By Zack Quaintance — Invisible Kingdom #1, the new comic coming next month from writer G. Willow Wilson and artist Christian Ward, is perhaps the next evolution of the ongoing creator-owned sci-fi comic boom. A complex and weighty piece of work, the book uses Ward’s unique (and absolutely stunning) brand of psychedelic space art in tandem with Wilson’s ideas about societal foundations ranging from religion to commerce to forge ahead into new thematic territories. It’s not alone in doing this—Wasted Space and Relay both come to mind as close cousins to this comic—but in its debut issue, Invisible Kingdom seems to offer a new and perhaps more realistic sort of take on this genre.
Realistic is maybe not the right word, given the aliens and intergalactic travel and all of that, but there’s a level of intellectual seriousness here that makes this book stand out from other space epics. To be sure, there are plenty of serious sci-fi comics on the racks today, so that’s maybe also not the best word. There’s actually a panel on the second page that can maybe get this point across much better than I can struggling here with prose. In it, a crew on a space ship are attempting a trick maneuver in the service of some sort of cargo delivery and in weighing the merits of a tricky move, one character notes, But your company-sponsored liability insurance won’t cover—
There’s always that character on distressed sci-fi vessels, the C-3PO who’s fretting is designed to remind the audience exactly how implausible the heroics of braver protagonists are. That character, however, is usually exclaiming some sort of bonkers world-specific jargon or a quick throwaway joke. In Invisible Kingdom, that character reminds us of the ever-looming presence of economics. The book doesn’t apply this plausible lens to just economics, either.
Within its intriguing and aesthetically-powerful world, it gives us similar glimpses into religion, governance, and the way different species react to/treat one another. The end result is a relentlessly thoughtful comic, as well as a sense of narrative confidence that makes it easy to trust these uber talented creators from the book’s earliest pages.
Also, I’ve peppered compliments to Christian Ward’s artwork throughout this piece, but, and excuse me for this, I don’t think I’ve come anywhere close to doing Ward’s contributions justice. The best comics are such an alchemy of creative collaboration it can be tough to evaluate individual elements. This is certainly one of those books. Everything comes together seamlessly, and the end result is greater than the sum of its pieces. Ward’s artwork, however, is—to borrow an Internet phrase—next level good. There isn’t a bad-looking segment, page, or even panel in this entire comic. On the contrary, there are actually several that left me absolutely stunned (that word again!) when I passed over them.
The colors, the character designs, the facial expressions, the panel sizes and composition...it’s all so mind-bendingly luscious and just plain good. Ward has long been a talented psychedelic artist, lending massive talents most recently to Marvel’s Black Bolt. This book, though, has the trappings of a sequential art masterpiece. And for every smaller, detailed panel with a green-skinned character gritting their way through a challenge, there’s a subsequent splash that could be framed and hung on a wall somewhere in a hip loft apartment.
Story-wise, this is an advanced review so we have to tread carefully here, but I think it’s okay to divulge that there are a pair of plot concerns: one related to joining a religious order and another to embezzlement. This is a dense first issue that has to work hard at world-building, so the characters are a bit lightly-defined at the start. That’s OK. Comics like this need to progress further to, to set up world rules and concerns before they can really show us who are central figures are, what they most care about, and why. We do get some great philosophy here and there, enough to draw us into the story further. My only real regret is I’ve read this book so far in advance, it’s going to be a painful long wait for Invisible Kingdom #2.
Overall: Invisible Kingdom is a heady comic you’ll want to read twice to get a better grip on its ambitions and ideas. Fortunately, the artwork in this book is so vibrant and imaginative, immediately re-reading will feel less like a redundancy and more like a second helping of an impossibly-spectacular visual treat. 9.5/10
Invisible Kingdom #1
Writer: G. Willow Wilson
Artist: Christian Ward
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics - Berger Books
Release Date: March 20, 2019
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Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.