Interviewer: If you cut out every panel of The Invisibles and arrange them in a new order you can practically storyboard The Matrix.
Grant Morrison: Yeah. It is that close. I don't think they could deny it. After the initial rage, when I really went through it plot point by plot point and image by image... The jumps from buildings, the magic mirror, the boy who's being inducted called the One, the black drones, the shades, the fetish. The Kung Fu as well. The dojo scene. The whole thing - the insect machines that in fact are from a higher dimension, which supposedly enslaved their own. The entire gnostic theme.
-from Anarchy For the Masses
The original tagline used to promote The Matrix was "No one can be told what the Matrix is. You must see it for yourself." Well, we did, and four years, four hundred and sixty million dollars, and over a million DVDs later, no one needs to be told. I'm going to assume the reader is familiar with the film (as most noders certainly seem to be).
The Matrix wears its many influences on its sleeve: The future ruled by evil sentient robot overlords is taken from The Terminator
(which is itself a pastiche of Harlan Ellison
's stories Soldier
and I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream
). The S.W.A.T.
teams moving through sickly green dilapidated buildings clearly recall Se7en
. The slow-motion shell casings spilling over the ground are a trope of John Woo
's films made in Hong Kong
, where they also got the wire-work of Yuen Wo Ping
. Perhaps most overtly, a scene from the cult British TV series The Prisoner
, about a rogue secret agent kept captive in a fake village, can be seen as Neo runs through an old woman's apartment.
The film's writer-director team, The Wachowski Brothers, are also avid fans (and ex-writers) of comics, and they hired well-known artists Geoff Darrow and Steve Skroce to design and storyboard each scene in the film. Which also contains borrowings only comics fans would catch: The name Morpheus is taken from Neil Gaiman's The Sandman series, where it refers to the ruler of a world of dreams, and the Sentinels, the "killing machines designed for one purpose: search and destroy", are the names of the giant mutant-hunting robots in X-Men.
The comic series that was the greatest influence on the film, though, would have to be one that its creators have neglected to name anywhere in the vast glut of promotional and making-of material: The Invisibles
, written by Grant Morrison
and illustrated by a wide variety of artists over six years and fifty-nine issues. Morrison once stated that, combing through the particulars, he found over eighty points of similarity. I don't think I can get the count quite that high, but let's see if I can get 5
- The Universe.
The film's central premise -- that reality as we know it is a computer-generated fantasy world -- is not to be found in the Invisibles. However, our universe is described as a hologram, created by the intersection of two larger universes, a healthy one and a dying one. From the sick one, known as Universe B, giant insectile creatures known as the Archons are attempting to invade our world. Hence certain characters have the power to warp themselves out of reality, use one of the other universes as a shortcut, and reenter, much as Trinity can through a phone line.
- The Evil.
Agent Smith and his two cohorts wear earphones like members of the Secret Service, can overrule and command squads of local police (one initially presumes them to be members of the FBI), and are based in a government skyscraper. The Archons also choose powerful figures of human authority as their agents on this plane. Among them are generals, freemasons and aristocrats who, though they claim to be serving the forces of order, are secretly driven by fear and repulsion of their enemies, much as Agent Smith confesses to Morpheus ("It's the SMELL!").
- The Good.
Neo is a criminal hacker and Morpheus an international terrorist. The Invisibles has parallel rookie-mentor heroes: Jack Frost, who is a destructive anarchist, and King Mob, a wanted assassin. Thus, what is in name a much larger struggle becomes on the surface merely class war, or at worst rebellious wish-fulfillment. Invisibles operate in loose cells of five with no overarching heirarchy and little intergroup communication, much like the various ships of Zion. And the initial resistance cell that Neo encounters numbers five - Morpheus, Trinity, Cypher, Switch and Apoc.
- The Wardrobe.
For the bad guys, three-piece suits and ties; for the good guys, circular shades and black leather. Morrison seems particularly offended at the theft of this detail, as he simply dressed King Mob in what he himself likes to wear.
- The One.
Both Neo and Jack are repeatedly referred to as "The One" - the human prophesied to save his race from slavery, the sole being capable of it. Early in the film, to establish the mythic parallel, a character addresses Neo this way: "You're my savior, man. My own personal Jesus Christ." However, mowing down security guards with a Mac10 shows very little attention paid to the teachings of the New Testament. In contrast, Jack, who is more commonly compared with Buddha than Christ, despite being foulmouthed and often impatient, demonstrates the value of meditation, a strong distaste for violence, an understanding of the greater scheme in any given scenario, and genuine compassion even for his murderous enemies.
- The Traitor.
Cypher, tired of the war and wanting his old, unenlightened life back, sells out his comrades for the promise to be reinstalled in the Matrix (a vow which I highly doubt the machines would find a reason to follow through on). When the Invisibles obtain the Hand of Glory, Boy, one of their own, apparently controlled by the Archons, steals the Hand and delivers it to (ostensibly) a federal group. When it is later revealed this group is a second, uncooperative cell of Invisibles, Boy quits the war, tired of the conflict and missing her old life.
- The Alien Alphabet.
The first image in the Matrix (and the only image needed in the print ads for the sequel) is of foreign green characters scrolling down a computer screen. This is the code of the Matrix, of "reality" itself; it cannot be represented by the letters and numbers we know. The Invisibles postulates that English contains not twenty-six but sixty-four letters, the hidden symbols spelling out concepts our minds are unprepared to comprehend.
- The Chemical Induction.
