At the end of issue #5 of Invisible Republic, we’ve reached the end of the first story arc in style. Opening up its secrets like a very well-written television series, the big twist at the end of this issue seems obvious in retrospect, and is even strongly hinted in previous issues. But it still comes as a game-changing surprise, and one that highlights how this book negotiates the geography of memory.
What this comic is really about is a story. It’s terribly important to a lot of people that the “true” story of the Malory regime is told, despite the fact that the regime itself has fallen. And not told from any official perspective, but from the diary of Maia Reveron. For the past five issues, we’ve been presented with a modern-day narrative in which journalist Croger Babb, and now other powerful journalists, are digging through the underbrush of the fallen world to find the diary and use it as a source for future history. Then there’s the actual 42-year-old diary itself, telling Maia’s story as she fled the farm on which her and her cousin Arthur McBride have been indentured, ran into trouble with the authorities and wound up working for a beekeeping couple, selling honey in the streets, while Arthur made himself into a revolutionary leader. The crucial questions concern what makes Maia’s story more valuable than any other. Why is she considered an important dissenting or at least alternate voice, in historical terms? In this issue, we get an answer, which, as in all great storytelling, winds up raising many more questions.
One reason Maia’s voice would be worth more than others is simply that she doesn’t appear to have a horse in the proverbial race. She’s something of an innocent, at least based on what’s in her diary so far, just trying to find “freedom” in a vague and personal sense, not spearheading or even participating in a violent revolutionary movement. At the end of issue #4 she had come to peace with selling honey, and was even happy in her lot. Her bosses, Luis and Archi, were compassionate and seemed ready to protect her, given that technically she’s on the run from indentured servitude. So, Maia provides a street-level view of history, in theory.
Of course, no history is completely without bias. The logical response anyone would have to learning that Maia is not only known to emerging revolutionary movement leader Arthur McBride, but related to him, would be suspicion. It’s one thing to simply be a person on the run, but Maia’s associations and actions – killing police officers on the beach and accidentally leaving one alive – have literally made the news. That puts Archi and Luis in an uncomfortable situation.
But just as we think we can see the plot coming around the corner, and think we know Luis, Archi or how the situation will play out, the story takes a fascinating twist. That’s about as specific as we can be here without spoiling, because the plot developments go straight to the heart of what this comic has always been about. But it’s certain that any reader will be eagerly anticipating issue #6.
Perhaps not enough has been said about the wonderful artwork in this book, by Gabriel Hardman, with colours by Jordan Boyd. The key to their work is texture. In this issue, for example, there’s a long sequence set in a shroud of tear gas: that’s right up their alley, creating deep environments suggesting huge crowds through a murky mist, using subtle shading and colour. And the cooler, blue-tinged sequences set in the story’s “present” evoke Blade Runner, particularly a sequence from this issue with Babb and star journalist Fran Wornov in a hotel room looking out onto the city at night. There’s also a very important plot point that revolves around inspecting old photographs. Re-using and re-capitulating sometimes electronically downgraded imagery has always been part of the visual landscape of Invisible Republic, but in this issue it really becomes front and centre. Aside from the technical skill of Hardman and Boyd in showing us the same scene from a number of different perspectives, it reminds us of how much history turns on a single image (think of Tiananmen Square, for example).
Even though this is the end of the story arc, as co-writers Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman remind us in the afterward, it actually feels like the story is only beginning. The shattering ending calls into question just about everything we’ve seen, and opens up doors that will no doubt yield more fascinating and entertaining stories as the series continues.