J.G. Keely's Reviews > The Invisibles, Vol. 1: Say You Want a Revolution

The Invisibles, Vol. 1 by Grant Morrison
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review
Nov 30, 2015

it was ok
bookshelves: comics, science-fiction, fantasy, reviewed, contemporary-fantasy, urban-fantasy
Read in November, 2007

When I started to get into comics in college, it was the britwave authors who I found most appealing: Moore, Gaiman, Delano, Ellis, Ennis, Milligan, and Morrison. But when I tried to read Morrison's Magnum Opus, I found none of the careful structuring or intelligent dialogue which I was hoping for. In disappointment, I threw down Morrison's book and it was a long time before I gave him another chance.

But when I did, I read WE3 , Morrison's cleanest and least pretentious story. I still have trouble reconciling the author who penned that excellent little story with the one who produced this sprawling indulgence.

Determined to give Morrison another chance, I read The Filth, Seaguy, and Kill Your Boyfriend and, pleasantly surprised, decided I should give Invisibles another chance. Unfortunately, I have found it no more appealing the second time around.

But I'm hardly alone in failing to connect with it. Since my similar disappointment with Animal Man, I have been trying to conceptualize precisely why these stories are so different from the clever, well-structured writing of some of his other books; sometimes, the man is a great storyteller, but other times grows inflated and confused.

Perhaps it is a case like Neal Stephenson's, where the author strives for greater complexity, indulging in his passions, but failing to connect such disparate elements with competent pacing and larger ideas. Many authors, when writing a personal story, grow too close to the material, which prevents them from conscientious self-editing.

It is not hard to imagine that Morrison wishes he could be like Moore in this regard, since Moore ties together complex storylines and experimental plotting without losing the audience along the way, and makes it look easy. However, I feel I begin to agree with Moorcock's critique of Morrison as not quite skilled enough to reach his own lofty goals. Of course, Moorcock's critique of plagiarism grows a bit weaker in my eyes after comparing his Gloriana to the Titus Groan books.

I find Morrison's complexity outstrips his skill here, though I should note that he was working on scripting for five or six other books at the time, including the enjoyable Flex Mentallo and even better Kill Your Boyfriend.

The art of the early Invisibles was also of a lower quality, often simplified without being elegant and with various errors of foreshortening, perspective, and anatomy. Even compared to early Sandman or other books of the era, The Invisibles still seemed primitive. Perhaps the artists were as rushed as Morrison seems to have been; every other issue talks about some stress-related health problem.

I did feel somewhat bad for the man, especially after reading some of the drivel in the letters page of people who genuinely didn't understand what he was getting at. Unfortunately, even though I did have some comprehension of what he was getting at, it only helped me to see that he wasn't achieving it.

My Suggested Readings in Comics
17 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read The Invisibles, Vol. 1.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

03/26 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-10 of 10) (10 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by mark (new)

mark monday i feel you should try to read more of this series! it improves dramatically after the first volume. i think you in particular would find much of value and of interest in the series' progression (and regression). the ideas and the writing become much more sophisticated (or perhaps - less condescendingly - they become much more clearly elucidated while still remaining complex, multi-leveled). and the art certainly improves as well.

J.G. Keely I read the whole series, I found that as it went along, it got more confused and overwrought. I did appreciate that the art got better, but near the end he was switching artists often, which wasn't helping it feel any more coherent.

Lindsay I totally agree with you about the art. To my mind, though, the last half of this collection, illustrated by Jill Thompson, look better than the first half, drawn by Steve Yeowell. I thought Thompson's art, while maybe still simplistic, and still not always able to do justice to some of the fantastical things that are going on in the story, looked A LOT more natural, and the faces more human, than Yeowell's.

J.G. Keely Yeah, I'm often surprised with how much variation there is in the skill level of different comic artists. I can't believe that Jacen Burrows still gets work, especially with Alan Moore; his style is so flat and inexpressive. Thanks for the comment.

Greg Sheppard maybe you should pay more attention to the story, the art is a relatively minor aspect in this volume some isnt so good and i prefer the other artists but there are some fantastic examples in key scenes in the first volume.

the feeling of lack of coherence and switching between artists i very important to the feel of the novel and a very deliberate choice. did you not pick up on the central theme of seeing things from different perspectives to attempt to see whole.
It takes a bit of effort to read it closely but the story is actually quite coherent and everything (mostly anyway) is well explained and clear if you pay attention.

Also the writing, plot and other points are so unprecedentedly (for a comic) clever. Morrison's other work or even wonderful writers like Moore and others really have never written anything quite so brilliantly dense with detail and ideas.

message 6: by mark (new)

mark monday just reread this review (thanks, Updates) and forgot to say in my original comment: as far as Peake & Moorcock's Gloriana... there is a difference between plagiarism and homage! Moorcock has been quite clear in his naming of Gormenghast as the (obvious) inspiration for his novel.

