It Might Be Nice to Have History On Your Side: In Trump’s America, Invisible Republic Should Be Required Reading

By Kevin M. Brettauer

“Everybody knows that the dice are loaded

Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed

Everybody knows the war is over

Everybody knows the good guys lost

Everybody knows the fight was fixed

The poor stay poor, the rich get rich

That’s how it goes.

Everybody knows.”

  • Leonard Cohen, “Everybody Knows”

The story isn’t terribly complicated, really, or even all that new. A radicalized populist gains an immense following through a series of controversial actions and public speeches, positioning him as a dangerous demagogue, if not a borderline fascist, who casts aside a valuable female ally, a one-time confidante and friend, in order to rise to ultimate power, creating an oppressive system that violates basic human rights and undermines the tenets of democracy along the way. His closest allies are now paranoid, xenophobic hatemongers who will do anything within their power to keep things the way they are, or revert them back to how they were in “the good old days”, back when repression was common and minorities were made to “know their place” or, just as terribly, “pass” as something they were not.

This is, unquestionably, a political nightmare, and almost certainly resonates with a large percentage of California voters. It’s also the plot of the terrific Image Comics series Invisible Republic, created by writer/artist Gabriel Hardman and co-writer Corrina Bechko. Hundreds of years from now, the brutal dictator Arthur McBride’s Malory regime has fallen. The moon he renamed Avalon is falling apart at the seams, struggling to survive even as the transitional government settles in. The central Earth government could seemingly care less about Avalon and its people, doing the bare minimum necessary, lending the residents of the former dictatorship the kind of assistance that the United States has offered to villages that Coalition forces have completely steamrolled.

But all of that changes when reporter Croger Babb discovers a journal about the secret history of the Malory regime, its earliest days and the rise of Arthur McBride. It turns out that one of the founding members of McBride’s revolution, the movement that led to him taking over Avalon, was someone who has effectively been erased from history. Someone who isn’t in official government records, who has been edited out of photographs, who is not reported as being involved in McBride’s life at all.

His cousin, Maia Reveron. And Croger Babb has discovered her journal.

When Hardman and Bechko began Invisible Republic in March of 2015, it was intended as a parable, an exercise in what the creators call “poli-sci-fi”, a sort of, in their words, “Breaking Bad meets Blade Runner”. It was not intended as prophecy, or even wild guesswork, as to where the United States would be heading less than two years later. Simply put, even in the realm of political comics, Invisible Republic is unique. It is a dirty story about dirty people, where everyone is to be blamed and almost no one is to be thanked. In direct opposition to, say, Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris’s transcendent Ex Machina (a sort of The West Wing meets Iron Man), Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s V for Vendetta (loosely adapted into the popular film of the same name) or Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson’s uproarious Transmetropolitan (imagine Hunter S. Thompson dropped into the world of The Fifth Element and you have the start of what that series strived for), Invisible Republic, at least so far, offers no room for any character to compromise, offers no solutions, no balm or salve to soothe the wounds caused by a turbulent political atmosphere. Even after the fall of McBride’s regime and, in recent issues, Babb’s publication of Maia Reverson’s journal, things are still bleak, and getting harder and harder.

And perhaps that’s not its place. Invisible Republic may just be the most important comic book series being published in Trump’s America (issue #13 is released on Pearl Harbor Day next month, and the first two collections, each containing five issues, are now available), but like so much great, timely art, it is not here to tell us what to do, how to act, what to say, when to fight. It wants us to draw our own conclusions about what actions should and should not be taken, what a perfect world is or isn’t, what is right and what is wrong.

These tasks, these ideas – they may be difficult, they may seem almost impossible. But they are so important, so critical, so essential. They stretch back into the past, all the way through history to when “Arthur” and “Avalon” had other meanings, and into the far future, way beyond the setting of Invisible Republic and the rise and fall of the Malory regime. While Hardman and Bechko’s comic may have more in common with the philosophies of Westworld or The Expanse than Star Trek or Parks & Recreation, it offers us the same kind of warnings and concerns that those great works have provided us.

It’s up to us what we do with them.

“The darkness drops again but now I know

That twenty centuries of stony sleep

Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

– William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming”