Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #12 by Drew Barth
Firsts: Invisible Kingdom
I’ve said it multiple times at this point: first issues are difficult. There are story lines, settings, characters, and, more or less, the core of the series to introduce and get running for readers in the span of twenty-two to thirty-something pages. The task of crafting a first issue is absolutely grueling since it is the crux by which the rest of the series will hold itself. Without the readers to feel intrigued enough by the first issue to pick up the second, the series effectively dies a lonely, tragic death before ever waking up.
Too grim? Eh.
Anyway, that looming guillotine of cancellation is what makes a particularly good first issue so refreshing and inviting. For many DC and Marvel books, first issues are important to an extent. But Batman and Captain America aren’t not going to sell well. Their audiences are damn near set in stone. For creator-owned books, though, those above worries are all too tangible. And that’s why when I opened up the first page of G. Willow Wilson and Christian Ward’s Invisible Kingdom#1, I knew they didn’t have to worry about those issues.
From the first couple pages, we can see this team utilizing a storytelling technique I absolutely love both in first issues and in long-running series in general: dual narratives. There is a two-page spread that happens fairly early on in this issue that helps to provide one of the most stark contrasts between both characters and setting I’ve ever seen in comics. On one half of the spread, we have Grix—space pilot turned package courier—awash in full planetary splendor. And on the other half is Vess—a woman running away to join an order of Nones (not nuns, but close)—walking down a beige alley toward a similarly drab monastic temple. Wilson and Ward are working with paneling and color differences in such a fun way to better establish as early on as possible that these two characters are in completely different areas of their small solar system and that there is no way their lives could intersect.
And yet. The solar system Wilson and Ward have created is vast in scope but tiny as well. Consisting of only four planets, it’s not the galaxy-spanning space opera many science fiction stories try to emulate. As a result, the story is still very much on a large scale, but it still maintains an intimate quality with its setting—like working with one city block as opposed to a whole metropolitan area. Because of this, readers are given a comprehensive vertical slice of this living, breathing system with only the smallest of introductions through both of the concurrent narratives.
These narratives are also five minutes apart. And as we read more through this first issue, the more we see how Grix and Vess’ stories will eventually come together. From there we can see, due to those few minutes of separation, how their stories will inevitably end in some kind of heart-wrenching tragedy perpetuated by those few minutes.
Maybe. There’s typically foreshadowing in first issues for events that will happen relatively close to the end as a reward for sticking with a series for as long as it runs. As to whether or not any of that foreshadowing plays out is up to conjecture for later, but due to the sheer wealth of information and small details about the narrative from this first issue, it’s hard not to extrapolate where things are going to go.
And I’m just focusing on the narrative wonders this book is spinning from the beginning. I won’t have the space to go into Invisible Kingdom’s usage of otherness with its various alien races; religious dogma in the form of the Renunciation religion; the company Lux as the capitalist monolith that has centered wealth and power on one planet; an exploited working class whose lives are valued less than the packages they deliver. There is such a wealth of story and character contained in this first issue it’s a wonder Wilson and Ward were able to keep it at only thirty-two pages.
Invisible Kingdom is a miniseries being put out by Dark Horse’s Berger Books imprint—the same imprint putting out Ann Nocenti and David Aja’s The Seeds—and is joining DC’s Young Animals and relaunched Wild Storm as the source for all things good in monthly comics right now. They are smaller in scope and scale compared to their parent companies, but their careful curating of stories and editorial oversight has aided in cementing these imprints as areas of experimentation and new expression in the monthly comics market. That freedom is what makes a series like Invisible Kingdom so interesting and fun from the first issue—and is what’s making me return to it at a later date when the series closes potentially later this year.
Get excited. Comics are happening.
Drew Barth (Episode 331) is a writer residing in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.