth

The Filth by Grant Morrison
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Jan 26, 08

bookshelves: graphic-novels, fiction-finished, speculative-fiction, reviewed
Recommended for: People Looking For A Head Trip
Read in March, 2007

Grant Morrison is a madman, by all accounts, and the Filth is possibly the purest manifestation of his madness: a continuous stream of coherent-yet-deranged symbolism that fuses the paranoid sensibilities of The Prisoner with the deliberate shock factor of Hellblazer.

"Dodgy bachelor" Greg Feely comes home on day to discover that his life is actually an elaborate cover story and that his true identity is actually Agent Ned Slade. He is told he is a negotiator for "The Filth," a pan-dimensional agency dedicated to eradicating the greatest and most noxious threats to "Status Q." Struggling to balance his personalities and retain his sanity, Feely/Slade must confront some of the most sadistic, deranged villains ever to stroll onto the printed page.

On the surface, The Filth is incredibly violent, highly perverse, and often incomprehensible. It reads like a cocktail mixing equal parts Junji Ito, Trismagestus Hermes, and the Marquis de Sade (all of which you can be sure Grant Morrison has read carefully). Under this thick coat of anti-puritan revelry is a symbolic story that is at once opaque and complex. Actually understanding The Filth requires a body of esoteric knowledge and at least two or three reads though, which is likely more than anyone with delicate sensibilities can manage. The consistently excellent artwork may actually make matters worse, because its vivid depiction of the story leaves little to the imagination.

My enjoyment stems largely from this puzzle: reading the work not as a story, but as a more holistic artistic object, concealing layers of meaning. Morrison quite expressly wrote The Filth in this manner, so as a puzzle it can certainly be cracked. But to fit the whole story into 13 issues, Morrison has opted to favor compression over comprehensibility, and the story is brimming with loose ends hastily tied off the the 11th hour. Too much happens too fast, which makes The Filth much less elegant that his previous counter-cultural opus, The Invisibles.

Morrison has described The Filth as "an exploration of negativity," which aptly captures its tone: it's humor is black as midnight, and its closing act is an awkward mix of nihilistic optimism that will leave many readers who made it through the filth gauntlet deeply unsatisfied. As a written work, it is utterly unapologetic. Beware, all who enter here: beyond this point, there be dragons.
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