Comics are almost the wrong kind of forum to tell a story like this, or rather I thought that until I finished this book. It is slow, methodical, subtly agile in the way it conveys it’s story and requires patience to get through. There are no bright colours, few intense action sequences and the characters are all downbeat and struggling against an effectively invisible system. Once again, I was wrong about that too. Invisible Republic tells a politically minded story unlike any other and brings refreshment from the unlikeliest of stories.
This issue completes the first arc and does it with enthusiasm and vigour, having slowly built a foundation with the preceding issues. At the very beginning we meet Arthur and Maia as they escape their previous employment and are almost apprehended by state police. Unfortunately the brutal beach confrontation is recorded by a member of the guard, presumed dead, and as they venture into the city they are immediately under threat. The next chapters were focused upon survival and learning to live as state criminals. What was very clever about the opening comic was that the story was partially set 42 years in the future, as a journalist tried to uncover the origins of the current oppressive dictatorship. He investigated a journal written by none other than Maia Reveron because the leader of the authoritarian regime is one Arthur McBride. This was where the book’s song kept you enticed and ready for more.
Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko deliberately keep the writing coy because they know that, in this final issue, all will be revealed. The question posed from the very beginning is how does Arthur McBride go from being a wanted man to leading a nation with an iron fist. It is a story so unfamiliar in any form of media that it begs belief and Hardman holds onto that premise for as long as possible. The writing and plot is very intelligent as he keeps it firmly on the ground level with Maia struggling to find general safety, registration papers, and employment. In a city slowly organising its rebel forces, we follow Maia into a beekeeping apprenticeship. There is a deliberate disconnect to keep the story at a personal level and not veer straight into a political forum. But that is where the strength of the book lies. Within all infamous organisations there was once a foundation stone, often a single person with an idea. That is even more apparent in the future sub plot that is aiming to uncover the insidious machinations of a government in order to discredit it. Their focus is not on a current ruse or deception but one that happened at the very beginning of the rebellion. The main story is certainly going to escalate into social organisation and politicking but it needs a beginning. And that beginning is Arthur McBride being recorded killing a guard on a beach, before the Che Guevara-esque iconography began:
Hardman is also drawing the book together with Jordan Boyd on colours, and they try to keep the two time stories apart. But in order to capture the environments at hand they have to keep it dark, devoid of light and bleak, after all both the rebel agenda and detective sleuthing are found beneath the centre stage. The McBride regime in the future is coloured bluer and greyer, which is in keeping with a paper trail chase. Otherwise the landscapes of the past are quite varied because the rural aspects of Maia’s day job are quite bright but the cityscape portrayal is fantastically dimly lit. The dark corners and streetlights allow the subterfuge and rebellion room to manoeuvre. The shading is particularly impressive as Hardman manages to capture dismay and anger whilst half of the character face is in darkness. This is particularly poignant when an important reveal occurs within the frenzy of the crowd. The following pages are wonderful in their ability to depict the carnage of smoke filled streets as Maia and her friends run through trying to make their way to safety.
Hardman and Bechko have purposely greyed out the morality of the system in order for the reader to come to a decision. Maia is our moral compass as the story is told from her perspective as the average citizen. We know the government is corrupt and Arthur is instrumental to its takedown but it is compelling that he will become as broken as the system he once so vigorously objected against. Where it appears Arthur is fighting for the people and acting in ways that are unethical with a view to a greater future, Maia has yet to decide whether this degree of moral relativism is one she subscribes to. Her penchant for political expression and freedom is challenged by the tyranny of the state leaving her no easy direction to turn. This is why this comic is so engrossing because it provides us the same conundrum. Maia represents the social consciousness of this book and integral to the oncoming uprising. Overthrowing an evil regime seems like the obvious decision but it is clear something went awry along the way. We accept that Arthur McBride may be self serving from the outset, but Maia certainly is not. The book shows the duplicity of a political system from the common citizen to the leader of the state with great passion and intrigue. But the real quandary to Invisible Republic is what happened to Maia Reveron because that is what would have happened to us.