More than just a comic about the end of the world, the Invisibles is conspiracy theory at it's grandest. It's all got to do with December 25, 2012,
the heir to the English throne being an interdimesional monster birthed by Diana and a demon,
time folding in on itself,
tripping in time and space,
nanomachines,
sex, drugs, and rock and roll,
anarchists,
guns,
tantric sex,
the Men in Black,
and lots more.

Some 80 issues of crazy, psychedelic storytelling brought to you by the same folx that publish Superman, AKA DC comics, a division of AOL-TimeWarner AKA the MAN himself.

Meant to suck your brain out your ears and feed it back to you in small monthly spoonfuls.
(Spoilers of the first four issues below, but the first four issues really don't spoil much of anything, themselves acting as a kind of preview. And much has been left out of this summary.)

Dane McGowan is a long-haired blond kid from Liverpool whose interests include stealing cars and running them into ditches, and setting his school building on fire with various crude explosives. He's in the midst of the latter when he's apprehended, and sent to a very strange correctional facility for boys, called Harmony House. The folks who run Harmony House claim openly that they will turn their charges into hollow shells who will thank Harmony House for teaching them what authority really means. Dane, of course, goes sneaking around and finds some rather nasty remnants of the House's former clients. An alarm sounds, and he's caught by the headmaster, Mr. Gelt, a corpulent ghoul in a dark suit and darker glasses. He alludes repeatedly that he may have a changed sort of sight, and with Dane cornered and his establishment caught red-handed, he prophesies what Dane will become, like himself: "smooth between the ears, smooth between the legs". Nothing short of an armed rescue team could save Dane now. This is when he meets some new friends.

King Mob is a fury in shock white hair, a curious diving-mask thing, and an even more curious black vinyl jacket that looks like it's had little black-vinyl Dixie cups glued to it all over. He tears into Harmony House, its staff, and finally its headmaster, with handguns and your basic contemporary-action-hero kung fu. He hauls Dane the hell out of there and barely has time to explain that he's the leader of a cell within the secret society known as the Invisibles and Dane is their newest recruit, before he disappears, leaving Dane alone and homeless on the streets of London.

Mad Tom is a beggar, looking every bit the part with his army-surplus gear and wizardly grey beard, muttering a pastiche of literature and rhythmic chant. Dane is getting by on shoplifted snacks and has made a couple of nice gutter-punk friends, who tell him Tom's harmless but annoying, and can be safely ignored. Later that same day, Tom snatches Dane as he runs from the police, and pulls him into an alley. The bobbie questions Tom about Dane's whereabouts, gets no sensible answer, and moves on - while Dane stands beside Tom in plain view for the entire exchange. So, Dane reasons, something interesting's going on with this Tom fellow. Tom O'Bedlam, as he further explains himself, claims to be the world's most powerful living magician, and out of disbelieving cussedness and fascination, Dane deigns to follow him around for a while.

Soon, Dane is seeing the city with different eyes - literally. Tom takes him from an abandoned tube stop with strange graffiti (where Dane could swear he goes somewhere very, very else for a bit, but can't quite remember), to a park bench where Tom feeds some pigeons, the better to pop out Dane's eyes for a second and swap them with those of a bird that flies all through London and can somehow see the other side of the city, the true self that Tom's been conjuring on and off, the darkened steel lifeform that shits blood and money into the Thames and pools its power into great pyramidal towers that hide in plain sight. The city is a virus, says Tom, using humans to replicate itself for purposes understood only by machines and control systems, until there is no more chaos to consume and the hosts build flying building-ships to carry the building virus to new resources.

In between magical trips and shenanigans, Tom and Dane chat about the nature of reality, the Invisibles, and their war against "the dark forces that would rule this planet." Dane absorbs all this information the only way he can - with a Liverpool street kid's skepticism and lots of cursing. It takes a visit to the seaside, and a couple of preternaturally powerful socks to the jaw, to break Dane's armor. Tom chokes and half-drowns the boy, forcing him to face the gaping hole inside him, which takes the shape of the blank badge of the Invisibles, which engulfs the page in white until nothing's left.

