To round off the first month of the year, Dark Horse Comics releases the next chapter of their Science Fiction masterpiece Invisible Kingdom. The penultimate part of the second arc is released on 29th January and the action continues to heat up.
Space Pirates, daring escapes, and crew members pushed beyond their comfort zones. This issue has everything you could want from a space opera of this kind; including the usual kick-ass artwork and edge of the seat storytelling. Does anymore need to be said? Yes, yes there does.
A desperate plan gives the crew of the Sundog a glimmer of hope but what is the cost of their freedom?
As the escape plan unfolds so too does a deeper exploration of what it means to be free. G. Willow Wilson’s script is brimming with difficult questions about the roles that the cast play in the world around them. A confrontation between Grix and the recently rescued Luxx ship captain makes the reader consider the role that the Sundog captain is playing. Is she a revolutionary? Or just running scared? The audience is forced to evaluate Grix’s role in the narrative so far, just as the character herself is.
This arc as a whole has been more character driven than the previous one, with Grix becoming the main focus. She is defined more by her interactions with the other characters than she is by her actions in the story. This issue sees Grix pushed to the extremes of her emotions and her reactions move the story forward in dramatic ways.
One of the highlights of Wilson’s work is her ability to build characters in this amazing way while also making larger comments about society and the world outside the comic. Wilson’s opinions on certain subjects are clear in the narrative but it is never preachy, in fact every encounter encourages the reader to consider opposing views. The main cast have very open minds and Wilson uses this to confront topics. She pits certain characters against those who are not like minded.
Christian Ward’s art is always a joy to read and this issue is no different. To accompany the character fuelled narrative, Ward is increasing the emotional depth through his storytelling. This is most evident in two aspects of the comic.
Firstly the coloring. The contrasts between warm and cold colors mirror the relationships and the emotional states of the cast members. For example, at one point in the opening of the comic a number of Sundog crew sneak into the hold to steal some much needed supplies. The characters leave the relative safety of the brightly lit corridors and enter the cold, grey depths of the store room. The colors highlight the transition from safety to danger and is a continuing theme throughout the following pages.
The other exciting aspect of Wards work in Invisible Kingdom are his powerful layouts. His panels have thick, black borders that form a very strong shape on the page. Even with a standard panel layout, Ward’s treatment of the page gives it extra gravitas. Each panel makes a bold statement.
This is then accentuated when the layout transgresses from a normal pattern. Action sequences break the borders or distort the panels entirely. A page turn instantly changes the urgency of a situation and the reader involuntarily becomes on edge, anticipating the action.
This manipulation of the reader allows both writer and artist to control the narrative more successfully. The story beats are well placed to keep the adrenaline pumping. Issue 9 of Invisible Kingdom may be a character piece but it is an exciting one that keeps you engaged in every aspect of the storytelling.
Along with the out of the world visuals is the subtly enticing lettering by Sal Cipriano. At a quick glance there isn’t anything irregular about the lettering but when you start to read you notice the uneven speech balloon borders. Once noticed, it’s difficult not to see, and that sudden attention makes you focus on the words a lot more than you expect.
In other comics, this could be seen as a failure on the part of the letterer, as not being noticed is usually the name of the game. But when you have the striking visuals of Christian Ward, getting the reader to give the text the attention it deserves is no mean feat. Cipriano manages to do this by giving the reader something slightly modified from what is expected.
By now Invisible Kingdom is not surprising anyone by its excellence: it is a comic that has proved itself month after month. The fact that the creators keep that level sustained each issue is impressive.
The character of Grix is strong enough to carry the story and the greater concepts that the writer wants to raise. You can ignore the social commentary if you wish, however it is built into the fabric of the narrative and by brushing over it you miss out on deeper insights into the characters and their motivations.
It’s a safe bet that if you’ve reached issue 9 of Invisible Kingdom you know what you are going to get, but there is still a lot to offer and entice new readers. It isn’t that difficult to pick up the general gist of the comic so don’t be put off if you’ve not read any previous issues.
All in all, Invisible Kingdom is a fully rounded, modern science-fiction comic with the usual thrills and spills but also, an extra, deeper, social conscience.