By coincidence, for an unrelated project, I’ve been reading Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle lately, and I can’t help seeing many similarities with Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko’s Invisible Republic, as it continues into its third issue. Both stories are, at least in part, about the reclaiming of history and the power that having some control over the historical narrative conveys. In the Dick novel, a dystopian 1962 in which the Axis won the second World War, various characters work to spread the word of a novel telling an alternate history in which the Allies won. In Invisible Republic, the characters in the “present day”, particularly our heroic writer Babb, want to bring some sense into their fallen world, historically speaking, to produce a historical narrative that will expose the truth of the regime under which they had lived for so many years. It’s an interesting kind of rebellion, because success doesn’t mean the past is changed, only that the present is aware of it in a new way. As to how that would affect the future development of this society, that also seems like an open question.
But sometimes, telling the story is an end unto itself. I think that’s ultimately what Invisible Republic is about: having the power, and the courage, to tell your story. As a comic book theme, you could do a lot worse.
In this issue, literally picking up right where we left off with a cliffhanger (well, building-hanger) involving some new, unknown force trying to get the diary of Maia Reveron, Arthur McBride’s cousin, who has a unique insight into the rise of this man who ruled with an iron fist for years. The actual story of this particular issue is told in two time periods, creatively differentiated by use of a slightly different colour palette, involves a struggle on the part of Babbs to cling to the diary, and a turning point in the relationship between Arthur and Maia.
Since this book deals with history, we can apply some of the academic historian’s technique to its analysis. The first thing a good historian might ask is about the narrators of the various histories with which we’re presented. Are they reliable? Although we’re dealing here with the story of Arthur McBride, we don’t have, or haven’t been shown, a primary source on him. What we know about this all-important character has been shown to us by either Maia, through her diary, or indirectly from observing the socioeconomic conditions under which Babbs lives. We’re also given a few scraps of propaganda, fading on buildings. That’s hardly a full-spectrum and comprehensive picture of McBride. Any historian would empty the proverbial salt shaker all over it while considering the picture being presented of the former dictator. Imagine re-telling the entirety of World War II using only the diary of Anne Frank, for example. A fascinating perspective, yes, but not one upon which to base a large, full-scale history.
Instead, an historian would probably look to the character of Maia Reveron, and consider what her story tells us about her, and the situation she came from. We know, for example, that she and Arthur were poor, and exploited. We know that they were primarily agricultural, which means they had probably been working the land for generations and weren’t the types (or, at least she doesn’t seem like it) who traveled the world and sought exotic perspectives. Being farmers, both she and Arthur are physically strong and resourceful, but he has a streak she lacks. We saw this in the very first issue – it’s hardly a spoiler. Arthur, and the way Gabriel Hardman draws him is brilliant in this respect, has “issues”. This issue in fact shows us just how deep Arthur’s need for control goes, treating his cousin as if she were a ruthless military-trained fighting machine, rather than a good-hearted farm girl. At least that’s how he appeared to Maia, because we have only her word for it.
But Maia’s word must be worth quite a bit, because people will kill for it, and die for it. That’s how Babbs knows he has the authentic diary. It seems a very slender thread of history to rest everything on, but one has to presume that there are countless pages of “official history” out there produced by the Malory regime over the years, and what the Reveron Diary says must contradict that in important ways. Maia does seem rather innocent and without guile, so there’s no reason to think she’s purposefully lying in her diary… but even if she’s completely honest, she can only represent her perspective, not the “big picture”. For such a specific text to assume so much importance in the world is a big hint at just how disastrous the Malory regime must have been, and how great the fall was.
In The Man in the High Castle, resistance fighters try to create a different truth in the face of opposition and infiltration. In Invisible Republic, the fight seems more retrospective, with the stakes being reputation and historical perspective, because the regime has already fallen: it’s not going to be brought down twice. It’s a fight over history itself, and let’s just stand up and acknowledge how clever and rare that is, in any medium.