Review: The Invisibles Vol. 2: Apocalipstick trade paperback (Vertigo/DC Comics)

April 18, 2011

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[Continuing a series of guest reviews on Grant Morrison's The Invisibles by Zach King, who blogs about movies as The Cinema King]

After surprising myself with a somewhat lukewarm reaction to the first volume of Grant Morrison's seven-book epic The Invisibles (due mostly, you'll recall, to the emphasis of style over substance), I dove into the second volume, Apocalipstick, with a bit of trepidation tempered by the confidence that Morrison has never really let me down. Fortunately, Apocalipstick is one of the most successful in the seven-volume series, nailing both characterization and the enormous scope of the work as a whole.

"And so we return and begin again." Apocalipstick begins immediately where the last volume, Say You Want a Revolution, left off. Our heroes, the counter-cultural anarchist heroes The Invisibles, have retaken the windmill time machine from the faceless demon Orlando. Their troubles are only just beginning, however; the windmill is surrounded by the drone-like Myrmidons, and Dane announces he's quitting the team because it's getting entirely too weird for him (a complaint I imagine some readers voiced in the original letter columns, sadly not reprinted here). The main narrative pauses for a few issues to introduce three one-and-done minor character arcs; then the main story of the volume, "Sheman," gives us the origin story of Lord Fanny, revealed to be a transvestite shaman raised as a woman in Brazil.

If the chief complaint about Say You Want a Revolution was that it was generally flat on characterization, Apocalipstick atones for this sin of omission in spades. Though Boy and to some extent King Mob are still somewhat mysterious characters, we're finally given insight into Lord Fanny, who becomes one of the more compelling characters in the hands of Morrison, who's so clearly steeped in his trademark mystical research. Ragged Robin acquires a personality (sprightly and energetic), good compensation for the fact that her origins go unexplored until volume five. Even the story's principal antagonist Sir Miles Delacourt gets fleshed out here, such that he's no longer a cartoon villain but rather becomes a fully developed enemy evenly matched against The Invisibles.

The most remarkable thing about Apocalipstick, though, is not "Sheman," though it is wonderfully illustrated by Jill Thompson, who apes many famous artistic styles while keeping Fanny consistent (she's one of the only artists, it seems, who understands that Fanny is a man wearing women's clothing; Brian Bolland would later make the mistake of drawing Fanny as an actual woman). The three one-and-done issues in the middle of the volume are among the best in the entire series; in the hands of any other writer, these three could have been mere ugly filler (as Batman: Streets of Gotham always became when Paul Dini wasn't on hand), but Morrison uses these issues to introduce new and compelling characters, only one of whom appears in subsequent issues.

Voodoo baron Jim Crow stands out as a significant figure down the pike, but Bobby Murray is perhaps the crowning achievement in the series. In "Best Man Fall," Morrison gives life to "red shirt" henchman Bobby Murray, such that Murray's slaughter at the hands of King Mob way back in issue #1 is recolored as a human tragedy rather than King Mob's "nice and smooth" triumph. Steve Parkhouse's illustrations here are perfect, capturing all the small emotions in Bobby Murray's sad and short life. (Though Bobby, obviously, never appears again in the series, the introduction of Audrey Murray, who reappears at a crucial moment in the penultimate issue of volume seven, demonstrates unequivocally Morrison's mastery of the long-form story.)

While Apocalipstick delivers characterization and a sense of the world of The Invisibles, it also begins to introduce some of the major mythological components of the series, albeit in a typically Morrisonian fashion -- by which I mean it makes almost no sense until several re-readings. As Dane/Jack begins to remember the missing time in his memory from his initiation with Tom O'Bedlam, Paul Johnson's artwork (or perhaps Morrison's script) never quite makes it clear precisely what's happened; we get a crystal clear empathy with Dane/Jack's growing confusion about the world he's entering, but the mysteries are almost too heady. It's early in the series to be bemoaning a lack of answers (or maybe it's just that six years of Lost trained me to think that way), but it seems that only Morrison diehards will appreciate the deliberately obtuse nature of the ideas behind The Invisibles.

Morrison wisely seems to recognize the off-putting nature of his philosophical advances and chooses to match dense imagery with simultaneous plot twists. By the end of Apocalipstick, Dane/Jack has embraced his role as Tom O'Bedlam's successor in the Invisibles cell led by King Mob, just as his new leader is captured by a gleefully gloating Sir Miles. Forestalling the answers to the mysteries of Barbelith with completely lucid cliffhangers is a genius move on Morrison's part, even if the frustration surfaces in hindsight. First-time readers, though, will quickly lose patience with the sudden introduction and abandonment of John-a-Dreams, a compelling characters whose most significant discovery (and whose very existence) is revealed and quickly neglected for many chapters.

By giving fullness to both the heroes and the villains of The Invisibles, Apocalipstick achieves the goal of giving the overall series a sense of purpose and identity. Now that we know who the players are, what they're fighting for, and how they go about their side of the fight, it's much easier to get a feel for what exactly The Invisibles is supposed to be. It's also easier to identify whether or not The Invisibles is entirely successful based on the objective standard of what an Invisibles comic should be like. Answer? Apocalipstick.

[Contains full covers, a character page, and a "Story So Far" page. Printed on non-glossy paper.]

That's volume two taken care of, loyal readers. Next, it's Entropy in the U.K., in which King Mob's personalities -- all of them -- are explored and the definitive Invisibles artist finally joins the creative team. Stay tuned.

Read Zach's review of The Invisibles Vol. 1: Say You Want a Revolution. And coming up later in the week ... the Collected Editions review of Grant Morrison's Time and the Batman. Don't miss it!

Comments ( 1 )

  1. The Bobby Murray issue is one of the high points of the entire series, but the "Sheman" arc is no slouch either. I agree that this is a deeper, more enjoyable collection than the first one, but I still don't think it's as great as the next volume, when the story really takes off. Looking forward to the "Entropy in the U.K." review.


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