'Invisible Kingdom' #1 Review: Consumerism and Religion Take to the Stars

G. Willow Wilson became a comic book superstar by co-creating Kamala Khan and writing her adventures in Ms. Marvel for Marvel Comics. Now she's teaming with artist Christian Ward and editor Karen Berger on Invisible Kingdom, a space opera published by Berger Books. The first issue of Invisible Kingdom introduces readers to several layers of sci-fi high concepts. These, together with Ward's enchanting art, will draw readers into a compelling new tale as Invisible Kingdom #1 presents a dual narrative, allowing Willow and Ward to show off two different sides of their universe.

Readers are first introduced to Grix, captain of a ship delivering goods for an interstellar retailer called Lux. Her relationship with her employer (think Amazon in space) is, at best, tense and only gets worse when the job goes off the rails.

The perspective shifts then to Vess, a member of an alien race with four sexes who has made a pilgrimage to Duni, this civilization’s capital planet. She’s seeking to become a none, an ascetic dedicated to the religion called the Renunciation. The Renunciation preaches that the path to the Invisible Kingdom requires letting go of the trappings of the physical realm.

Grix and Vess’s worlds should be as far apart as imaginable. One does work for a commercial supergiant while the other left a privileged life behind to renounce all such material things. And yet, discoveries by both characters reveal their worlds may be more connected then anyone realized. Now they have to decide what to do with that information.

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(Photo: Christian Ward, G. Willow Wilson, Dark Horse Comics)

The line drawn between Lux and the Renunciation is reminiscent of Frank Herbert’s Dune and it's dealings with the Spacing Guild and the Empire. Yet Invisible Kingdom #1 lacks a thesis statement. The revelation that money is being transferred from Lux to the Renunciation is important, and that someone is going to great lengths to keep that fact a secret raises obvious questions about corruption and hypocrisy. But the issue doesn’t show the larger roles Lux and the Renunciation play in this civilization and the lives of its people, and it isn't clear why this connection matters on a human (for lack of a better term) level. It’s easy to trust that this will be better established as Wilson and Ward continue to build their world in future issues; it's imperative that they do. Otherwise, these themes may become, to borrow a phrase from the issue, secondhand philosophizing.

Ward’s artwork communicates the differences in Grix and Vess’s worlds with strong coloring. Grix’s ship bounds through the cosmos, where fluorescent pink planets are set against a bold blue background. Sal Cipriano adds some stunning lettering touches -- his words blend into the world around them in interesting ways, such as deforming as Grix’s ship gets closer or breaking up as a transmission fails. In contrast, Vess walks an earthy path of natural colors as she ascends to the life of a none. Ward also gives readers a perfect pair of facing splash pages. On the left, Grix’s ships dives downwards, skimming the watery surface a planet, the saturated colors bleeding into each other. To the right, Vess climbs dusty, brown steps framed by dry, sand-colored walls. In front of her is a cold, metallic monastery tower, and her ragged crimson dress is the brightest, warmest element of the page.

Invisible Kingdom #1 presents a fascinating new world to explore. Wilson and Ward take advantage of the comic book medium's lack of budgetary concerns to present a cast that is wholly alien. They’re bipedal and humanoid, but otherwise inhuman. This issue offers the first hints at what Wilson is ruminating on regarding the overlap between religion and consumerism, and she and Ward have introduced a cast of varied and interesting characters and begun to scratch the surface of their new society’s depth. Anyone craving a thoughtful sci-fi that doesn’t skimp on excitement or visual flair needs to check out Invisible Kingdom.

Published by Berger Books, a part of Dark Horse Comics

On March 20, 2019

Written by G. Willow Wilson

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Art by Christian Ward

Letters by Sal Cipriano