March 19, 2015

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Invisible Republic #1


Invisible Republic #1
Written by Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko
Illustrated by Gabriel Hardman
Colors by Jordan Boyd
Design by Dylan Todd
Image Comics


Another week, another strong first issue of a science fiction series from Image Comics.*  Last week I looked at Southern Cross and the week before that at Descender. Both were ambitious, very different takes on the future. Joining that group as a very worthy entrant is Invisible Republic #1.   

One of the things I enjoy about the science fiction genre is that it's actually not one genre at all; it's as many genres as you can think of, and a story can be a science fiction story and also be (and usually is) something else.  When people think "science fiction" they might think Star Wars (space fantasy, space opera), Star Trek (space western) or Terminator (post and pre-apocalyptic action drama), but science fiction is also Alex + Ada (romance) and Zero (espionage).  Some of the very best science-fiction stories use the trappings of science fiction (e.g., futuristic settings, spaceships, advanced technology) as a starting point, to tell another sort of story that sometimes it's easier to tell with a little bit of distance that the science-fiction setting can provide.  Lazarus, for example, is a tale about present-day inequality in the guise of a dystopian future.  This is also the case in Invisible Republic, a strong, thought-provoking debut created by Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko, which tells a political story, and a story about memory.

The creative team here has taken on the task of writing about the question of what makes a person become a dictator.  How does a person go from being an ordinary man, to having the will, the desire, and the megalomania to set themselves up not just as the leader of a nation or a world, but an absolute leader?  In what sorts of conditions would such a person thrive, and what would be the sort of situations where the emergence of such a person might not only be necessary but in fact welcome?  It's only a first issue, but Invisible Republic seems to be setting itself up to ask a number of those sorts of questions.

It's the 29th century and on the distant Moon of Avalon, the autocratic regime of local strongman Arthur McBride (known as the Malory regime) has fallen. He ruled over Avalon for a period of 40 years, and with his fall, there is been a loss of economic stability and descent into social and economic chaos. Into this situation has stepped a former novelist-turned-reporter named Croger Babb. He's looking for a story, and doesn't seem to have found much of one given the local antipathy towards the media. But, due to an occurrence of pure happenstance, he comes upon what appears to be the diary of a heretofore completely unknown cousin of Arthur McBride named Maia Reveron, which promises to hold clues as to the rise of the Malory regime.  The importance of what Babb reads is shown through an extended flashback/reimagining of the events described in the diary.

Hardman and Bechko have established a strong, very intriguing premise in this first issue. We know that Arthur McBride is going to become the despotic leader of Avalon for a period of 40 years (a period that no democratically-elected leader ever holds their position). This is not a mystery. What is a mystery is, who is this missing cousin? Why has there been no record of her existence until now?  What role if any did she play in McBride's rise to power, and what are the potential implications for these revelations?

Hardman and colorist Jordan Boyd's art really works well in this story. Hardman has a style that's not typically associated with epic science-fiction story telling. However, one positive trend I've noticed is that creators and publishers have recognized that there are many great ways art can look in the science-fiction story. Hardman here has a dark, somewhat grimy, noir-influenced style that is compelling and realistic and sets a bleak tone, particularly in the scenes taking place in the "present". He style is somewhat reminiscent of artists such as Steve Epting, Butch Guice, Michael Lark, Paul Azaceta and Sean Phillips (very good company to be in).  Hardman provides great details in the story; we see that even before the Malory regime fell, Avalon was a place that had become dilapidated and worn. Now, without the stability of the government, there's poverty and chaos and that sense of hopelessness comes across in the large military presence shown, along with other indicators that the society is falling apart (a tattered poster for McBride is a nice touch).

The character design work here is compelling and meant to feel relatively "current"; it's centuries in the future, but this isn't a story where Hardman wants to illustrate shiny, futuristic-looking costumes. Everything, from the clothes to the buildings to the bar, has a lived-in feel to it.  Jordan Boyd on colors does a terrific job here, as he alternates the color scheme between the sooty, grim colors of the present day, and the warmer, sun-dappled colors used to illustrate the scenes of young Arthur and Maia.  The color change indicates not just an earlier time, but also provides the sense that we are seeing the story through the fog of distance and memory. Dylan Todd also provides great design for the overall look and feel of the book; futuristic and serious, grim and a little bloody.

The story seems to be smartly jumping back-and-forth between the two periods; the present day where we see the fallout of McBride's reign, and the past through Reveron's diary, where previously unknown facts may shed light on the present day. The setting is a distant moon in a futuristic society, but this really could be any nation, any place where there is chaos and an enterprising, charismatic individual fills the power vacuum.  Invisible Republic asks "who was Arthur McBride"? It's a great question, and a very promising start to a new series.

* This week also features Chrononauts #1 and Manhattan Projects: The Sun Beneath The Stars #1, both of which are fun books.