J.G. Keely It's true, and I won't say his homage erases the plagiarism accusation, just that it makes it a bit less strong, since Moorcock is clearly familiar with how books and authors inspire one another, and that such trading of ideas can be a natural, profitable part of writing, though I don't feel Morrison does much with his many pilfered ideas here, since they never cohere into something larger than the agitation of their parts.

Greg wrote: "the feeling of lack of coherence and switching between artists i very important to the feel of the novel and a very deliberate choice."

I can understand an author using different art styles as representative of changes in character and point of view, but I never felt that the changes in The Invisibles added to the story. It just seemed like another point of digression where more layers of complexity were added to the story without creating any further meaning for the story.

It wasn't like in Enigma, where the sketchy, dreamlike quality of the art was part-and-parcel of the story, because most of the art in The Invisibles was pretty standard, underwhelming line and color stuff, not like Dave McKean (literally) deconstructing the form or something.

"Morrison's other work or even wonderful writers like Moore and others really have never written anything quite so brilliantly dense with detail and ideas."

I agree that there were a lot of different references and digressions in The Invisibles, though I would hardly call it unprecedented. If you read the script for a Moore comic, you'll find every page, background detail, and even the layout are carefully structured to reveal the story, the characters, and the ideas behind them in myriad ways (which is why his scripts notoriously run so long).

I wouldn't say Morrison is dealing with more references than Moore, just that Morrison makes his much more overt. He hits you on the head with every one, which doesn't leave much room for subtlety.

I also never felt like all his tangents and digressions came together to form any kind of focused observation or central idea. Sure, life might not always have some easy meaning to reach, but the whole concept of 'a story' is a sequence of events which are in some way thematically tied.

I guess you could point to the phrase 'Nothing is true, all is permitted' as a possible theme, but I feel Morrison only explored the possibilities of that philosophy, and not its limitations. And because it explores only possibilities, it has no heart, nothing to link it together into something greater.

Of course, there is the central story of the boy's monomythic journey, but that's a pretty cliche story, especially in Contemporary Urban Fantasy. Having such an unremarkable story at the heart of something which is trying so hard to be over the top and transgressive ends up making the whole thing feel rather silly and at odds with itself.

I mean, how transgressive can you really be if you can't even subvert the monomyth, the most overblown, saccharine power fantasy of them all?

"It takes a bit of effort to read it closely but the story is actually quite coherent and everything (mostly anyway) is well explained and clear if you pay attention."

I agree. It all seems pretty clear and straightforward, in fact, Morrison tend to present things so overtly that he can be sure there's no way the reader could miss it. I never felt confused or awed by this comic, I just didn't find any of it to be original and interesting.

I mean, he'd have someone commune with the spirits of The Beatles because they have become religious icons, they are known and worshiped all over the world, people make pilgrimage to see their leavings, and all that. But that's not original, that's the same idea Gaiman was explored in Sandman decades before.

But that seems to be the whole problem with Morrison's whole 'Chaos Magic' idea: it's so generic and unspecific that it doesn't form a very good basis for magic or for stories, on its own. Being all-inclusive, it has no focus, no central idea. Saying 'everything is magical' is like saying 'everyone is special', in the end, it means that nothing is magical and no one is special.

It allows writers a lot of leeway in their story, but that's not always a good thing, because if everything is magic, then everything can be solved by coincidence, deus ex machina, plot coupons, and arbitrary magical power struggles. If there is no need for psychological conflicts and progressions, very few authors will feel inclined to do all the hard work of putting them in.

To me, the phrase 'everything is magic' doesn't conjure a notion of someone wise and interesting, it makes me think of a flaky yoga instructor whose favorite book is Ishmael and whose favorite movie is Donnie Darko. And that's the same feeling I get from Morrison in this series: just an unfocused scree of unrelated ideas that never actually coalesces into any kind of profound insight.

And it's not like the whole 'Everything is permitted' is new, either. Mashing together innumerable references and ideas is part of what defined cyberpunk, and the idea of eccentric, universal magic was explored rather thoroughly in the Illuminatus! books, which succeeded because they, unlike Morrison, had a deep enough streak of self-deprecation to reveal and subvert their own lines of bullshit.

So yeah, in the end this book just felt so self-indulgent to me that it lost all self-awareness, and no writer can be good without being self-aware.

Josh Have you seen the South Park episode about the good critics? You remind me of that episode.

Josh *food

J.G. Keely Josh said: "Have you seen the South Park episode about the good critics? You remind me of that episode."

Oh, don't worry--I won't kick you out of my comments section just because you like posting your important opinions on the internet.

back to top