Reading Grant Morrison and Chris Weston’s The Filth is an experience that could be compared to getting one’s brain raped in the midst of CERN’s Large Hadron Collider: no one in his right mind would describe it as a nice experience, but probably the most sensible thing, given the circumstances, would be to stop fighting against it and put up with it. Originally published in thirteen instalments that appeared between August 2002 and October 2003, The Filth is the peak of the the mad Scotsman’s most meta-fictional side, who appeared, like a cultured barbarian, in the context of superhero comic books to rip the veil of Maya and make us face the unfathomable horror of reality understood as a fragile convention.
Fractal cartoon and out of control post-modern farce, The Filth included, when it was compiled as an album –published in Spain by Planeta DeAgostini in March 2004–, an introduction which adopted the form of a medical patient information leaflet, with sentences so arrogant and full of themselves as: “The Filth contains metaphor as an active principle. Colourful and rectangular comic books under the denomination The Filth contain 500 mg. by number of visual activity and topic metaphor. Each comic book has the inactive ingredients paper and ink. Metaphors belong to a group of prescription drugs with which to solve problems and are frequently used to treat linear thinking and other diseases. Metaphors combine two or more concepts, apparently with no apparent relationship, to stimulate lateral thinking and creativity. Patients taking The Filth should participate in the creation of significant contents when interpreting the texts and images that have deliberately been charged with multiple meanings and overlapped scales.” Does this sound patronising and aggressive to you? No doubt! But does Grant Morrison have reasons to become so cocky before comic book readers? The truth is he does, because the aspiration of complexity of this series in which, like in the case of The Invisibles, the scriptwriter had total creative control is developed as a work that resembles more an amazing labyrinth than an intellectual mirage. The Filth hides multiple meanings and constant aggressions to the reader’s perception: it’s like a superhero comic book that has evolved towards a rough form of self-sufficiency in which it no longer needs any readers, or, at least, any readers who would rather tame such an overflow of ideas under the yoke of rationalism.
As in a jazz improvisation that has been going on for hours, forgetting the melody it started from, The Filth moves forward through unceasing twists, and through the tension between the stubborn overflow of ideas at full speed and the highly detailed strokes of a Weston eager to take his time to draw each repulsive detail as if it were the pinnacle of a cathedral growing downwards, towards the hell of unacceptability. The Filth is no superhero story (or maybe it is), because should it fall on the hands of an average reader of the genre, the risk of heart failure would be too high. In any case, the traditional scheme of superhero fiction always contemplates the intervention of the archetype to protect the status quo, a ruling order that usually has to do with conformity and a minimal common denominator. There’s a (superhero) comic book inside the (philosophical) comic book that is The Filth, and that meta-comic book is given the very appropriate name of Status Quorum, which, at the same time, identifies the group of avengers starring it. The members of Status Quorum, in one of the many layers of this multiple fiction, inhabit a bi-dimensional universe christened as paperverse. The limits of the place are no joke: at a given moment, a superhero wants to leave a cartoon and is crushed against its limits as a mosquito on a fast windshield. But one day someone managed to get the hell out of there: Secret Original, who ended up becoming a cripple in the transition from the bi-dimensional world to a tri-dimensional one. And we can see him here, in this dazzling Stolen Cartoon, in another turn of the screw of the Meninas effect, contemplating his colleagues from the tower of his wheelchair, still trapped in a world where he also left his beloved woman behind.
Exposing oneself to suffering waves of neuronal extermination or surfing over the waves of Grant Morrison’s enraged ideas: there’s no other option when it comes to facing The Filth, a superhero comic book possessed by the spirit of Jean Baudrillard. The second option guarantees a certain degree of fun if one is capable of not falling from his surfboard, since in this ocean of uneasy revelations there’s no water, but a highly unstable mixture of semen, crack, cat’s hair and used tampons.