Publisher: Vertigo Comics
Creators: Grant Morrison (writer) and various artists
Publication date: 2 August 1994 (Volume 1, #1)
Page count: 1,520 (in seven collected editions)
This seditious series by visionary Scottish comic book writer Grant Morrison (and various artists) is definitely comics’ most bizarre example of anarchy from the U.K. A decidedly different sort of superhero group, as part of a millennia old secret freedom fighting cult, the Invisibles hide their very existence from the public. The only identifying mark occasionally worn by some members is the “blank badge” (a plain, round, white button: the slogan-bearing kind, not the shirt-closing kind). “The only rule of the organization,” as explained in one issue, “is disobedience.”
The series follows a particular Invisibles activist cell made up of: King Mob, a bald, tattooed and multiply body-pierced tantric magician and master assassin; Jack Frost, a teenaged, foul-mouthed, psychokinetic alien abductee; Boy, an African-American former policewoman and deadly martial artist; Ragged Robin, a mime-faced, time-displaced, clairvoyant witch; and Lord Fanny, a glamorous drag queen and Aztec shaman (illustration below by my favorite artist on the series, Phil Jimenez).
The series ran from 1994 to 2000, totaling 59 issues divided into three volumes. Fortunately, the entire series has been collected in the form of seven easily accessible trade paperbacks. Say You Want a Revolution collects the first eight issues of volume one, which focus around the recruitment of Dane “Jack Frost” McGowan: the story begins in a reformatory where juvenile delinquents are indoctrinated into a life of mediocrity by extradimensional beings hoping to harvest their souls, and ends in 18th century revolutionary France, where the team recruits the Marquis de Sade. Apocalipstick (issues 9-16 of volume one) is about Jack Frost’s attempt to flee from his role as an Invisible and how Lord Fanny was indoctrinated as a shaman when still a young child. Entropy in the UK (volume 1, issues 17-25) tells the story of how Lord Fanny and King Mob escape imprisonment and torture by the agents of total Control. The next three books collect the entirety of volume two. Bloody Hell in America (issues 1-4) follows the groups invasion of a top-secret military installation in the New Mexican desert to rescue the AIDS vaccine being kept there. Counting to None (issues 5-13) deals with bad karma, time travel, and brainwashing, and Kissing Mister Quimper (issues 14-22) covers a return to New Mexico, making amends with the past, and setting the stage for the final conflict between the forces of control and freedom, which takes place in The Invisible Kingdom (this collects the entire third voulme, which ran backwards, from issue 12 to issue 1, counting down to the new millennium).
Although presented as a mind altering, spy thriller, roller coaster ride of conspiracy theories, metaphysics, (often extremely) graphic violence and slightly less graphic sex, the thin veneer of allegory barely conceals the more commonplace tragedies beneath the surface that occur in the real world every day. The surreal scenery is simply a backdrop for the true goal of the Invisibles (both the characters and the comic book): to purge the dominant paradigm and awaken people to their own human potential (Morrison actually envisioned the series as a magic spell of liberation). Having just reread the entire series from beginning to end, I am struck by the intricacy of the plot, and the way that events in the first volume of stories foreshadow and continually intertwine with later events. For the diehard fan, or the confused reader, you can gain further insights into this series by checking out Our Sentence is Up: Seeing Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles by Patrick Meaney and Anarchy for the Masses: The Disinformation Guide to the Invisibles by Patrick Neighly and Kereth Cowe-Spigai.
Like the protagonist of Alan Moore’s graphic literary masterpiece V for Vendetta, the Invisibles are true to their roles as 21st century Robin Hoods, redistributing the only wealth of importance in the Information Age: Knowledge is not only power, it is freedom. As people become self-aware, they become self-reliant, and soon they become unwilling to prostrate themselves before the trappings of authority. Morrison is only trying to make Visible the unseen strings that subtly manipulate us all.