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Comic Book / The Invisibles

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Clockwise from top left: Dane "Jack Frost" MacGowan, Lord Fanny, Boy, King Mob and Ragged Robin. From the cover of volume 2, issue 1.


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, Nineteen Eighty-Four, The Prisoner, The Illuminatus! Trilogy and the books of Philip K. Dick, with guest appearances by various Historical Domain Characters. 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 appeared in early forms in Morrison's Doom Patrol and would be continued in Morrison's The Filth.

Not 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.


The Invisibles provides examples of:

  • After the End: Some of the parallel universes the characters cross through are post-apocalyptic and quite unpleasant.
  • Alternate Self: Ragged Robin is not just an expy of Crazy Jane from Doom Patrol, the series Morrison used to write before The Invisibles, but an alternate-universe version of her.
  • Anachronic Order: The comic jumps around between several different time periods, sometimes on the same page. Characters are shown narrating the events of the "present day" from several years in the future, for example.
  • Another Dimension: Our universe is a hologram created by two other universes intersecting. Or a five-dimensional structure in a growing larval stage. Or something.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Lord Miles; also Queen Elizabeth II is shown to be involved with The Outer Church in "The Invisible Kingdom". The original Evil Aristocrats, the Duke, Bishop, Judge, and Banker of Sade's 120 Days of Sodom, also pop up briefly, and end up eating some delicious Adaptational Karma.
  • Artificial Plague: Like many conspiracy thrillers, the series reveals that (in-universe) a real-world disease is one of these, with AIDS turning out to be an Outer Church bioweapon meant to exterminate the gay community.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: What happens to mankind on December 21st, 2012, maybe.
  • Author Avatar: This is a weird one. For whatever reason, King Mob greatly resembles Grant Morrison: both are tall, skinny bald Scottish 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.
    • That last bit is pretty much the point of the work—as a chaos magician, he intended for it to be a hypersigil. A normal sigil is (briefly) a magic spell encapsulated in a picture; a hypersigil would be a sigil with the added dimension of time.
  • Back to Front: Volume 3 starts at issue 12 and counts backwards to 1, when Barbelith "downloads" all of humanity and kickstarts the next phase of their existence.
  • Big Bad: Sir Miles Delacourt, Director of MI6, high-ranking human collaborator with the Outer Church, and general all-around depraved British bastard. His masters the Archons are comparatively a lot more hands-off.
  • Big Good: The final arc heavily implies that the Blind Chessman, the Harlequin, and the King in Yellow are all the same being, or different aspects of it, and that he/they is the ultimate head of the Invisibles.
  • Bomb Throwing Anarchist:
    • Jack Frost starts as one. The rest of the series deconstructs this trope.
    • The 1920s King Mob was one of the originals-even to blowing up a police station with a Cartoon Bomb.
  • Body Horror: Miss Dwyer's body modifications in "Entropy in the U.K."; what happens to Bambi in "Bloody Hell in America".
  • Conspiracy Kitchen Sink: In the world of the comic, many real-world conspiracy theories are true; specifically, they're the Outer Church's various plans to eliminate all except absolute conformity.
  • Cool Old Lady: Edith Manning in the present is a nonagenarian and very helpful to the heroes.
  • The Corruption: Serving the Archons changes people both physically and psychologically.
  • Cosmic Deadline: The world is supposed to come to an end (wake up? be born?) on December 21st, 2012. It does. "Our sentence is up."
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Diner Brawl: A local cowboy doesn't like the fact that Lord Fanny is transgender and tries to pick a fight. Doesn't go well when the heroes take down entire military bases on their off days.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Archons, the masters of the Outer Church, are hideous extradimensional demons who resemble mishmashes of various Earthly animals, especially arthropods. Unlike H.P. Lovecraft's original abominations, the Archons are creatures of order rather than chaos.
  • Expy:
    • Gideon Stargrave is an Expy of Michael Moorcock's protagonist Jerry Cornelius. The caption boxes relating to him even parody the distinctive chapter titles and prose style of the Cornelius stories. It later turns out that the Cornelius stories exist in-universe and King Mob was consciously imitating them.
    • Lewis Brodie, the Outer Church agent who captures King Mob and Fanny, is a parody of Bodie from The Professionals, played by Lewis Collins.
    • All of the "Division X" characters are Expies of figures from 1970s British police series:
  • Fade to White: The last image in the series is the period on Dane's final sentence, then pure white.
