Funnybook Babylon

January 7, 2008

Hits off the Source, Part One: Kirby, Evil and the Invisibles

Filed under: Articles — Tags: , , , — David Uzumeri @ 12:28 am

It’s no secret Grant Morrison brings his pet themes to everything he does.

At the end of the day, from the Filth to New X-Men to Seven Soldiers to Seaguy, his stories are epic sci-fi action yarns – usually, superficially, about good versus evil – underscored by an impassioned plea for mutual respect and tolerance. It’s a testament to the man’s craft that his work is so diverse despite the shared thematic underpinnings. His “villains” tend to be portrayed, in the end, as either pathetic and pitiful such as Sir Miles Delacourt from the Invisibles and Magneto from New X-Men, or natural processes that should be overcome or embraced such as Sublime from New X-Men, the Sheeda from Seven Soldiers or himself from Animal Man. However, I’d like to take a look for a minute at the Outer Church from what’s probably his defining statement, The Invisibles.

The Outer Church are portrayed throughout the course of the story as Lovecraftian elder gods who want to subjugate humanity using the tools of authority. However, in the final issues of the book, it is revealed that their role is far more complex, as is the role of their freedom-espousing archrivals, the Invisible College.

From Invisibles Vol. 3 #1:

Larval consciousness experiences the introduction of necessary inoculating agents from the Supercontext as a form of invasion by hostile, bacterial forces. The inoculation is conceptualized by the developing larva as an invasion of threatening “not-self” material… the confronting and integration of “not-self” being a necessary stage in the development of the maturing larva’s self-awareness — “philogeny recapitulates history.

In Morrison’s worldview, and the world of The Invisibles, the forces of assimilation and order aren’t evil; they’re tests. For our world – our universe – to evolve, much like a larval body, it needs to inoculate itself against it. That is the role the Archons play in the development of humanity – as well as the role of the Invisibles: to simulate a grand war which will stimulate mankind’s progress and evolution towards understanding.

Morrison makes a point of making it clear that this evolution towards understanding takes place in 2012, on what’s commonly known as the day of the “Mayan apocalypse” — basically, the end of the current Mayan calendar and, according to Mayan religion, the coming of the Fifth World.

thatsbarbelith.jpgIn Invisibles Vol. 3 #2, Invisibles protagonist Jack Frost and the enigmatic “Blind Chessman” travel through the world of the Invisible college, past the borders, on to the Outer Church, showing that they occupy the same space – they aren’t two warring forces at all, but different sides of the same thing. It’s not a pointless war, it’s benevolent outside forces — what Morrison dubs the “Supercontext”, and in the case of the Invisibles, the friendly orb Barbelith on the other side of the moon — attempting to grow and mature us and our world.

That’s the background. In May, we get Grant Morrison and J.G. Jones’s Final Crisis #1, the culmination of years of stories in the DC Universe building upon the work of the unbelievably creatively fertile Jack Kirby. The story centers around the New Gods, the central characters of his 1970s epic “The Fourth World” – two planets, one of freedom and peace and the other of control and war, in constant conflict with Earth frequently as their battleground. Darkseid may be a mite more dapper than the King-of-all-Tears, but his role is roughly the same. Scott “Mister Miracle” Free, the avatar of freedom, is the scion and prodigal son of the peace-loving world of New Genesis who grew up on Apokolips but kept his dignity and escaped; Orion, son of Darkseid, is a creature of anger and war who nevertheless still sides with the forces of New Genesis. Much like Morrison’s later Invisibles, Kirby began a grand saga of good versus evil with hints of far more under the surface – unfortunately, due to its early cancellation, we never got to see them.

new-gods-007-20.jpgThe leader of New Genesis, Highfather, gained wisdom and advice from a mysterious entity called the Source, where all go upon death; Darkseid was in constant search for the Anti-Life Equation, a concept that gave the bearer the ability to enforce their will on others. Not in a Chris Claremont mind control sense, but in the sense of being able to take away a population’s free will (the story was heavily influenced by Kirby’s years of service in World War II and the Nazi regime). Additionally, Darkseid had unique control over a devastating power called the Omega Effect, that eliminated the target from existence completely.

tdotng-04-030.jpgIn recent months, Jim Starlin’s Death of the New Gods has shown us the beginning of the end of the Fourth World and what Dan Didio confirms is the advent of the Fifth – echoing a similar transition in The Invisibles. In it, a mysterious cosmic blue ball seems to have granted the already-heavy-hitting Infinity-Man the power to steal souls from all the inhabitants of the Fourth World. This ball is manipulating events behind the scenes, and was perceived in a dream by Metron as splitting in two in the first issue. Additionally, Darkseid has been mentioning that these events have caused him to revisit his theory about the nature of Anti-Life, and that perhaps it is indeed a sort of living being (as originally put forward in Jim Starlin’s later largely discarded Cosmic Odyssey).