Morpheus's mention of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in the "red pill" scene makes it easy for us to see it as merely another version of "EAT ME" and "DRINK ME" labels (especially for those who know Lewis Carroll was a laudanum addict). However, in the modern setting of the Invisibles, characters constantly use drugs to expand consciousness and thus better perceive the threat against them, be it marijuana, ecstasy, smart drinks or LSD. The most direct analogue here, though, is probably the ancient blue mold growing on the walls of London's subterranean tunnels that Tom O'Bedlam (another mentor figure) and Jack smoke together.
- The Magic Mirror.
The red pill, which disrupts Neo's "input-output carrier signal", causes a hallucination in which a cracked mirror heals itself, then becomes liquid, flowing onto Neo's body and engulfing him in cold, sliding down his throat until he wakes up. It's a metaphor for a dawning realization of self, and a warning that reality can be frightening. But the visual depiction used of mirror as a free-floating substance is familiar to any Invisibles reader as the four-dimensional entity that the transvestite witch Lord Fanny channels from out of her mouth and nose to absorb enemies and upload their essences into the supercontext.
- The Building Jump.
Morpheus tests Neo's "One"-ness with a leap from a skyscraper. ("Doubt. Fear. You have to let it all go.") Though Neo fails his goal of making it to the next building in a single bound, he does survive his Wile E. Coyote-like plummet to the simulated ground. In Vol. 1 Issue 4, Tom leads Jack in a voluntary drop from Canary Wharf, the tallest building in Britain. ("Trust me. Jump out of the dream.") Jack lands safely in Universe A.
- The Kung Fu.
In both stories, Eastern martial arts play a large role in equipping the resistance, ultimately eclipsing even the abundant firearm violence. In Vol. 1 Issue 5, Boy (who is black) teaches Jack (who is white) about his potential in a dojo setting very similar to the Nebuchadnezzar's sparring program.
- The Visible Timestream.
The Matrix's innovative "bullet-time" effects have been much imitated, but less discussed is the depiction of a character moving in bullet-time seen from a normal perspective: For instance, an agent moving faster than the eye can follow will appear to have ten arms or six torsos. At key moments in the Invisibles, characters are lifted out of time entirely to view themselves as they truly are: built of an infinite segmented snake of separate moments. In this way, comics uses two dimensions to represent four. This correlation, like Magic Mirror, has little in common from a story perspective, but the visuals are eerily reminiscent.
- The Torture Sequence.
Earlier, you may recall, we compared Morpheus to King Mob. In Vol. 1 Issues 16-18, after losing a brawl in a bathroom, King Mob is abducted by the enemy, handcuffed to a metal chair, injected with a serum, subjected to psychic invasion, and eventually freed by his friends. Though my computer prevents me, I'm tempted to dispense with careful explication, indignantly thrust the book under your nose, and scream "JUST LOOK AT IT!" A lot of the above elements I can forgive, even despite the overwhelming evidence they create once tallied, but this scene is such a blatant lift I can only infer it was included as some kind of deliberate message to Invisibles fans: "Yes, we know that you know where we're getting all this from. Don't worry, the action will arrive shortly."
- The Virus Speech.
Let's flagrantly violate a couple copyrights here. Agent Smith's speech to Morpheus, you may recall, goes like this:
I'd like to share a revelation I've had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species. I realized that you're not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed. The only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You are a plague, and we are the cure.
Here's a speech Tom gives to Jack in Vol. 1 Issue 3. See if it doesn't make a little more inherent sense:
Our world is sick, boy. Very sick. A virus got in a long time ago and we've got so used to its effects, we've forgotten what it was like before we became ill. I'm talking about cities, see? Human cultures were originally homeostatic, they existed in a self-sustaining equilibrium, with no notions of time and progress, like we've got. Then the city-virus got in. No one's really sure where it came from or who brought it to us, but like all viral organisms, its one directive is to use up all available resources in producing copies of itself. More and more copies until there's no raw material left and the host body, overwhelmed, can only die.
- The Gnostic Theme.
In both stories, the message that stays with the audience is of a search for truth that has nothing to do with robots or extradimensional overlords. We deliberately take dialogue out of context and apply it to our own lives. Because you and I, right now, are in fact being controlled, and we do need to wake up. It's not fiction. But it is an empowering allegory we can use for self-actualization.
Grant Morrison has sought no monetary remuneration for copyright infringement (and he wouldn't be likely to get it, either, since both DC Comics and Warner Bros. are owned by AOL Time Warner anyway), he simply wishes the Wachowskis would publicly acknowledge that it was he who first took the ideas of Philip K. Dick, Robert Anton Wilson, Terrence McKenna and many others and molded them into a modern pop adventure format. He claims to know people who worked on the Sydney set of the Matrix, and told him Invisibles comics were strewn all over.
is a trilogy of films, just as The Invisibles
was released in three volumes, the final issue of Vol. 2 hitting newsstands roughly when shooting on the first Matrix film wrapped in October 1998. In Vol. 3, Morrison retaliated by introducing Helga, a character who looks a hell of a lot like Trinity, decoding strings of the secret letters on her Mac G4, and by showing the Archons' soldiers incubating in gelatinous pods like Neo's. Morrison has said the aspect of the controversy that truly upsets him is that he had to throw away his Invisibles screenplay. However, he wrote another one, focusing on Vol. 2, and the film remains in the works. I'll be interested to see if the next two Matrix films borrow any more of Morrison's signature tropes, but the Wachowskis seem to have more than enough elements to make two additional exciting action films, no matter where they got them from.