Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, opened twice monthly to champion a book that we adore. This week Arpad recommends the collected edition of ‘Invisible Kingdom’, out October 23 from Berger Books, an imprint of Dark Horse Comics.

Cover to ‘Invisible Kingdom’ TPB. Art: Christian Ward/Berger Books/Dark Horse Comics

by Arpad Okay. You could not ask Invisible Kingdom for a more inviting spin on space opera. The kind of ship’s captain, more blue collar than prestigious, too damn good for their job, caught up in the red tape that kills. G. Willow Wilson and Christian Ward have a story where corporate penny-pinching backfires to tip the balance of the universe. It’s you and I against the world, worlds and worlds.

On one side of the scales is an anti-materialist religious power. The other, capitalist culture of corporate omnipresence. But within this outrageous confrontation lies a more delicate story. The individuals caught between these titans are the ones who have to navigate a path that answers to community, responsibility, and heritage that is true to self.

The gold in the panels is the nuanced and charismatic characters, and how they approach what appear to be broad polar conflicts. Every face and voice is unique, and all with their motivations shrouded in secrecy. Invisible Kingdom is full of highly moral criminals.

Wilson strives to separate institutional corruption from the real roots that inspire faith. The end of organized religion doesn’t mean anything to the pillars of heaven, nor can economic collapse sully the sanctity of fair trade. But, uh, should it come to that?

It’s refreshing to get a science fiction feeling that reaches out to wild Dune sensibilities. Wilson and Ward come together for heavy metal album cover looks. That bizarre 70s aesthetic where space stuff and sword and sorcery cohabitated. Expect thieves with ray guns. Scoundrels. Invisible Kingdom is dreamt from the library stacks.

Deep geeks, the both of them. Wilson writing about space travel impact on ship parts. Ward making it come from the mouth of a green dude with cybertronic limbs. There are cyberpunk panel shapes! What if the D&D party was in space? And what if everything looked like a delicious candy fruit for you to eat?

Christian Ward is an exemplar of digital artist potential. Every line is an object, a drawing a thing of layers and layers. Contours can become neon piping. Any line or any space between lines can serve as a field of color, a wash, a screen. And underneath is a sketchy style of many strokes cut down to a minimum of lines, lifting some into color and dropping some into texture, half formed and fully worked.

The thrill of the cosmos is a hot pink ring around a planet of competing splatters. The same neon piping electrifies the details in gritted teeth. The color choices are the multitude, the same as dawn breaking over a coral reef. More artists need to be this bold with their color choices. Take the jewels from stained glass windows on sunny morning floors and put them in a superhero’s face.

In addition to using the entire Lisa Frank/Urban Decay eyeshadow palette, Ward colors like a classic painter builds up depth with light. Invisible Kingdom has auteur action movie lighting, an impossible treat for a science fiction fantasy story that is surely unable to be filmed. Ward’s work is painted and drawn and digitally manipulated into a complex, vibrant vision of what illustration can be now.

For all my ardor over the vibrant world created here, it should be said: yes. Humor, yes. Heart, yes, in family and in passion, yes. Invisible Kingdom, though, is the kind of science fiction that is in part a reflection of the darkness in the world of its writers. Wilson wrote a problem play, where the laughs crash against the rocks of power befouled.

Invisible Kingdom is about young capable people, all of them rare things and just like any of us, and their ability to undo the destruction enacted by those in power.

It is genuine escapist fun, too. The action punches. Not bang boom violence, either, but thrills. Chase scenes that are heavy with dramatic tension and spectacular escapes. The stakes and the frailty of good and that someone cares enough to try to save the world are what make the blood race. Invisible Kingdom is life.

Berger Books / Dark Horse Comics / $19.99

Written by G. Willow Wilson.

Illustrated by Christian Ward.

Lettered by Sal Cipriano.

Edited by Karen Berger.

‘Invisible Kingdom’ TPB hits stores October 23.

Enjoy this 5-page preview of ‘Invisible Kingdom’ TPB courtesy of Berger Books, an imprint of Dark Horse Comics!

More Required Reading…

The Talbots’ ‘Rain’ a work of sublime tactile beauty

‘Misty Presents The Jordi Badia Romero Collection’ an exquisite macabre treasure

‘The Poe Clan’ a fairy tale heavy with gothic mystery, intrigue, hedonism