Grant Morrison's thematic follow-up to The Invisibles, The Filth is a very darkly humourous maxiseries about Greg Feely, a hapless loner who lives alone with his ailing cat and subsists on a diet of chocolate and pornography, who one day discovers that he is really Ned Slade, a gun-toting interdimensional agent. The story is told in 13 issues (August, 2002 - October, 2003).
It seems that Ned works for The Hand, AKA The Filth, a super-secret agency tasked with eliminating anything that might upset the natural balance of the world. Greg Feely is just a holiday persona used by agents who need to take time out in a fictional life to recuperate. Unfortunately, Spartacus Hughes, a body-jumping agent for The Hand, has gone rogue and Ned has been called out of his holiday to go sort things out.
Meanwhile, a group of micro-organisms created to "hug the cancer away" take over a technologically modified woman named Sharon Jones as their bio-vessel, and eventually take up residence in what may or may not be a puddle on Greg's kitchen floor, containing what may or may not be the ink supply for the whole comicverse. And then there's a Golden Age comic book hero named Secret Original, who escaped from his pages and was left permanently crippled in the attempt. And there's a little flower shop near Greg's house. And a communist chimp. And kids, kids with ant heads.
The book is a snapshot of Britain in the early 2000s (paedophile-hunting mobs, security cameras on every street corner, etc.) mixed with a mad otherworld that looks like a cross between Philip K. Dick's nightmares and a rubber fetish playground.
Morrison, who believes that their comics are also spells that can magically transform the consciousness of their readers, intended it to be an 'inoculation' against the horrors of modern living as well as a celebration of the nature of filth: something which is an inescapable part of living, but which humanity tends to ignore, bury or flush away.
The series also revisits the concept from The Invisibles of all humans being cells in a single immense organism and puts a more literal spin on it. For example, Ned Slade is effectively an antibody and The Hand itself is an immune system for reality. Thus, the 'bad guys' represent different illnesses (body-jumping Spartacus Hughes is a virus, Anders Klimakks is an STD, etc.) that must be destroyed in order for the body to thrive. And just as the body builds up a resistance to infections by copying their traits, so The Hand reprograms rogue elements into becoming agents themselves.
This also leads to a return to one of Morrison's long-standing obsessions: the repetition of patterns from one 'layer' to the next. For example, Slade is a living thinking being, but is merely an operative that exists to maintain the being that is reality. This is then replicated in the tiny nano-people that end up living inside Slade, who may themselves create smaller versions to go inside themselves, and so on and so on forever.
This same concept turns up in the form of the comic book that The Hand's agents enter to acquire their Weird Science: It's possible to imagine a never-ending series of layers to reality in which the reader reads a comic about people reading a comic about people reading a comic about... well, you get the idea. Utimately, the comic is a distillation of every concept and interest that Morrison had up to that point, collected in 13 supremely odd issues.
For porn as a plot device, see Filth.
- All Just a Dream: Implied from the start, then discussed, subverted and deconstructed just to screw with the reader.
- And I Must Scream: Sharon Jones was apparently abducted while getting the train home and Mind Raped into becoming a living sex-doll for an evil billionaire.
- Ascended Fanboy: Max starts out describing himself as this. Then after he's killed, the body he's worked so hard to get into comic book superhero shape is hijacked and used by another aspiring superman, though in this case a villainous one.
- Body Horror:
- In "Us. vs. Them", Sharon Jones was turned into a living machine by a depraved billionaire.
- Secret Original, Ultra-Humanitarian, and Eve manage to pierce the Fourth Wall. The results of two-dimensional beings trying to exist in a three-dimensional space are... not pretty.
- Brainwashed: Ned Slade has been brainwashed into thinking that he is sad loner Greg Feely. But this is subverted toward the end of the series when it is revealed that Feely is the true identity and The Hand are trying to turn him into Ned Slade.
- Broken Angel: Secret Original was once his universe's version of Superman, but he tried to break through the Fourth Wall, and though his superpowers saved him from dying, he was left almost completely paralyzed and in constant pain.
- The Call Knows Where You Live: Ned keeps trying to escape the Hand, but they always find him.
- Captain Ersatz: According to Morrison, the story started out as a pitch for Marvel Comics' Nick Fury, but was seen as too strange and radical a change for the character - i.e. the reader being told that Fury is in fact an injectable fake personality inserted into several unassuming saps over the years by a shadowy uber-organisation.
- The characters from Secret Original's world are also very obvious Captain Ersatz types of famous superheroes.
- Chekhov's Gun: The flower shop being referred to as psychedelic at the very start of the story.
