Tuesday, 2 August 2016

The Filth

Grant Morrison, Chris Weston & Gary Erskine The Filth (2004)
I gather Morrison regards this as the final part of a thematic trilogy, the first two having been Flex Mentallo and The Invisibles. Flex Mentallo was okay but I thought The Invisibles was fucking awful, so my take on The Filth therefore amounts to it being The Invisibles done right. The influence of what I now recognise as Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea's Illuminatus! remains tangible, here manifest in scuba-diving dolphins, five sided insignia, secret societies, and the continuous layering of reality; but with The Filth there feels like some point beyond wearisome influences garishly embroidered on a sleeve in the hope of casually scandalising an uptight relative. Where The Invisibles was trying far too hard, this plays its cards close to its chest. This also means The Filth seems more obtuse, but I'd prefer to have to work a little than put up with all the screeching.

Greg Feely is a lonely, old man - happily very much not a sulky teenager hanging out in Camden Town with the fashionably disorientated - whose main interests are pornography and Tony, his beloved cat. He also seems to be suffering from delusional schizophrenic episodes in which he works for a secret society called the Hand, unless these episodes aren't actually delusional. Personally I suspect that they are and that the bulk of the narrative comprises an interference pattern formed from Greg's inability to cope with his miserable reality, and that the point of the story is that neither version of reality is necessarily more true than the other. The Hand serve as a force policing the filth, namely all the negative, regressive stuff which seemingly renders human existence so miserable - Moorcock termed it entropy and Philip K. Dick called it kipple if that helps. So The Filth replaces the traditional comic book duality of good and evil with something closer to suffering and redemption. Not that this is necessarily spelled out as such, but it struck me as significant that the heart of the book - the bit which really matters - is also the smallest detail, namely Feely's relationship with Tony, his cat. Admittedly this could just be a distorted impression brought on by my own love of cats, and the fact that I too began to care about what became of Tony. I suppose this means that I too have become a character within the narrative, or something, which is probably relevant given Morrison's characteristic layering, particularly where the Hand intervene in the events of something existing as a comic book in their universe.

The Filth is like The Invisibles with a point and without the showboating, and might also be seen as a dry-run for Seven Soldiers of Victory or Final Crisis given its exploration of the medium it inhabits. That said, it's often disjointed and appears designed to keep the reader disorientated, the effect of which is that the narrative seems all surface, but here it works, inviting us to make the connection rather than smirking out a lizardy don't you understand? before ordering another crème de menthe. This is sort of why I find Morrison such a frustrating writer - why did The Invisibles even exist when he's capable of something like this?

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