Published on December 23rd, 2015 | by JCDoyle0
The Best Comics You Aren’t Reading: Invisible Republic
I first came across Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman when they worked on a Planet of the Apes title for Boom! Studios and I was captivated by their blend of action and political narratives. Their knowledge not only of the Apes franchise but of sequential narrative as a whole I found particularly impressive therefore I couldn’t say no to their creator owned title released through Image Comics.
Described as ‘Breaking Bad meets Blade Runner’* the story follows a journalist, Croger Babb, as he uncovers a secret journal that sheds a new light onto the life and times of a legendary freedom fighter by the name of Arthur McBride.
The narrative is split into two main threads: the first can be classed as the present and follows the trials of the would-be journalist Croger Babb; the second is 43 years in the past and tells the story of McBride’s regime through the eyes of his cousin Maia.
Babb is a bit of a celebrity, having had one of his novels turned into a movie however no-one takes his seriously when it comes to news reporting. He travels to Avalon in the Gliese System just after the fall of the Malory Regime insistent that there’s a story to be told. He however faces resistance from the locals and also from the people in his life, some of who think he’s washed up. This all changes when he literally stumbles across a journal written by a woman named Maia who constantly refers to her cousin, Arthur McBride. Maia doesn’t feature in the historical accounts of the Avalon’s past and her version of events differs from the accepted legend. Who is Maia? Why was she written out of history? And why are people trying to kill Babb to get at the journal? All of these mysteries are raised in the first story arc and Babb’s life changes as he becomes embroiled in the political histories of this dystopian world.
Maia’s story charts her initial escape from a work camp with her older cousin McBride and their journey into the depths of Avalon, on the run and homeless. Maia witnesses McBride’s anger and violence first hand and after she is unable to do what she must to survive, McBride cuts her off, leaving her to fend for herself. After a terrorist attack in a market place leaves her injured, Maia is taken to a Bee farm and welcomed by the farmers. But brewing underneath is the growing restlessness of a troubled nation and the time is right for a revolution. Maia and McBride are destined to meet again as the violence of change spreads across the planet.
One of the first things that grips you about Invisible Republic is how relevant it is; there are topics discussed within the pages that the majority of readers will be able to relate to their current lives. Uncertainty and dismay with the local and national governments is something close to a lot of people’s hearts at the moment and the urge to stand up and be counted and even, on some level, to fight back is there. This instantly makes characters like Maia relatable because she is the average reader; someone who is questioning morals and governmental judgements but hasn’t crossed that line, hasn’t taken the next step. McBride is that character, the one who has believes so strongly that all means justify the ends. So far his life has not been dissected so we don’t know what really drives him other than his anti-government preaching’s but through Maia we see him as more than a terrorist or activist but a man struggling with himself and what he believes to be ‘right’.
It’s interesting that Hardman and Bechko take the side of the freedom fighter to tell their story; it’s like following the underdog which is also what Babb is in the present day. He is striving to do what’s right but everyone is fighting against him. As an unconscious decision, we side with him and Maia, accepting them as the heroes and therefore we accept that what they do is the right thing. In turn this forces the reader to question the actions of the characters, McBride’s violence and Maia’s hidden identity, through the series of events that are for the most part out of the characters control, especially in the first arc. In the opening sequence of Maia’s journal, the two cousins have recently gone on the run when they encounter the local military. Both of their reactions relate to their survival but the way in which they handle the situation and the outcome is very different. The reader is forced by the writers to question both points of view; yes violence and murder are wrong but what lengths would you go to given the same situation? Later in the story the consequences of the characters actions are played out and again the reader is forced to ask, who was right?
This portrayal of life, of each character being neither good nor bad, gives the comic an unsteady atmosphere; as a reader you are never sure what’s going to happen or who to trust. When the central character is shown to be constantly lying to escape an oppressive regime and another character is constantly lying to hide who he really is, how can you trust anyone?
This sense of unease and paranoia is transposed into the artwork. The setting is gritty and the colour palate is dirty; all of the city scenes have a layer of dust over them as if shrouding something. Thick shadows play a major part of hiding and concealing characters at every turn. Even the layout of the panels is uneven with no set or repeating pattern; the only constant is that the gutters are a stark white and the ‘present day’ panels do not have a black boarder as if they contain elements that have not been set in stone; the past is rigidly contained albeit still a mystery to the reader.
Invisible Republic challenges the reader by presenting a gripping, political thriller which is a stark reflection on how the modern world treats its own recent history. This is a must for all fans of dystopian tales and political intrigues.
Invisible Republic is released monthly from Image Comics and Volume 1 is available now.
*I am the one person in the world who hasn’t seen Breaking Bad so I don’t know how true this analogy is. I have however seen Blade Runner possible too many times and can definitely see the connection there.