- Cosmic Horror Story: Secret Original is a Golden Age superhero who discovered his world is a comic book. Think about this. It's debatable if The Filth as a whole qualifies.
- Crapsack World: The whole point of The Filth is to explore the worst excesses of society.
- Deconstructor Fleet
- Darker and Edgier: It's one of the darkest and most cynical works Grant Morrison ever wrote. The title says it all, really.
- Eldritch Abomination: Mother Dirt, big boss of The Hand.
- Man Green and Man Yellow too.
- Electric Instant Gratification: Max Thunderstone mentions that scientists have discovered enlightenment is analagous to an epileptic seizure in a certain area of the brain. Part of his plan to uplift humanity is to show people how to push their own "Buddha Button".
- Extreme Omnisexual: Tex Porneau is the living embodiment of this trope, going so far as to create a breed of human-sized flying sperm so that he can, quite literally, fuck Los Angeles. The entire city. All at once!. Anders Klimakks, with his career as a porn star/bio-engineered sex god and his nearly 900-woman mating record, is also a perfect example of this trope, though it's implied that due to his background he really can't help himself and that it in many cases just kind of falls into his lap.
- Fourth Wall: Played with in "Structures and Ultrastructures".
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: Secret Original did this, and was broken back.
- Friends with Benefits: Nil and Slade. Sort of.
- Funetik Aksent: Cameron Spector, who speaks in a thick Scottish accent. A lot of exposition in the comic is spoken by her, which makes it all the more harder to figure out.
- Gainax Ending: For starters, the ending takes place non-linearly. Greg confronts Mother Dirt, who tells him to spread part of her to his flowers. In the following panels, Greg is back at home as if nothing happened but now is a magic healer and heal a junkie who smoked a cryptic mysterious blunt. That's because Greg is now a vessel for I-Life (who now oddly looks like Vulcans, that saved him after his suicide attempt, and have brought back Tony too. Greg goes to meet him, with the phrase "We have love". Also, notice something weird about the flowers?
- Granola Girl: Dr. Li Soon, the creator of I-Life, who dreamed of using her tiny, simple creations to make peace between living organisms and viruses, and instead ended up creating a sentient biological weapon.
- Historical In-Joke:"Dmitri, you just shot the President!"
- Intrepid Fictioneer: As noted in the summary above, this is S.O.P. for The Hand.
- Karmic Rape: In "The World of Anders Klimakks", Miami Nil sodomizes Tex Porneau (who was a serial rapist and was attempting to rape Miami before she turned the tables) with a special strap-on that injects a pheromone into his anus, causing his own bio-engineered giant flying sperm to be attracted to HIM and subsequently fertilize him to death.
- Not-So-Imaginary Friend: In "#*%$ Police".
- Limited Wardrobe: Fair enough: The Hand all have standard uniforms... but Greg always wears the same dirty shirt and trousers.
- Loners Are Freaks: Subverted; loner Greg is the most empathetic character in the comic.
- The Men in Black: Subverted.
- More than Mind Control: The Hand inserts personalities into people.
- Nanomachines: In "Us v Them".
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Tex Porneau is an expy of notorious porn producer Max Hardcore.
- Nosy Neighbor: Greg Feely is constantly being watched by his neighbors, who are convinced that he's a child molester.
- Omniscient Morality License: The Hand do horrible things in order to maintain the status quo.
- Out with a Bang: In "The World of Anders Klimakks".
- Pædo Hunt: Greg is targeted by one after he tries to buck the system.
- Painting the Medium: Max Thunderstone projects visible thought bubbles.
- Punny Name: Harlotte Church.
- Moog Mercury. He spends most of the comic being a half-man-half-machine wired to output systems... like moving metal (mercury) or a sound machine with variable output (moog).
- Anders Klimakks and Tex Porneau: both are porn workers (Anders an actor, Tex a director/wannabe auteur), so the gag names are par for the course.
- Recursive Reality: The Paperverse, created in the labs of The Crack, which in turn is reached by dimension-hopping garbage trucks and is implied to be a microscopic base on Greg Feely's kitchen floor. The Hand is presented as society's immune system, and its agents are antibodies.
- Rule 34: Secret Original is trying to find a way to save his comic book world after having ended up in reality. His research is stranded because he got addicted to fanmade porn starring himself.
- Shout-Out: Alpha Sapiens' brain has been colonized by the "Morlockoi", a time-traveling race from the future whose name is a portmanteau of "Morlock" and "Eloi", the two races from the future presented in The Time Machine.
- Show Within a Show: In this case a comic within a comic.
- That Poor Cat: Both off-screen and on-screen.
- Violent Glaswegian: Cameron Spector.
- Voice of the Legion: I-Life.