  • Fad Super: King Mob reinvented himself several times throughout the series to remain fashionable.
  • Fallen Hero: John-a-Dreams—once close to King Mob—is later observed scheming with Lord Miles, underscoring (as the series winds down) the increasing Not So Different emphasis.
  • Fan Disservice: Many, many examples throughout the series. At one point early on, for instance, the characters are accidentally transported into The 120 Days of Sodom, the Marquis de Sade's infamous novel about rape, torture, and murder. In the "Entropy in the UK" arc, Miss Dwyer, a busty, curvy woman working for the Outer Church, whips out her boobs... which we see are crisscrossed with disgusting blue veins that carry alien nanobots, which wrinkly old Sir Miles proceeds to drink right from the tap for a psychic powerup.
  • Fantastic Drug: The "blue mold" in an abandoned Underground station, and Ragged Robin's use of "Sky" to bootstrap her jump from fiction to reality (or is it the other way around?)
  • Flock of Wolves: Every member of the Metropolitan Police's secret occult crime squad Division X is actually an Invisible double-agent. Jon Six was the only one to know all the others were moles, George Harper didn't even know that he was a mole due to using a Memory Gambit, and the other two thought that they were the only one.
  • Gainax Ending: Nothing else could have worked, really
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: One of the big points of the series. It manages to find it behind an almost Anviliciously black-and-white conflict. By the final volume, it settles on Black and Gray and White, with the black being the Outer Church, the gray being traditional Invisiblism, and the white being Jack Frost's new pacifistic Invisiblism that ends up saving the day in the end.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: The Moonchild, a half-human, half-Archon member of the British Royal Family. If he becomes King, then the leader of the Archons will be able to jump into our universe, heralding what the Invisible Helga sums up as "Concentration Camp Earth."
  • Hand of Glory: The Hand of Glory is a powerful artifact that can open doors in timespace – i.e. open gates to other worlds and ages. It is hinted that the Hand is Jack Frost's own hand, who uses it to fold in time like a cursor on a computer screen.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Ragged Robin is the love interest for King Mob (and later... or earlier, depending on how you look at the chronology, Mason Lang).
  • Higher Understanding Through Drugs: There are several occasions where characters gain deeper knowledge via drugs, both real and imaginary ones. The most notable example of the latter is the blue mold the protagonist Dane and his mentor Tom smoke, allowing Dane to contact the Barbelith, though it's later revealed that the mold was just regular mold with no narcotic qualities at all.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: The second major arc features the Marquis de Sade as Not Evil, Just Misunderstood, and the man himself states he's never actually done anything straight-up illegal. In real life, while he wasn't as bad as the characters he created, there's ample evidence he really was a dangerous sexual predator. The Marquis also states that he wrote his infamously disturbing works to shed light on the depravity and hypocrisy of the ruling class and show how absolute power corrupts absolutely; while this is indeed one interpretation of his work in real life, just as many analysts feel he wanted his audience to agree with his depraved Villain Protagonists.
  • 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".
  • Hunting the Most Dangerous Game: Sir Miles and his goons routinely dress up in traditional British hunting garb and then go out slaughtering homeless people, then take their corpses and feed them to the Moonchild.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Or in this case, issue numbering. Volume 3 starts with issue 12 and counts down to 1.
  • Journey to the Center of the Mind: In "Entropy in the U.K.".
  • Lennon Specs: Many characters sport these, particularly King Mob and his vanished partner John-a-Dreams, who seems to be based in name and physical appearance on Lennon.
  • Logic Bomb: The series itself is allegedly designed to have this effect on the reader.
  • Mayan Doomsday: The world ends with the on Dec 21, 2012 with the ascension of mankind. Grant Morrison talks about it here.
  • Memory Gambit: Some Invisible agents temporarily submerge their own knowledge of being Invisibles to better blend into the background, such as George Harper.
  • Mind Screwdriver: Anarchy for the Masses, a companion volume that is meant to explain several of the more oblique elements of the series. Also, Douglas Wolk's "Reading Comics" has a very astute analysis.
  • Mooks: The Outer Church has two "grades" of faceless henchmen, normal humans called Myrmidons, and modified servitors known as Cyphermen.
  • Nested Story Reveal:
