Possibly one of the most highly-regarded Comic Book series of the 1990s, Grant Morrison's The Invisibles is an electric mashup of James Bond movies, 1960s psychedelia, Cosmic Horror Story, Gnostic theory, The Prisoner, The Illuminatus! Trilogy and the books of Philip K. Dick, with guest appearances by John Lennon, the Marquis de Sade, Lord Byron and Queen Elizabeth II. It's one of the best-regarded original titles from Vertigo Comics.It begins with young Dane MacGowan - a Liverpudlian tearaway with growing psychic power - who becomes a target for two sides of an ancient war: The Invisible College, fighting for chaos and limitless freedom, and The Outer Church, which wants to grind down all individuality and turn humans into mindless drones.He soon joins up with an Invisible cell comprising psychic assassin King Mob, transvestite shaman Lord Fanny, martial arts expert Boy and mysterious redhead Ragged Robin. Together they strike at The Outer Church and its Earthly representatives, trying to free the world of its sick grip. But neither side knows the true secret of the universe, or what is really coming at the end of time on December 21st, 2012...The comic has been equally lauded and criticized for its complicated, nigh-on-labyrinthine structure, which jumps backward and forward in time and - particularly at the end of the third volume - requires the reader to put in some effort to unravel what exactly is going on. It's also let down by art of varying quality, particularly in the 10th and 11th issues of the third volume which had a different artist every couple of pages. However, it remains Morrison's best-received non-superhero work and one of the high watermarks of '90s comic books. Many of its themes would be continued in Morrison's The Filth.Not EVER to be confused with Arthur and the Invisibles.Generally regarded as being one of the primary inspirations for The Matrix, alongside Ghost in the Shell. Morrison even said he felt he was plagiarised, but that it just meant the comic was working as intended.
This comic book provides examples of these tropes:
After the End: Some of the parallel universes the characters cross through are post-apocalyptic and quite unpleasant.
Author Avatar: This is a weird one. For whatever reason, King Mob greatly resembles Grant Morrison: both are tall, skinny bald British guys. In the letters column of the final issue of volume 1, Morrison relates the story of how, at the same time he stuck King Mob in a torture chamber with a gunshot wound to the stomach for about six issues, Morrison collapsed and nearly died because of a deflated lung. Morrison found this significant. More complexly, King Mob at one point uses an alter-ego/parody/lookalike of himself, Gideon Stargrave, the psychedelic mod superspy assassin, as an allegedly-fictional cover for his own identity while being psychically probed by his enemies. In an afterward, Morrison explains that he himself had specifically invented Gideon Stargrave in his teens as a deliberate Author Avatar (Stargrave's adventures were published in two issues of the Scottish comicbook Near Myths, when Morrison was 17). So King Mob fits this trope coming and going. Particularly in light of his answers to reader letters at the end of each issue, it's hard to come away from the series with the impression that King Mob is anything but what Morrison would dearly love to be.
Covers Always Lie: The covers for the issues in the third volume were intentionally surreal and subtly hinted at the story without being explicit.
Crazy-Prepared: King Mob has booby-trapped his own car just in case someone steals it.
Creator Breakdown: Morrison put his emotional and physical problems into the series as he wrote it - and believes that some of the injuries he inflicted on his Marty Stu magically affected him too.
Cultural Rebel: Dane (a white English teenage guy) is a big fan of gangsta rap, and he asks Boy (a young African-American woman) whether she likes it. She says it's okay, but she prefers European techno. Later, we find out that her brother was an actual gangsta rapper.
The Chick: Jack Frost (as The Heart of the group, he plays this role better than any of the actual female members).
In Volume 2 the cell does indeed ritualistically swap their roles, but on the plot level the only noticeable change is that Ragged Robin becomes The Hero and King Mob The Lancer (with a special appearance of Jolly Roger as Sixth Ranger). In Volume 3 the original team has disbanded while new protagonists take the stage, so the matrix doesn't fit quite as much, but the remaining members remain and with the dynamics changed completely as such:
Hollywood Voodoo: Averted by the character Jim Crow. He uses authentic Voodoo incantations in Haitian Creole, allows himself to be "ridden" by the loa Baron Samedi (who behaves in the exact manner described by Voodoo practitioners), and invokes other loa such as Cousin Legba. The issue "Season of Ghouls" also depicts a fairly realistic voodoo ritual, complete with fetishes, idols, blood, candles, etc.
How We Got Here: In "How I Became Invisible", "And Half a Dozen of the Other" and "The Invisible Kingdom".
Mind Screwdriver: Anarchy for the Masses. Also, Douglas Wolk's "Reading Comics" has a very astute analysis.
Nested Story Reveal: There are at leasts four instances in the plot that could be interpreted as this: the future Dane's story to his dying friend, the future Robin's self-insert fan fiction, the video game developed by the future King Mob, and the novel written by Sir Miles. However, given the deconstructionist nature of The Invisibles, none of them are conclusive.
A major theme of the work is that everything is true. Dane did tell his dying friend the story, Robin did write the story, King Mob did develop a virtual reality game, which Dane played and escaped. The universe of "The Invisibles" exists as a completed totality. "Paradox" is irrelevant.
Order Versus Chaos: The Invisibles are agents of Chaos, fighting the evil forces of eternal Order (represented by the Archons of the Outer Church).
R-Rated Opening: One of the first series to be written specifically to take advantage of Vertigo's "suggested for mature readers" policy, the very first panel of the comic is a splash page with a character screaming "FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK!".
Recursive Reality: The cast travels to worlds inside, outside, up, down and sideways to the real world. Whatever that is...
Secret Identity: Gideon Starozewski wrote books under the name Kirk Morrison about his alter-ego Gideon Stargrave... and eventually became King Mob.
Secret Identity Identity: In "Entropy in the U.K.", King Mob uses all of the above identities to fox Lord Miles's attempts at psychic interrogation. In "American Death Camp", Boy discovers that she may not be who she thinks she is.
Technical Pacifist: King Mob gives up guns in volume three because of the damage killing has done to his karma.
Time Travel: Ragged Robin comes from the year 2012. Also, the team uses psychic time travel regularly, for example to retrieve the Marquis de Sade.
Unintentional Period Piece: Morrison wanted to cram the comic full of popular culture signifiers of its era, which in retrospect makes it very much a 1990s period piece. The 90s phenomena and fads featured in The Invisibles include raves, aliens, virtual reality, baggy pants, Union Jack t-shirts and other clothing styles of the decade, pre-Y2K hysteria, and so on.
What Measure Is a Mook?: Several times in the comic, but especially in the twelfth issue, which covers the entire life story of a mook who King Mob casually killed in the first issue and gave a Bond One-Liner to.
Wild Card: The blind chess player (who may or may not be Satan) appears to be working with both the Invisibles and the Archons. Note that whenever we see him by his chessboard, he's not sitting on either the white or the black side, but in the middle, literally "playing both sides". Later on we find out that the idea of there being two sides is a false dichotomy anyway, and one needs to transcend it to move on to the Supercontext. Or something like that.