“I’ve been involved in several cults, both as a leader and a follower. You have more fun as a follower, but you make more money as a leader.”
We have to start the review of this latest issue of Invisible Republic with a bit of a joke, if only to counter the deadly serious grown-up tension contained within the issue itself. The book continues to explore politics, power, the media and notions of human loyalty and sacrifice, all within the idiom of old-fashioned science fiction, and issue #7 raises the stakes yet another notch, giving us more morsels of the story behind the Malory Regime’s rise, and the consequences of its fall.
The narrative structure here remains fractured into two timelines: the beginnings of the Malory regime, featuring Arthur McBride and his young cousin, Maia Reveron, and joined here by a major new character, Nica, and our present-day timeline (“42 years later”), following investigative journalists Babb and Woronov and a middle-aged Maia Reveron. The twist at the end of the previous issue was that Nica herself is still alive, and has returned to seek out Maia and the diary she kept during the formative years of the regime. Maia, by the way, is still a revolutionary leader, although at this point she’s more of a counter-revolutionary. It may be “42 years later”, but Maia still isn’t allowed to leave the group she and her cousin joined in their youth. That’s the theme that echoes between both timelines: the early, and probably later, Malory Regime was a cult that offered much to a new adherent, except the freedom to leave at their will.
In the early days, as it usually does, the cult seems warm enough, especially since they’re set up in a luxury apartment building and under the protection of the wealthy, regal Nica. Nica, by the way, has taken Arthur as a lover (it may be the other way around, but it’s more fun to think of the agency working in that particular direction), thus adding a bit of physical security to his loyalty. Maia is much more skeptical of the organization, but it offers her protection from the law that she desperately needs. It’s young Maia who begins to discover that getting out of this situation isn’t as easy as getting in. And perhaps more importantly, she discovers that Arthur has already picked his side, and will stand against her for his new friends. Arthur’s ambition and drive were always simply tolerant of his more human cousin, right back to that first scene on the beach. He indulged her rather than approved of her actions or her healthy skepticism and fear. The tension between these two central characters (in both the story and the history it retells) is never higher than in this new issue. Clearly there’s a long, difficult road ahead for both of them.
It isn’t mentioned often enough, but this comic also does fantastic things with the medium of comics itself. Not that it’s particularly revolutionary or stylistically innovative, but it uses the pre-established language of comics with spectacular skill. The art, by Gabriel Hardman, with colours by Jordan Boyd, is masterful, rich, expressive stuff, with big vistas and exciting action contrasted with, if anything, more tense dialogue scenes and character moments. The final panel, for example, is as haunting and threatening as anything in a Batman comic, but it’s just three people sitting in the dark, one of whom holds a clean piece of metal. And just this issue (never mind all the rest of the great issues so far) includes a gunfight, someone being eaten by a giant bear-dog, a visit to the library with a discussion of myths and even a trip to the flea market. That’s some fairly substantial artistic range, and it demonstrates just how much richness can be poured into 24 panelled pages with thought balloons. Even the lettering (I counted four distinct fonts, perhaps five) is diverse and artfully used. It’s the kind of comic in which the reader can just relax, confident in the knowledge that the people flying the proverbial plane know what they’re doing.
Without spoiling any of the actual story (masterfully co-written by Hardman and Corinna Bechko), the themes of loyalty and sacrifice are coming into sharper focus in this seventh issue. Nica’s character is an interesting addition, as Maia has spent every issue so far looking for a mentor, a protector, first her cousin and then the kindly beekeepers with whom she was actually content and happy. Nica, on the surface, should be the answer to Maia’s prayers. She’s everything Maia has ever needed, and seems like she’s genuinely trying to be her friend (just as she appears to be giving Arthur everything he desires as well). But Maia is powerfully skeptical of this woman, right from the start. She can see that there is a larger game being played, and Nica is an important part of it. For once, Arthur doesn’t look like the master leader, and there are strong hints that it’s Nica who is pulling the strings from behind the scenes. Perhaps it’s terribly upsetting to Maia to see her cousin being so obviously manipulated, because Maia is no fool. Getting to know the 60-70 year old Maia shows us that: she’s a strong, capable, smart leader with a wry sense of humour. We can still see the younger Maia in her middle-aged counterpart; she still has the same warmth and love. But there’s a layer of strength and confidence in the Maia of “42 years later” that makes her easily the most likeable character in this whole book. She’s the Maia we had always hoped her younger self would become. She’s still struggling and on the run, of course, but she’s fully herself in a way that the younger woman is still discovering.
It speaks volumes to the strength of Invisible Republic that beyond all of its points about society, cults, power and revolution, at its core is a moving human story of one woman’s discovery of herself. That alone should make the comic a must-read.