Blasting into the world this week is the new issue of Invisible Kingdom from Dark Horse imprint, Berger Books. This comic from G. Willow Wilson and Christian Ward is an exciting space adventure with beautiful imagery. If you haven’t checked this series out yet, this latest issue is accessible and once on-board, you’ll want to stay.
While playing both sides, Captain Grix risks everything to get her ship back and escape the space pirates. However, her reputation has preceded her and now her plans are beginning to unravel. What chance does the crew of the Sundog have with enemies on both sides?
Whereas the first arc was all about world building with elaborate planetary systems and a host of different species mixing on the page, in this second arc G. Willow Wilson has scaled that world right back. The crew of the Sundog have become trapped on a spaceship surrounded by space junk and they have nowhere to go.
Although this narrative limits the vast expanse of Space that made the previous arc so exhilarating it does allow Wilson to focus much deeper on the characters. This issue, for example, is primarily a character breakdown of Captain Grix. The situations she faces and her interactions with the different factions within the narrative illustrates her personality in all its guises. She is a Captain, a mother, a thief, and a desperate woman just trying to survive. She makes a number of different plays and doesn’t win them all.
This character dissection is a wonderful read. It pulls the reader into the comic way beyond the surface appreciation of the art and, in turn, creates intense drama. The story itself isn’t groundbreaking, especially for this type of science fiction where it draws from classic western motifs, but the detailed character work ups the ante. The reader is invested in Grix and her crew to the point where each twist in the story heightens the tension. This comic slowly pulls you to the edge of you seat.
The pace at which the narrative unfolds is perfectly pitched with the first two thirds of the comic building the drama, setting all the pieces in place before a turn in fortunes changes the tempo. Links to the Western start to pile up with an interesting take on The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly in the setup of the final act.
It almost goes without saying at this point that Christian Ward’s art work is outstanding. If you have read any previous issues of Invisible Kingdom then you know exactly what to expect from the visuals. If you have somehow missed issues 1 to 7 then you’re in for a treat.
Ward creates emotionally complex pages with expressionistic images that rely on color representation to identify various characters. Even the environments are color coded in a way that indicates what is happening at different locations in the narrative. It is clever but is also a very simple storytelling technique that any reader can adapt to almost instantly. It allows Ward to be less formulaic with his design and character work.
There is the sense of the cinematic about the layouts and image composition but then Ward goes beyond this to create linear sequences that only work in the comic book format. It is the sudden drop from full page width panel to a very small, square panel that stands out. It acts like a quick zoom and pinpoints a specific moment, giving it importance above everything else.
Sal Cipriano does something similar with his lettering. The speech balloons have a hand drawn look to them, with inconsistencies in the thickness of the balloon border. However, there are moments when the border has a smooth, even finish. It is a subtle change but adds weight to the text within the balloon. It makes the reader, almost subconsciously, ponder that particular speech, reading more in to it than the flowing conversations around it.
Cipriano also occasionally breaks the firmness of the panel borders with his speech balloons. This draws out the moment and, as before, highlights a specific phrase giving it an inflated sense of importance.
On the surface Invisible Kingdom is an entertaining Space Adventure with classic Western undertones, easily comparable to Firefly or even Star Wars. However, Wilson, Ward, and Cipriano elevate the experience with impressive knowledge of their craft and a more experimental approach to presentation.
It is clear that the creators are having an excessive amount of fun while making this comic because that comes across in the reading. You can’t help but be entranced by the characters and there are several that you will become emotionally attached to without necessarily realising it. This particular issue draws your attention to this fact because it centralises on character.
Wilson is cleverly imprinting the characters and their lives on the reader so that whatever follows next will be that much more dramatic. The danger highlighted in this issue will only intensify and our love of the characters will push the tension up, edging us ever nearer and nearer to the edge of our seats.