The world of Grant Morrison and Chris Weston’s The Filth is a perverse one, a world hardly worthy of saving. The good guys fight for the status quo of a bland existence that is dreary and rainy. The rebels are the villains, perverts and degenerates wallowing in their own deviancy. The Filth doesn’t contain the sexiness of The Invisibles or The New X-Men which Morrison had spent the previous eight years working on. Those stories were about things as optimistic as heroism and saving the world from oppression. The Filth isn’t a story of the beautiful saviors of our age. It’s about the trashmen of our morality. It’s about the garbage men who make sure that nothing infects our scrubbed down and disinfected society. And it’s about a world that does not love you.
Greg Feely is a simple man. He has his comb over, his cat and his pornography. He lives in a quaint little flat with some nosy neighbors but he generally keeps to himself. It’s not much of an existence but it’s everyday life and that’s the way he likes it. That’s the way that the world likes it. Greg’s normal world is turned upside down when he discovers he’s really Ned Slade, agent of The Hand. “We enforce Status:Q,” he’s explained. “‘The way it is,” Office Slade. We enforce it by removing and destroying all that is not Status: Q.” Greg was just a parapersonality, an undercover disguise for Ned to inhabit for downtime. Imagine that Greg is just a leisure suit that Ned wears when he’s not on the job. The missions Ned is sent on are against the people who want to burn the world, who want to cleanse it of everything it is now and give it a new birth. The bad guys are artists and the world is their blank canvas. They are the ones who want to shake up Status: Q and Ned is simply an agent to maintain the Status: Q.
The Filth is one of the few artistically consistent works by Grant Morrison. Penciler Chris Weston and inker Gary Erskine fill almost every panel with real world details. The art is so precise to make us think that this is the world we know but Weston and Erskine make it kind of hideous. The art and the actions in the pages are overpowering, from the joint smoking, foul-mouthed Russian chimpanzee who just wants to kill humans to Spartacus Hughes, a multi-bodied, one-time agent of The Hand who could be seen as the hero if only from a certain point of view. Weston’s style here is very British, very proper in its skills and pacing. But it’s also off putting as his rendition of reality looks like it’s being seen through a slightly warped mirror.
The solidness of Weston’s artwork doesn’t allow you to write off Morrison’s story as mere stories to be told in the night. In almost any other Morrison story, this unseen, ultra conservative and moralistic police force and their agents would be the villains. The Hand would be the mobs threatening the Xavier Institute and wanting to drag out the mutant children and deal with their kind because they are different. Compared to The Invisibles, Ned Slade is the flipside of Sir Miles, a highly placed member of the Outer Church, the secret rulers and masters of our universe. It’s the responsibility of both Ned and Sir Miles to save the world from the rebels, the dreamers, the schemers and the agents of change. Neither one wants the next Buddha to show up; they just want to keep the world as it is as they serve their secret masters. Morrison writes one as the hero of his story and the other as the villain. With The Filth, he manages to rewrite The Invisibles in thirteen chapters, retelling his ultimate rebellion story as the events of a mundane, workaday efforts of a man who may or may not be Greg Feely.
The Filth is one of the meanest stories that Morrison has written. It has far more in common with the rock’n’roll, scorched earth approach in Marvel Boy or family psychodrama in Fantastic Four: 1234 than it does with the heroic optimism of JLA or the stories-as-magic focus of his most recent cycle of DC comic books. With Weston’s all-too-faithful representation of the world just outside of your window and Morrison’s ugly view of the status quo, it’s hard to find anything in The Filth that’s worth saving. Slade fights for an continued existence of drugs, pornography and privileges for those who have already have them. The rest of us are screwed, literally and figuratively, in this comic. And in the end, the heroes win and the world doesn’t change. The world wins the right to go on as it always has, to be the same. The status quo gets to be not the way that we are managed by outside forces but it gets to be the way we get to choose to live. It’s an odd victory for Morrison to give us because it doesn’t celebrate the greatness of man and superman like almost all of his stories do. It celebrates us. Yay, humanity.
The Filth is the story of ugly people in an ugly world. But to the optimist Morrison, that doesn’t mean that the people and the world aren’t worthy of salvation. They’re worth saving because they are. They exist ergo they have worth. And sometimes the simplest salvation is having the free choice to determine to keep on doing the same things we do every day. That’s the conflict in The Filth as Morrison and Weston soar to the typical Morrisonian heights even as Weston makes sure that the story is firmly planted on Terra Firma. Even when Weston does try to match Morrison’s psychedelia, The Filth is more of a painful reminder of a warped physical reality than the beautiful experience of colors and sensation. It’s a reality that requires garbagemen for more than just the trash.