    • There are at least 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.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The reader never gets a clear look at the human-animal hybrids the Outer Church are creating in their American base, and King Mob and Jolly Roger are so horrified at the sight of them that Mob immediately kills them all. Considering what this series does show, that's saying a lot.
  • N-Word Privileges:
    • Jim Crow, a Haitian rapper who named himself after an offensive blackface character from turn-of-the-century Vaudeville shows.
    • Boy's rapper brother Eezy tosses the word around copiously, which annoys their more respectable brother Martin.
  • Obfuscating Disability: The mysterious Blind Chess Player may actually be Satan, Enoch, or another character in the comic itself, but he definitely isn't actually blind. Positively the reverse.
  • Order Versus Chaos: The Invisibles are agents of Chaos, fighting the evil forces of eternal Order (represented by the Archons of the Outer Church).
  • Our Archons Are Different: The Archons are the forces behind the Outer Church, appropriately representing malevolent order.
  • Rape as Backstory: Parodied when Robin deliberately creates a false memory of being abused by her father as a distraction for the sexually-depraved Quimper, when he tries to Grand Theft Me her.
    • Played horrifically straight with Lord Fanny.
  • Rebellious Rebel: Jack Frost, at first, chafes under even the minimal and fluid authority of an Invisibles cell.
  • R-Rated Opening: One of the first series to be written specifically to take advantage of Vertigo's "suggested for mature readers" policy, the second page of the very first issue comic is a splash page with a character screaming "FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK!".
  • Raised as the Opposite Gender: Subverted with Lord Fanny, who ended up being more than happy to identify as a girl anyway.
  • 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.
  • Sex Magic: In the "Black Science" arc, Lord Fanny is shown powering one of her spells with masturbation. The Invisibles also includes a rather unusual example in its Para Text: during its early run, the sales of the series dropped notably, and author Grant Morrison (who practices magic in real life) was worried it would get cancelled. To prevent this, he suggested a massive, multi-person "wank-a-thon" on the letters page of one issue. The idea was that all the readers would masturbate on a particular date while focusing on a magical sigil Morrison had provided, and the resultant Sex Magic would stop The Invisibles from getting cancelled. Unfortunately, this particular issue was delayed, so it came out only after the date Morrison had set, though the series was never cancelled anyway.
  • Shout-Out: When harassed by a group of rednecks in volume 2, King Mob says "Is this you, John Wayne? Is this me?"
  • Stylistic Suck: Before becoming an Invisible, King Mob wrote trashy horror/spy novels, the Gideon Stargrave series, starring an Author Avatar of himself.
  • Technical Pacifist: King Mob gives up guns in volume three because of the damage killing has done to his karma.
  • Textual Celebrity Resemblance: The Blind Chessplayer is drawn at times to look exactly like Richard E. Grant. His resemblance to "an actor" is commented on within the story by Dane, after their conversation at Dulce.
  • 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.
  • Trapped in TV Land: In "Arcadia", the team find themselves stuck in the Marquis de Sade's The 120 Days of Sodom.
  • 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. There's also the fact that Fanny is consistently called a transvestite (a man who dresses in women's clothes) when she is fairly clearly a transgender woman (someone born biologically male, but identifies female).
  • Weirdness Censor: Used either implicitly or explicitly throughout the series. For example, when the present-day Invisibles travel to Revolutionary France, their contact wonders why nobody is looking at them strangely; King Mob gives a pretty apt summary of this trope as an explanation.
  • 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.
  • Where Everybody Knows Your Flame: The bar where Fanny takes her night off and is captured by Brodie.
  • Whole Episode Flashback: "Best Man Fall" tells the life story of one of the guards killed by King Mob in issue one; also "How I Became Invisible", "She-Man", "The Invisible Kingdom".
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: Lord Fanny. Admittedly, she's still quite amorous.
  • Why Couldn't You Be Different?: Subverted. Lord Fanny is raised as a girl because her grandmother does not allow men to become shamans, but she is fully comfortable with this.
  • 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.
  • Villain in a White Suit: The series has several creepy and mystically powerful men in white suits, who Grant Morrison has hinted are all on some level the same character: sadistic assassin Orlando, mind-controlling Humanoid Abomination Quimper, enigmatic Wild Card the Blind Chessplayer, and King Mob's ex-partner-turned-evil-(or-maybe-not) John-a-Dreams


How well does it match the trope?

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