“It’s only part of something much better that will be wonderful… To believe that things are going to get better and we will participate in things getting better… Is just us about to become something else.”
- Grant Morrison, Talking With Gods.
The indefatigable optimism of Grant Morrison—and his readers—can to some seem quite naive. As 2012 came ever closer, part of me hoped we would all be dancing in the streets while Dane recounted his days with the Invisibles as the blank page bled into reality. Rather than the positive void of the Supercontext, the dissolution of the individual ego into the infinite bliss of an endless party, we have found ourselves in a world driven by the fleeting inflation of the ego and the senses. This acts as a relief from the ceaseless vexation of mundane existence but ultimately depresses, homogenizes, and negates us. The “Subcontext,” if you will.
As Patrick Meaney noted in Our Sentence Is Up, looking at the world around us through the lenses of The Invisibles, it would appear that the other side won, that the Archon took the throne and all our worst conspiratorial nightmares came true or are slowly coming true. We live in a world that we are essentially destroying, consuming without conscience of consequence. A world where a nation’s increasingly militarized police force murders its citizens. Where the poor and the needy are sacrificed through the removal of support in favor of big business. Where the rich masquerading as our political benefactors can get richer through the suffering of others. Our compassion for our planet and our fellow man has been contrived into a vicarious existence. An existence lived through fictional characters or supposed “celebrities” who often embody our least admirable qualities. Yet these are held up as that which we should aspire to. While on the global stage, we are shunted from one foreign conflict to another in a farce that reminds me of Bill Hicks’ skit about Jack Palance in Shane.
One could argue that the assimilation of a formerly stigmatized geek culture into mainstream media is symptomatic of society’s desire to escape these awful horrors of reality. Yet even in the wake of the comics explosion in all its various forms, mainstream media appears an even bleaker doppelganger of the news—shows that revolve around gritty realistic tales involving paranoia, betrayal, conspiracy, espionage, terrorism, and corruption. This in turn has fed back into the daydream of the comic medium. A superficial generalization of DC’s New 52 is that it reflects some of the shallower aspects of comics from the late eighties and early nineties. This suggested harkening back to the realism and darkness of the Modern Age isn’t limited to just printed output. Visual media such as Superman vs. Batman Dawn of Justice and DC’s ever increasing televised output bear the influence of Frank Miller and, to some extent, Alan Moore at the very least. It’s tried escapism, but perhaps escapism robbed of a certain magic and all too grounded in the reality we are accustomed to.
At his heart, Grant is the very antithesis of all this; he believes these things to be the fundamental flaws in not only comics but also in culture and human nature. If we imagine evil as a virus, then Grant’s comics are the medicine. Not temporary relief from affliction but cures. Medicines that are effective because Grant knows the afflictions all too well. This may be why he writes such great villains—villains so seductive you end up feeling almost ashamed or dirty for relating to them. Grant doesn’t want to glorify evil as some Darwinian virtue of the modern world. Rather he wants us to relate to our anti-heroes and our villains so we might better defeat or even heal them and, in turn, the evil we face in our existence. That experience of agency and empowerment is something we as a reader can expect when Ultra Comics is released as part of the Multiversity event.
Just over half way through the narrative of The Invisibles both we and the characters discover that the endgame isn’t a war, it’s a rescue mission. This is an idea I would argue is being gradually set up in Multiversity. The two issues thus far have ended quite bleakly, but that is surely to set up the inevitable inoculation? The Just, the next comic in the Multiversity event is set on Earth-16, where the scions of superheroes are celebrities and an evil lurks beneath the facade of peace and purpose. That sounds like another replication of the fractal narrative seen in the prior two issues, with some subtle variance which might manifest in both a critique and a celebration of pop culture.
The Millenium came and went, I danced through Brighton, hugged the police, and we seemed to be on track. Then 9/11 happened and suddenly the dream was in danger. In The Invisibles, Roswell was when the Creator fell into its Creation, experiencing a psychic trauma that reverberated throughout all of spacetime. Conversely, then, could the fall of the Twin Towers be that singular moment when humanity wounded and traumatized itself en masse? December 21st 2012 came and went with little to no fuss and, as previously stated, no mass ascension or rapture.
Of course the fallacy here is to view 2012 as somehow intrinsic to the Supercontext. Back when The Invisibles was being written, 2012 seemed a long way off and the occult and counter cultural significance attached to it made it the perfect arbitrary point for humanity to enter the Supercontext, to become the Superorganism. The truth is the Supercontext isn’t a fixed point in time; if all of time is a higher dimensional sphere, such a notion is irrelevant. The Supercontext is a state of mind. The Supercontext is a journey. The Supercontext is everywhere and nowhere. To indulge a little Daoist paraphrasing, the Supercontext that can be spoken of is not the true Supercontext. What I will say is that Grant’s work offers us the best glimpses of that ineffable truth, all the while reminding us of the flaws of the alternatives. Outside of The Invisibles, signposts can be seen in All Star Superman #12 and in JLA #41. Captain Carrot’s insistence on writing happy endings, as revealed in Multiversity #1, is another.
You could even argue that other writers are working through their own notions of the Supercontext and our journey towards it. Charlie Gillespie’s The Many: Once Upon a Time in Utopia, which I reviewed back in April, seems to be working towards a similar, albeit less transcendental, revolutionary payoff. Maybe mainstream culture’s assimilation of our outsider lifestyle isn’t about reinforcing a sense of hopeless defeat as we and all we love become commodities? Rather it challenges us and presents us with the opportunity to bring the Supercontext one step closer. For everyone.