Since I reviewed Gabriel Hardman’s Kinski last fall, I’ve been anxious to see what he does next. Kinski was a story with a strong authorial voice and visual sense, the narrative just went a little further afield than I was expecting from such a slim book. Now, he has launched Invisible Republic, co-written with Corinna Bechko, and it again has a strong visual sense and authorial voice from the two of them, but lacks some oomph in the plot department. Invisible Republic begins in the downfall of a dictatorship (the Malory regime) on the distant moon of Avalon (formerly Maidstone), and follows Croger Babb, a reporter who isn’t ready to move on with the rest of the world, as he tries to crack the story of what made this dictatorship wide open. He discovers a forgotten manuscript by a woman who had previously unknown ties to the regime, and uses the word “heretofore” in a sentence. There’s a lot of House of Cards political atmosphere meets Blade Runner’s grimy aesthetic in here.
I’ll start with this: Hardman’s art on this comic is fantastic. It’s got the same sort of blocky inking style he’s used previously, and for an... I don’t want to say “post-apocalyptic” but at least “pessimistic future” comic, it really works. He plays a good contrast between the grit and grime of current-day Avalon and the sunshine of past-day Maidstone, and the characters are all diverse in their designs. Jordan Boyd is certainly no slouch on color, either, showing that he can do realistic and gritty just as well as he does cartoonish and bright every month in God Hates Astronauts.
The story of Invisible Republic is still a little muddy, even by the end of the issue. Aside from the fact that it’s going to be split between Croger’s story and the story of Maia Reveron and her mysterious cousin, there’s a lot of references to the Malory Regime, but the last page reveal is about someone with a different last name who was apparently the dictator? I don’t know if that means it was some sort of regional governor whose power ran amok or what, but even for a comic that leans heavy on the poli-sci (the creators bill it as a poli-sci-fi in the back), it makes it tougher to follow. While political shows like The West Wing and House of Cards certainly don’t make themselves easy to follow, they still deliver information in a clear, direct manner-- you can’t end an episode with a reveal that doesn’t resonate through the earlier scenes any less than you should end an issue with a change of information. I’m still interested in the story of the fall of this regime, so I’ll check in again next month, but that final note struck me as off in an otherwise solid first issue (although, there was an awful long fight scene with murky stakes for a few pages in the middle).
One thing Hardman and Bechko probably didn’t have control over that worked against them with this issue was the timing. In the last three weeks, Image has released three relatively-hyped books about bad-space-futures: Descender, Southern Cross, and Invisible Republic. These are all good comics, but it’s sort of the creator-owned equivalent of three separate Spider-Man books coming out one after the other (oh, wait...).
Invisible Republic is a good comic. It has a broad scope built into a tiny, human conflict, which is an excellent way to start. I know (or at least think I know) the general shape of the story I’m on board for, and I’m interested to see where it goes. This issue just didn’t leave me with a cliffhanger that grabbed me and said, “You have to come back in 30, you have to know what happens!” But we’ll see.