*Warning, this post contains Naked Pictures of Invisible Man*
I must say, this is how I feel trying to grapple with the Invisible Man. He is a troublesome character and, even now, I’m not entirely sure how to approach him. So, unlike my other posts that try to give more definitive answers, this will be (more so) an exploration of the character.
The Invisible Man was written by H.G Wells and was first published in 1897. The story follows the actions of Griffin, a mysterious stranger that’s just rolled into a small town. He stays at the inn, secluding himself in his room and preforming some sort of odd experiments. The town is greatly suspicious of Griffin’s various chemical apparati and general seclusive manner. Griffin quickly runs out of money for his lodgings, though a mysterious burglary in the town is implied to be his doing. The landlady of the inn demands his payment and immediate expulsion from the inn. During the argument Griffin reveals part of his invisibility, causing an uproar. He strips naked and manages to escape his pursuers. Griffin then convinces a vagrant, Thomas Marvel, to assist him. Marvel is sent back to the town to recover some books, but he betrays Griffin and alerts the police. Griffin attempts to avenge this betrayal but Marvel is under police protection. During the scuffle Griffin is shot and takes shelter at a nearby house — actually the house of an ex-colleague Dr. Kemp. It is to Kemp that Griffin reveals the process of his invisibility. After leaving the house, Griffin realizes he is ill suited to survival in the open streets. It is during this period of hardship that Griffin reveals to Kemp that he plans a “Reign of Terror” on the nation. Kemp, like Marvel, has already alerted the authorities. Again, Griffin manages to evade capture, but now he swears vengeance on Kemp. Kemp organizes a plan to use himself as bait, but it is ultimately the township that forms a mob and slays the Invisible terror. It is only after the beating that the body becomes visible again. The final chapter reveals that Marvel had kept Griffin’s notes, and it is only here that the identity of the Invisible Man is revealed as being Griffin. Until then he had been referred to as the stranger, or as the Invisible Man. Another note-worthy mechanism of the novel is that it is written in the third person, a shift from the first-person perspective of The Island of Dr. Moreau, and The Time Machine.
So, clearly Griffin has a rather disreputable past. It isn’t surprising that the man who wants to perpetrate a “Reign of Terror” across Britain would also rape women at an academy, or sell Britain out to the aliens.
One of the interesting things about the original H.G Wells rendition is the use of the small-town setting. Just as a text like Silas Marner illustrates, that small-town settings have no secrets. Silas, a recluse in his own right, is talk of the town because of his wish to remain apart from it. There is a tight community aspect to this kind of setting that allows for maximum surveillance. One of the things that can be noted about the Wells’ The Invisible Man is the failure of authority to capture Griffin (or the albino man, as LoEG depicts). If we are to return to the idea that Nemo is a type of judge, or Quatermain as a type of detective, Hyde’s capture of Griffin elides with the original book. Hyde represents something non-authoritarian; someone who can see and understand the dark side of morality. Moore seems to be advocating for a type of street justice, or a localized defence of the nation. Griffin’s actions are to literally rob the nation (again, think of Mina as Lady Britannia) of its secrets and to sell out the country from within. These invisible actions are ignored by our authority figures, and even Mina wishes that no harm came to the man. Once again, Hyde is able to fulfill what must be done without considering the greater ethics that bind the others from delivering retribution. Griffin is able to escape that panopticon social structure and it becomes the localized responsibility of Hyde to end his “Reign of Terror”.
One of the more prominent changes Moore makes with the “Invisible Man” (other than bringing him back from the dead) is that he gives him a name. I believe this change is in order to seduce us into thinking that Griffin is capable of being ‘one of us’, or part of the League. Hyde, after all, is just as dangerous as Griffin, but he becomes more a hero rather than a villain. Hero may be the wrong word for it, but he is certainly more helpful than Griffin. This name though, it once again localizes Griffin. He is not the abstract ‘stranger’, or ‘invisible man’, he is part of the League and, in extension, part of British society. In this way, it is harder to imagine him as ‘the other’, faceless as he may be. His reappearance at death is also symbolic of this humanizing. It is easy to kill a man that cannot be seen, especially as he terrorizes the nation. However, the blood we are faced with after his death is unsettling. We remember that he is in fact a human and not purely a villain.
Griffin characterizes himself as something not so different from the rest of society. Certainly some of his actions ring true as to what an invisible man would do in such a scenario. His atomism is something that Thomas Hobbes considers in Leviathan, something Hobbes believes to be part of the ‘state of nature’. One of the things that I thought humanized him was his constant laughing. Eventhough I pictured it sounding something like Morph from the 90’s X-men cartoon, it was still a humanizing aspect. His identity as a sort of ‘joker’ character, the comic-relief in some ways, makes his betrayal all the more painful. Ultimately, I believe Moore designed this character to be as familiar as possible so that he could critique the differences between authoritative surveillance (its impotence) and a sort of local surveillance (its strength, but also its possible brutality). Perhaps there’s a middle ground to be had, or perhaps invisibility is the problem. Like I originally stated, the invisible man is an elusive character to define.
Moore, Alan. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume One. La Jolla: America’s Best Comics, 1999.
Moore, Alan. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume Two. La Jolla: America’s Best Comics, 2002.