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Invisible Kingdom #1 advance review: World, and wonder building done right

G. Willow Wilson and Christian Ward’s new sci-fi epic is a sight to behold.

When she was interviewed by AiPT!’s Content and Media Manager, David Brooke, last year at San Diego Comic Con, Invisible Kingdom author G. Willow Wilson (Ms. Marvel, Wonder Woman) described the upcoming book as a mix between Cowboy Bebop and Dune. She was not wrong. Brought to life by Wilson’s dense, but engaging world-building and diverse style, and artist Christian Ward’s (Black Bolt, ODY-C) mind bogglingly good tableaus of color, detail, and choreography, Invisible Kingdom‘s first issue is truly a sight to behold.

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What’s it about? Dark Horses’ preview reads:

Set in a in a far-flung star system, this new epic sci-fi monthly saga tells the tale of two women–a young religious acolyte and a hard-bitten freighter pilot–who separately uncover a vast conspiracy between the leader of the system’s dominant religion and the mega-corporation that controls society. On the run from reprisals on both sides, this unlikely pair of rebels risk plunging the world into anarchy if they reveal the truth.

Yeah, Cowboy Bebop and Dune sounds just about right. The impact of these narrative heights is almost immediate, too, as Wilson keenly starts the book with a plummeting cargo ship — no better way to get to know characters than in crisis, after all — and follows it with a pilgrim making a dangerous trek towards mysterious religion. It’s classic sci-fi trope-traipsing, sure, but it’s done with a care for character-first crafting that is so often missing in favor of concept or the delivery of one good hook in a first issue that, here? Is more than welcome, perfectly blending the meta-themes of capitalism, its intersection with religion, corporate espionage, and the people caught between (alien or not). All the better that there’s an obvious and immediate care for the crafting of the world as much as the characters at large, too. What I would give to see Wilson’s notes on even half of this, because it’s immensely impressive, beautiful and so clearly thought-out stuff. One race of aliens having multiple genders including “ups” and “downs” being just the tip of the iceberg.

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That also means that like Bebop and Dune, however, Wilson has to go to quick work building up a world that is as rich and as densely populated with people and things as those worlds, and I would be remiss to not mention that this first issue is dense with made up words. In the first few pages alone, there’s mega corporation Lux, characters Grix, Eline, Xether, the planet Duni, and more that you’ll need to keep track of. It’s a lot. It’s also rewarding and engaging once you get there because it makes the world feel that much more alive if you get there but it’s dependent upon your propensity for contextualizing that jargon (which I’m relatively comfortable with — looks at Warhammer 40K and Dungeons and Dragons books stacked up all around him). Your mileage may vary.

Similarly, Ward’s artistic effort is impressively considered and rich — a world wondrous, and strange, but also warm and inviting. The painted style is more immediately engaging than the majority of sci-fi books out today, and responds to the drab greys, gunmetal blacks and browns of post-apocalypse with bubblegum pinks, frog-flesh greens, Robin’s egg blues and more. As much as Wilson is clearly writing a world all her own, Ward is bringing that to life visually, and the art and narrative complement each other perfectly in this sense. Some characters are slightly too similar in appearance, and like the dialogue, you’ll need a bit of time to contextualize to get a good sense of who everyone is, but the minor burden that is all melts away when you come across yet another uniquely alien and vibrant page that authentically transports you to another place like only Ward can.

All said and done, Invisible Kingdom‘s first outing is more than an impressive start, it’s a salvo of creativity on both a narrow and broad scale the likes of which I haven’t seen in years. Especially appealing for fans of the genre, but near everyone should feel comfortable picking this up knowing they’ll find something to like (permitting you have time to make sense of all the new words and worlds). Plus, with a cliffhanger like that, how can you not want to come back to at least the second issue?

Invisible Kingdom #1
Is it good?
Invisible Kingdom’s first outing is more than an impressive start, it’s a salvo of creativity on both a narrow and broad scale the likes of which I haven’t seen in years. Especially appealing for fans of the genre, but near everyone should feel comfortable picking this up knowing they’ll find something to like (permitting you have time to make sense of all the new words and worlds).
Ward's art brings a world both alien and strange to life in a warm and inviting way, the rejection of a harsh post-apocalyptic color range is especially appealing.
The sci-fi tropes Willow is using feel comfortable and familiar but also uniquely tuned to the world at hand, allowing for a clash of ideas like private corporatism and religion to feel new rather than rote.
Each and every character is given enough time and space to come into their own, they feel uniquely engaging and realized, their own morals, intentions, and secrets laid bare or tantalizingly hinted at.
Some characters look a little too similar, and it takes time to tell them apart.
There are a lot of new words and concepts in this first issue alone, not the worst thing for a sci-fi book of this scope and caliber, but something that requires extra attention and contextualizing.
9
Great
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