Dane wakes flat on his back on wet sand, staring. "It's like E but it's like... real or something... I feel fucking amazing, man..." Tom is still there waiting, even as he makes ominous noises about his own approaching end. He suggests that he and Dane take a flying leap - off the silver-pyramid-topped tallest tower in Britain. After a bit of frisbee and Dane's blowing up the sports car they rode in on, the two find themselves fifty stories above old London holding rolled-up newspaper torches above their heads. Dane has second thoughts. "You won't die," Tom shouts above the wind, "you're young, with your whole life ahead of you. ... You never trusted anyone in your life before. Trust me. Jump out of the dream." Somehow Tom leads them, they jump together, Dane's lost his torch, Tom falls like Jesus on the cross, they're still so high falling looking down and then Dane hits the ground, but it's the wrong ground, in some countryside. He tumbles a few yards down a grassy hill, between trees. There's little but a queer featureless horizon... he catches his breath for a moment, and what confronts him but the entity we will come to know as Barbelith. It seems to accept him but he turns and runs, finds a bike and a country lane like something out of The Wizard of Oz, rides for a while with little-kid glee and comes to a stop only when the sky in front of him fills with a vision of what looks like the planet Saturn, huge like a Times Square billboard. Tears stream down his face.

Turn the page and find Dane on the streets of London again, grim-faced. He's seeking out the address that Tom gave him on a little slip of paper before the jump. He walks up into the second-floor safehouse, where he finds an empty classroom, and a chalkboard easel that reads "BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU." Soon, he's met again by King Mob, who doesn't have a good answer when confronted about the whereabouts of Tom. Ragged Robin, who is nuts, and tells Dane as much before she's said three sentences to him (and who, the vigilant reader will note, bears not a little resemblance to Crazy Jane from Grant Morrison's run writing Doom Patrol!), isn't any help either. Dane also meets Boy and Lord Fanny, his other soon-to-be teammates, and realizes they've been tailing him throughout his whole ordeal.

There isn't much time to argue about it, though, as Robin's psychic talents detect an incoming goon squad, and they've got to head out in a hurry. Dane can only chase after them, still not knowing what the hell he's gotten into. The other side's storm troops bust down the door of the classroom to find it empty - only now with two phrases on the blackboard (the second: "LEARN TO BECOME INVISIBLE"), and, sitting on the desk in place of an apple, a hot pink hand grenade - no pin - bearing the ransom-note legend: SMILE.



This grossly simplified, somewhat inaccurate summary of issues 1 through 4 of Grant Morrison's The Invisibles has none of the richly textured, double-meaning prose, side trips through semiotics, or beautiful artwork of the real thing. If the above interests you at all, you'd be well advised to pick up the trade paperback collection Say You Want A Revolution, still in print, and find out what happens when the team trips merrily back in time to recruit the Marquis de Sade. Not to mention the just-collected history of Lord Fanny and his/her bruja matriarchy, our chief baddie Sir Miles, Division X, and much more...

Time Maggots and Birthday Cake: Mistakes and Corrections in The Invisibles

For Grant Morrison, The Invisibles was more than just a way to pay the rent each month. Heavily influenced by chaos magic, Morrison saw the comic as a hyper-sigil, a heavily compressed collection of symbols and information designed to transform both the reader's perception of the world and eventually the world itself.

For this reason, the artist's fidelity to the author's vision was even more important than in most other comics. So when errors crept in to volume three of Morrison's epic, their eventual correction for trade paperback collection became inevitable.

Those Morrison completists who want to know the differences between the original comic books and the versions found in the seventh TPB, "The Invisible Kingdom", should read on. Those who don't... shouldn't. In fact, I'm surprised they made it this far. Well done!

Volume 3, Issue 2. "The Invisible Kingdom, Part Three: The Moment of the Blitz" The climax of issue 2 features young Dane MacGowan, Liverpudlian rebel-cum-Buddha, entering the mysterious transdimensional substance known only as the Magic Mirror and finding himself "walking behind the walls of time and the world you know." Led by The Blind Chessman, MacGowan wanders between the opposing-but-connected worlds of Control and Chaos and ultimately sees his true four-dimensional form.

The conversation between Dane and the Chessman spans three pages, beginning with "...but that's just to squeeze out the juice" and ending "ready and be born to come home". These pages were originally drawn by Ashley Wood. However, Wood's take on Morrison's script apparently differed too much from the original intention, and was completely redrawn for the trade by Cameron Stewart.

