Invisible Kingdom #1
Christian Ward (art/coloring), G. Willow Wilson (writing)
Dark Horse Comics
March 20, 2019
Remember ODY-C? What an interesting book.
Honestly, I’m bringing that up just to get it out of the way; Christian Ward, the artist on ODY-C, is also the artist here, this is also a sci-fi book, and he’s working in a similar palette. It’s very on the nose, very obvious: here he is, doing the kind of thing that people have already proven they really like him doing (myself included). This is smart! I like when a book lets creators play to their strengths.
Invisible Kingdom #1 is also an interesting book. It uses some tried and true sci-fi trappings: an ancient religion, a crew aboard a cargo ship of dubious legality—you may have encountered these things before. It’s an act of careful balance, though; it lets these things be familiar whilst also using them in new ways, providing new perspectives that, say, a middle-aged white guy directing a blockbuster trilogy might not think of. You know, to use a hypothetical here.
The story starts in the middle of the action. The above-mentioned cargo ship is in the act of crash-landing on the moon of the planet Qari. Its crew, a complement of blue- and green-skinned aliens, is struggling to keep things together despite the dire situation. That ship, the Sundog, spends the rest of the issue mired there, out of commission, as its crew attempts repairs so that they can get flying and complete the delivery.
G. Willow Wilson, the author, establishes each character name in natural dialogue and lays out some basic dynamics that make a lot of sense, which I really appreciated. The crew of the Sundog make delivery runs like this for a living. The pay isn’t great, and the crew’s profits are chipped into by having to pay for things like the breathing air provided on the ship. This achieves the dual function of providing an incentive to complete deliveries quickly and forcing delivery crews to live on a knife-edge between keeping a ship viable in the dangers of space and earning enough money to live. It’s a stunningly efficient description and condemnation of late capitalism, and it highlights Wilson’s skill as a writer.
Elsewhere, a girl is on a pilgrimage. She walks that journey barefoot and blindfolded per the demands of the Siblings of Severity, the order she wishes to join. Her name is Vess, and she wishes to become a “None” in this convent. What I had taken for some kind of desert protection gear in our Cover Girls discussion seems to actually be a kind of thematic veil; this religion appears to operate on a kind of blindness and blankness. In addition to the None/nun homonym, there are the blindfolds and the fact that these initiates seek the titular Invisible Kingdom. The headgear serves to enhance that effect: not only does it tie the Nones to their convent, that signature floating spike from the cover, but it appears to obscure viewing, both the ability of the Nones to see the world around them and the ability for others to see the identities of the Nones.
This kind of mysticism over identity and clarity is often used very effectively in cults—faith healers curing blindness, the renunciation of identity and self, the metaphor of faith itself being a kind of sight that opens the eyes of the devout—and between those story concepts and the clever design of the order’s building and vestments, Wilson and Ward are leveraging the ideas behind that incredibly well. Dark Horse has this listed as a miniseries, which I’m a little disappointed about; there’s enough story here for this thing to be their next 100-issue epic.
I really can’t talk enough about Ward’s design sense. We know what he’s capable of color-wise, and he continues to bring that here, but the work he does into building this society—or rather, these societies, the ultra-modern capitalist dystopia of the Sundog and the traditionalist city through which Vess walks—is frankly breathtaking. Knowing what that convent is now makes it more impressive; it’s a floating spire of metal, it’s indisputably a work of science fiction, and yet it also reads as a frankly ancient part of the landscape. You get the sense people have been making this pilgrimage for hundreds of years. Tying the visual identity of the Nones to the structure they reside in is a considered move; not only do they wear the veils, but their wearing them implies that so too is the structure itself veiled. It lends grandeur to something simple, and it’s not unlike the feeling one can get standing in an old, old place of worship.
I also can’t talk enough about the lettering, but in this case I mean that I am literally unable to adequately discuss it, as neither the version of the comic I received for review nor the site listing for the book includes the name of the letterer anywhere. I mentioned this in a different review recently but it remains as important now: colorists and letterers are a vital part of comics as an industry and every time we overlook their contributions we fail both them and the art form as a whole. In any case, the work here is strong; the script is easy to read and the accents read naturally too—in this case I mean the bolding of certain words. I sometimes think that some writers out there aren’t really sure of how to properly bold words for emphasis in their scripts, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that some letterers contribute to the issue.
Whatever the truth, that’s not the case here. The dialogue and narration both read very naturally, to the point where my eyes were almost sliding over them without noticing how well they work. I’m less sure about the dialogue bubbles, which are lined with a kind of unstable black border. On just a few bubbles I might read it as a tremulous voice, but on every voice in the book? At that point it seems like it’s being distinct for distinction’s sake, which isn’t really a strong enough reason to break from convention here.
Overall, I described this book as looking inviting based on the cover a few months ago, and I’m happy to be proven right. Invisible Kingdom #1 wants to take me on a journey to learn about these two seemingly disparate stories and how they connect, and I’m already packing for the trip.