Science Fiction, it almost goes without saying, is replete with parallels and metaphors for real society and true history. Invisible Republic is literally about the process of making, recording and retaining history, told from two different perspectives: the person making it and the person telling their story. Both in the seemingly random way people are drawn into historical events like Revolutions, and in the way that successful revolutions and political movements attempt to control and shape their own history, the clear metaphor here is the Soviet Union, around the mid-90s. For a brief window of time (which Putin closed quickly), the records of almost a century of revolutionary government were available to historians and researchers from all over the world. Documents were sometimes hard to obtain, and much had been lost to the dangerous backbiting political class that evolved over time, but for the first time, the west got a clearer picture of the 20th century from a very different perspective.
In this book, the “Malory Regime” is based around the personality of one man, and we already have hints of the sort of guy he is: ruthless, committed, extreme but selective loyalty and a willingness to do what’s necessary to realize his social vision. In other words, the archetypal revolutionary leader, a Che Guevara who looks like Chip Zdarsky with glasses. We’ve learned that his regime ruled the planet Avalon for years, and kept all of its accounts on paper. Babbs, the writer/historian who is recounting the story of the Malory years for Earth’s historical edification, has to suffer through some true Soviet-style bureaucratic nonsense in order to get access to those records, including collecting the right stamps and getting in the right lines at various offices.
I can’t recall a comic book (other than something from Harvey Pekar’s world) portraying queuing in a government office and filling out forms before, which is sort of remarkable in and of itself, but the sequence fits, and it enhances the “adult drama” flavour of this excellent science fiction comic.
[Possible Spoilers from here]
Issue #2 picks up right where the first left off, on the rocky shore with Maia, the key wild card character in this series, and her cousin Arthur Malory have just had a deadly fight with police. Maia is troubled at having seen Arthur beat someone to death, and recalls an earlier convenient death in their lives, and wonders whether he was behind that as well.
Maia is essentially a good-hearted innocent: she just wants to get by in the world and loves her cousin. But she’s quickly seeing that there’s something else in operation in this man, something dark and deep that’s only now coming to the surface. Arthur thinks things through with regards to violence a bit more than someone from his background should. He thinks, for example, to make sure the bodies of the police offers are disposed of and their helmet cameras smashed. Maia, on the other hand, worries about being caught and cautions Arthur to wipe the blood off his coat (his response, “No one will notice. I like this jacket,” is chilling) and feels remorse over taking the officers’ money. Arthur has a moral centre, but it’s clearly not in the same place as Maia’s. Like most revolutionaries, he’s not afraid to shed blood and commit any number of horrendous acts in the service of a larger cause. (“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants,” as that no less-committed revolutionary Thomas Jefferson once wrote.) This makes Maia’s perspective on the whole history very interesting, as Babbs well knows.
Through Babbs, we get a look at a post-Malory society, set 42 years after the events on the rocky beach. Gabriel Hardman’s art uses colour to differentiate between the two time periods, which is quite effective, opting for a sepia-toned, brownish, organic colour palette for the past and a grimmer, blue-green-shifted palette for the present. Babbs, like Arthur and Maia, at least for now, is alone, wandering through streets teeming wit struggling people, on a personal quest. In his case, the quest is for the truth, and more proximally for writing inspiration. He knows that Maia’s story would be a fascinating one to tell, no less dramatic and probably moreso than something like the Diary of Anne Frank. And Hardman, and his co-creator Corinna Bechko, allow him to be suitably single-minded and ambitious. He’s no monk: he needs money and works for an editor on Mars to whom he’s promised a great story, but he’s more like the 1991 Soviet journalist than the 1918 Soviet revolutionary.
Since the story he’s telling could easily rewrite the public perception of the entire Malory regime, he’s not the only one interested, as he finds out in a tense confrontation on the roof of a building in this issue’s climax. Held over the side, glass digging into his hands (his writing hands, I couldn’t help but notice, which is a great visual metaphor), his attacker screams “Where is the Reveron Journal?!”
This is Maia’s journal, recounting her life with her powerful and historically important cousin. And it’s this journal that forms the core of Babbs’ project, although in this issue he was mostly corroborating facts such as establishing that Maia actually did, in fact, exist. We leave our writer hero (I love that the hero is a writer, by the way) literally in a cliffhanger.
In the past, Maia and Arthur have made one critical mistake: leaving one of the police officers alive, and she has obtained a clear photo of Arthur, who is now one of the most wanted men on Avalon.
The way in which Invisible Republic blends tension, action and intellectual heft is quite impressive. This is a mature, grown-up science fiction story (unlike the equally enjoyable but obviously juvenile Chrononauts), told by artists who are interested in society, the creation of history and moral choices in challenging times. After two issues, it’s definitely a comic that any intelligent and discerning fan will want to pick up.