The first two pages play out essentially the same under both artists, although Stewart's is more detailed and colourful. The artists' version of the third page, however, differ considerably. Morrison's script for the first panel called for an image of Dane extended through the fourth dimension, describing it as a "time maggot". What he intended, and what Stewart drew in the revised edition, was a trail of past Danes stretching back through time, similar to the trails created by leaving the shutter open on a camera. Wood, however, literally drew Dane becoming a scaly serpentine/maggot creature, changing the meaning of his exclamation "Fucking hell" from foul-mouthed existential amazement into terrified agony.

From here on, the two versions diverge completely. The direction for panel two reads:

"Pull back from the moment, (Dane) extends into the future also and the future is seen as a steaming amniotic information broth in which potential forms are curled in wait."

Stewart ignored the talk of future Danes and instead elected to literally pull the camera back to draw both Dane and the Blind Chessman (and other unnamed characters who have just appeared and are purely symbolic) as "time maggots"; those blurred trails of movement seen in the previous panel. Wood, meanwhile, drew a close-up of the Blind Chessman's eyes, with what appear to be tiny square shreds of a paper-like material falling down around him and machine code 1s and 0s in the background. The latter element could be a reference to The Invisibles' binary universe (in which 1 and 0 are replaced with Control and Chaos), or it could be a reference to the Matrix's famous cascading green Chinese symbols, and that movie's debt to The Invisibles. Or, you know, both.

The script for panel three reads:

"And back in a great knotted life cast - the shape we make in the surrounding space as we progress through time."

Stewart draws more time maggot-trail people intersecting as they go about their business. Wood seems to have drawn the literal "time maggot" curling in on itself, coiling up into a knot.

The directions for panel four read:

"And back - a huge centipedal tree of time, human lives extended back - the whole thing glimpsed through the smoky red light of the seething crystal sphere in which the whole monstrous anenome of all life on Earth and all the failed branches...a great timetrack expressed back to the mitochondrial roots. The trues shape of life on Earth. The spheres interset and swallow one another like hungry sphincters, collapsing and whorling tunnel vortices across the structure of the time solid - the universe as a single entity."

Stewart elects to draw what appears to be the surface of the Earth, bound by red trails of life, showing how all the maggot-like trails of people have criss-crossed one another, endlessly overlapping. Wood draws what appears to be a series of intermingling pink life-lines, which weave together like a diagram of blood vessels in the brain, eventually knotting into a spinal column which extends down to the bottom of the panel. Whilst this is a digression from Morrison's script, it does seem to reflect Morrison's theory (and expressed in The Invisibles) that individual personalities are just refractions of an all-encompassing ubermind. In this panel, strange disconnected human eyes float independently, observing the column.

In Stewart's version there is an extra panel that is not in the script. It's a shot of the Earth with blurred stars around it, as if the camera were moving away from it.

Morrison envisioned the last panel as:

"a final glimpse of the beyond - the time crystal itself with its great and monstrous coiled, twitching anenome of life is growing into whorling electric-coloured infospace. The crystal is attended by glowing silver blobs, metamorphic magic mirror entities of the 5th dimension - our true selves - the adult form of which we and all our ancestry are but the larva."

Stewart has a sphere, contrasted with the Earth seen in the previous panel, its surface covered by computerised swirls, floating in the middle of a blue construct woven out of etheral wires. The mercurial blobs of Magic Mirror float about it. Wood overlays this final panel on his previous one, with the pink spinal column becoming a blue, crystiline shaft wrapped around by some kind of artery (his take, presumably, on "the anenome of life"). The magic mirror blobs float around here as well, and it seems that the reader is expected to realise that the blobs are actually the (metaphorical) eyes from the panel four, observing the progress of the time crystal.

Volume 3, Issue 6. "Karmageddon, Part Three: Six Minus Six" In issue 6 of The Invisibles' third volume, King Mob and Edith Manning sit down for a meal to celebrate her 99th birthday. The original print of the comic had several mistakes in the dialogue which made the conversation almost nonsensical. It was substantially corrected for the TPB.

The two versions are reprinted below, alterations italicised. You'll notice that, ironically, the corrected version has a brand new typo in it.

