Invisible Republic is only just now in its tenth issue, but it feels as if there have been many more than that. The complexity of the world, and the subtlety with which Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko have told their story within it, gradually adding layer after layer of narrative complexity, gives this comic a truly epic scope. As always, issue #10 gives us a story about a story — namely the tale of the Malory Regime, as told through Maia Reveron’s diary. The diary has at least three groups chasing after it, namely early Malory benefactor Nica, the journalists Croger Babb and Fan Woronov, and Maia Reveron herself, along with her underground followers. It’s Nica who has the most substantial political power and connections, and for a while in this issue it appears that she’s an unstoppable force, but in the world of Invisible Republic, things are rarely that simple. Explosions, riots, interrogations, machinations and memories all blend together here in a swirl of intrigue and plot that serve to remind us why this comic is still a must-read intelligent, mature work of science fiction.
This issue starts with what a lesser book would devote an entire issue to discussing: the deep backstory of how Maia and her cousin Arther McBride (leader of the Malory Regime) escaped their indentured servitude and found their way to the seacoast where we first met them way back in the premiere issue. In this context, and given what happens later in the issue, the scene establishes the motif that emergency escapes, violence and peril are nothing new for Arthur and Maia. Despite looking like a well-developed science fiction future civilization, with advanced technology and interstellar travel (there’s a reference to “faster than light” here, abbreviated in the BSG tradition as “FTL”), the sense of settled stability is an illusion. There is not only extreme inequality but a shocking lack of basic social justice for those outside of the ruling class. Whatever their stance is (and other than vague gestures, we haven’t seen a great deal of solid policy from Arthur or Nica), the “Malorys” clearly had a legitimate beef.
On further consideration, this mix of character specificity and political ambiguity is one of the secrets of Invisible Republic’s success. Without ever having to get into the nitty and the gritty of what the socioeconomic problems are, and how any of the several political movements are going to change them, the story winds up focusing on the simple binary of power vs disenfranchisement. In other words, in all time periods, including the “42 years later” period that seems to constitute the narrative “present”, our characters find themselves in opposition to authority, and that authority takes familiar forms (rich people hiding behind layers of bodyguards, police, customs agents and all manner of badged figures herding people around and demanding submission) despite the science fiction setting.
Another motif this issue, which starts a new story arc, brings home is how the best laid plans of mice men oft go astray, represented by repeated scenes of violent explosions coming out nowhere, and characters speculating conspiratorially on who is responsible. This isn’t how revolutions seem to those participating in them at the time (if anything, most revolutions are pretty boring, involving lots of meetings and planning), but it’s a fair representation of how they are remembered. And that is the key to understanding the storytelling style of Invisible Republic.
The Malory Regime is finished, and the stakes are not its re-instatement but controlling how history will view it. Until this point in the series, we’ve basically been taught that Maia’s account, via her diary, is the most truthful and accurate version of the tale, casting herself as a slightly innocent participant drawn to some of the people in the movement, Arthur has a fanatic who isn’t as smart as he thinks, and Nica as the evil seductress pulling her cousin’s strings as she strokes his formidable ego. But here in issue #10, some of the presumptions are challenged and the story takes on new dimensions of possibility.
All sides, as is often the case in politics, claim to speak on behalf of “The People”, but by the same token no side truly listens to the issues in those terms, or presents a representative of “The People” to voice their own problems, with the important exception, of course, of Maia Reveron. Ironically, all that young Maia really wants is to be back working with bees at the apiary, but older Maia is sharper, less earthy and almost completely subsumed in political machinations. She’s still Maia, but while we get a sense of what the young Maia wants, the older Maia seems to fight for more abstract notions with grim determination. Once again, character specific, mixed with political ambiguity. It’s the characters that are always the focus of this book, to its great credit.
The last panel of this issue opens up several doors to future story points that will no doubt make this arc of Invisible Republic as compelling as it has ever been.