__hr_636.jpgFollowing Morrison’s common themes, as well as certain hints put forward in Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle where the Omega Effect does not annihilate but in fact forces the target to go through an infinite number of lives, drowning him in existential pain, it is therefore highly possible given current evidence that the being bringing about the Fifth World is the Source, which is also Anti-Life. That the war between New Genesis and Apokolips was fabricated by the Source to cause humanity to grow and replace the Fourth World with the Fifth. We know humanity is the cradle of the Fifth World, from Metron’s comments in Morrison’s own JLA #41. And man, doesn’t that just sound like a Crisis.

However, taking this one step farther, a huge aspect of humanity’s awakening in The Invisibles was due to time travel. Time travel is a subject that DC has been teasing a lot recently, between the “time is broken” plot point still ongoing from 52 and recent events in other books (Justice League, Booster Gold), not to mention the time travel chaos going on with the Teen Titans both now and back in 2004 with the Legion. And let’s not even get into punching a wall to change events, or being a big 4-D bug that sucks up events like a temporal Hoover. Grant Morrison is no stranger to theories of time, and time travel, in the DC Universe — indeed, back in the ’90s he and Mark Waid championed the concept of “Hypertime,” and Morrison had a story he never got to write dealing with that material, a “Hyper-Crisis.”

In the next installment, we’ll look at what was known about that aborted project, the possible role it plays now and how it relates to the time travel themes and dimensional barriers of The Invisibles.


  1. Great article.

    But, reading this back to back with downcounting made my head explode.

    Comment by Joseph Mastantuono — January 7, 2008 @ 2:25 am

  2. I like this theory. My fear is that Final Crisis will operate on the assumption that one is not only familiar with all of Morrison’s work, but Infinite Crisis, Booster Gold, 52, Hypertime, Cosmic Odyssey, Kirby’s 4th World work, LSH, JSA, etc. It’s so steeped in DC mythology that it risks being incomprehensible to a neophyte. I think that’s a real drawback of shared universes, because once anyone really tries to create a complex, engaging story that encompasses everything, the resulting work completely alienates the casual reader. Hell, I’m not a casual reader and am still fuzzy on the links between Seven Soldiers and the DCU (especially when comparing the two distinct sets of New Gods).

    Comment by Jamaal — January 7, 2008 @ 1:28 pm

  3. Spot on about Morrison seeing the stories in terms of tests; the last story arc of the Zenith showed his early efforts at demonstrating that “good/evil” stories actually can involve more of a shift in perspective.

    There’s a book out from Sequential Art about Morrison — alas, can’t remember the author’s name — that will provide a lot of data to support your observations, based upon Morrison’s early work.

    Comment by George G. — January 7, 2008 @ 11:31 pm

  4. I can definitely see the similarities between The Fourth World and what Morrison was doing with The Invisibles, particularly with the swap of Scott Free and Orion. Scott Free was an agent of good in Apokolips, while Orion was an inoculating agent in New Genesis.

    I’m sure The Invisibles concepts will lie at the core of Final Crisis, but Seven Soldiers will likely have more direct relevance, particularly if Morrison brings back a lot of New Gods comments. I could barely comprehend it on the first read, but after rereading SS: Mister Miracle, Shilo’s journey through the dark reality and subsequent rebirth would provide a great template for Final Crisis. I’d love to see Morrison take the entire universe through that kind of darkness, questioning the very idea of heroism, aging Superman and Batman to old men, letting them ‘die’ before getting reborn in a glorious new reality, like the New Gods return at the end of MM.

    Comment by Patrick — January 19, 2008 @ 2:28 pm

  5. […] those who missed them: Hits off the Source, Part One: Kirby, Evil and the Invisibles Hits off the Source, Part Two: Hyper-Crimes in Hyper-Time with […]

    Pingback by Funnybook Babylon » Blog Archive » Hits off the Source, Part Three: ¡Lucha Libra! — February 28, 2008 @ 10:17 am

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