THE ORIGINAL COMIC VERSION: (King Mob is pouring Edith a drink) --EDITH: ...the key to it all was Billy Chang. In the end. It's all in my memoir. Scandal after Scandal. There was some ridiculous business in-- they couldn't ever hold him. Last I heard he was-- Enough! Enough! I haven't had a drink since 19... 69. Billy, of course... we tended to romanticize the Chinese in those days; they seemed to decadent and deep, but Billy was a very strange and remarkable man. --KING MOB: And...? Maybe I'll just read it. Why does this have a "Last Supper" ambience?

THE TPB VERSION: (King Mob is pouring Edith a drink) --E: ...the key to it all was Billy Chang. In the end. It's all in my memoir. Scandal after Scandal. There was some beastly business in 1924 when he was locked away for over a year in Wormwood Scrubs. They deported him in the end, from Albert Docks... Enough! Enough! I haven't had a drink since 19... 69. Billy, of course... we tended to romanticize the Chinese in those days; they seemed so decadent and deep, but Billy was a very strange and remarkable man. --KM: And...? --E: He vanished in the end, you see. There were rumours that he'd died deaf, blind and penniless, but... that wasn't it at all. --KM: Maybe I'll just read it. Why does this birhday (sic) have a "Last Supper" ambience?

Despite DC making efforts to correct the above mistakes, there remains the omission of one page of story in the "Bloody Hell in America" TPB. It comes at the very end of the last issue, and was possibly cut so that the editors could include the usual listing of other Vertigo titles - or possibly because of the intimation that computer game company SEGA are manufacturing rape games. A description can be found below.

Volume 2, Issue 4. "Black Science, Part Four: Safe" PANEL ONE: A close-up shot of one of the pillars of the Golden Gate bridge is in the centre of the panel; behind the steel cables that hold up the road, a cityscape can be seen. (Caption)Prologue: In San Francisco... {Speech: Shoji, off camera; his speech bubble coming from one of the smaller buildings) "I-I-I! I'm in love with this beautiful Burriko! I know she's not real, but that's why I love her."

PANEL TWO: An above-angle shot of a large, spacious laboratory full of arcane computing equipment. Glowing monitors and serpentine cables abound. There are two desks jutting from the machinery. At the left-hand one sits a chubby Japanese man in his twenties: SHOJI. He is holding a pornographic magazine sideways to get a better view of the centrefold model. At the right-hand desk sits another young Japanese man, this one perhaps in his late teens or early twenties with scruffy hair and spectacles. His name is TAKASHI. (Speech: Shoji} "Are you still playing those Virtua Rapist demos? If we're caught with them, I'll be hung by my balls from the flagpole on the headquarters of the SEGA corporation. Why don't you do some work for once, Takashi? I want to keep my job to make money to meet girls who don't exist." (Speech: Takashi) "Shh! Get your camera, Shoji."

PANEL THREE: Medium shot of Shoji, from head height looking at his left-hand side. He is leaning back in his chair, porn magazine still in hand, and looking over his left shoulder at Takashi who is off-screen. (Speech: Takashi) "Write down the date. Write down the time. Tell them I want my Nobel Prize in green."

PANEL FOUR: 45-degree above-angled medium shot of Takashi, looking to his right at Shoji. We can see that he is folding folding a sheet of paper. (Speech: Takashi) "This is it. I figured it out."

PANEL FIVE: Close-up of Takashi's hands, folding the paper into what appears to be some kind of caterpillar with dove-like wings sprouting from its sides. It has a face that looks rather like a helmet with some kind of gas mask nozzle coming out of the front. (Speech: Takashi, head off camera) "Grandfather, grandfather."

PANEL SIX: Close up of Takashi's head as he looks directly into the camera. (Speech: Takashi) "I think I know how to make a time machine." (Caption) "Continued..."


Invisibles script extracts for volume 3, issue 2 and missing page from volume 2, issue 4 taken from http://homepage.ntlworld.com/fish1000/index/lostandfound.htm All other quotes taken from The Invisibles, Book 7: The Invisible Kingdom, by Grant Morrison and various artists, and from The Invisibles, volume 3, issue 6 by Grant Morrison, Sean Philips and Jay Stephens. Both published by Vertigo Comics, a subsidiary of DC Comics. The Invisibles, and all dialogue and characters, are copyright 1995-2005 Grant Morrison. Quotes used without permission, but I've e-mailed him for such. And he is a smart and lovely man who, I hope, won't get me in trouble for promoting a book which I love so much.

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