My introduction to G. Willow Wilson was reading her seminal run of Ms. Marvel with artist Adrian Alphona that introduced the world to the 16-year-old Muslim superhero Kamala Khan. Not only did this comic book push Marvel’s blend of heroism and domesticity to a whole new and modern level, it also pushed forward the presence of diversity and female characters in the medium. Through her Muslim background, Wilson has explored religion and diversity through her comics and with her first creator-owned work at Dark Horse (under the editorial belt of Karen Berger), these ideas are projected in a galaxy far, far away.
Set in a far-flung star system, Invisible Kingdom tells the tale of two women. One is Vess, a newly initiated religious “none” with brilliant passion and deeply steadfast faith in the teachings of the Renunciation. The other is Grix, a seasoned freighter pilot for mega-corporation Lux, forging her way through the solar system, fueled by impressive grit and a whip-smart crew. Despite their different backgrounds, Vess and Grix must team up after uncovering a vast conspiracy between the leader of the system’s dominant religion and the mega-corporation that controls society.
If its outlandish covers by artist Christian Ward are any indication, the world of Invisible Kingdom is definitely an alien one, with multiple races and obscurely designed spaceships. Some readers may feel disconnected from its presentation, but from the first issue, it does exactly what the best science fiction stories should do: use the fantasy to say something that feels relevant and contemporary. With the main antagonist being both the religion and the corporation, it does evoke certain religious organizations of today that are becoming more and more corporate. The message may be blunt and the villains look menacing in their position of power, but Wilson never gets bogged down by the politics and lets her heroic figures be the heart of the story.
Originating from a planet where its inhabitants descended from two symbiotic species that merged to create a single people with four distinct genders, Vess is your typical youth breaking away her family’s traditions who finds faith in the form of the Renunciation, a force that is not too dissimilar to the Bene Gesserit from Frank Herbert’s Dune. Although she goes against the corruptive nature of Mother Proxima, she doesn’t negate her own faith that she will one day reach the Fallen Kingdom.
As a contrast to the youthful beliefs of Vess, Grix is the bad-ass captain of the Sundog, comprising a space-crew that would befriend the likes of the Bebop and the Firefly, Serenity. More from a desire for adventuring through space as opposed to package delivery, Grix feels trapped in being part of the system, even if that’s what is keeping her and her crew afloat. Eventually Vess joins the crew, and it opens a new chapter for the pair that hopefully will shape into a grand adventure in later issues. This is a ragtag team, each member with their own personality, as well as an equal amount of clashing and respect towards each other. Most interesting is the relationship between Grix and Eline, the ship’s corporate liaison.
Being no stranger to illustrating sci-fi comics, from Black Bolt for Marvel to ODY-C for Image, Christian Ward continues to display excellent work with some of the most stunning visuals out there in comics through his experimental use of panel layouts and multi-layered coloring. Like I said, the outlandish look may put off some readers, and there isn’t really a single human in any panel, but if you stick with it, you will be plunged into a space adventure that is visually psychedelic.
If you know your science fiction inside-and-out, you can pick apart the influences that G. Willow Wilson is going for, but regardless, Invisible Kingdom is an adventurous space opera that is both visually and thematically rich, along with two compelling female leads.