By Christian Holub
March 19, 2019 at 03:37 PM EDT

Last month, G. Willow Wilson wrapped up her run on the Ms. Marvel comic, five years after she co-created the teenage Muslim superhero Kamala Khan. Earlier this month, she published her second novel, The Bird King, which blends medieval history with spiritual allegory and magical realism. But Wilson isn’t done with comics yet: The first issue of her new series Invisible Kingdom hits stores this week, from Dark Horse’s Berger Books imprint. This time, Wilson leaves behind the Marvel toybox in order to explore her own fictional world alongside artist Christian Ward (Black Bolt, Ody-C).

“I had this space opera bouncing around in my head in a very unfinished way for years,” Wilson tells EW. “So when Karen Berger was starting a new imprint at Dark Horse and said, ‘Hey, if you’ve got an idea that you think might fit here, let me know,’ this was what i immediately jumped to. I thought it would be a great fit for Karen, the editor who gave me my start in comics, and a great fit for Christian. I had wanted to work with Christian for a long time. I think his work is incredibly unique. His sense of scope is profound. Everything he draws, you get a sense of space and vastness. His use of color is really interesting. Everything he does, I love. So it felt like putting the band back together again, and the opportunity to have Christian on board was too exciting to pass up.”

On comics like Black Bolt, Ward proved himself capable of injecting the Marvel universe with psychedelic color and fascinating new alien characters (funnily enough, his collaborator on Black Bolt, Saladin Ahmed, just took over from Wilson as the writer of the new Ms. Marvel comic). With Invisible Kingdom, Ward has now gotten the chance to design a whole universe from scratch. Having done a few sci-fi comics already, Ward tells EW he was at first reluctant to do another, but was sold by Wilson’s pitch and the ability to create this world together — as well as by the fact that the two iconic sci-fi touchstones Wilson referenced to describe her idea for the book were Cowboy Bebop and Dune.

The first issue of an incipient space opera can only explain so much, but it’s clear that a lot of thought went into defining the structure of Invisible Kingdom’s fictional society. One of the main characters, Vess, is a new initiate to a religious order called the Sisters of Severity, where nuns cover themselves with dome-like headpieces and veil themselves from the world as part of their spiritual journey to seek the “invisible kingdom” of the book’s title. This visual motif is very apparent on the cover of the first issue.

Dark Horse

“It was really important to me that I understood this faith we were creating in the world,” Ward says. “Previous books I’ve done have been very intangible, where the idea was to feel kind of dreamlike. I didn’t want to do that same approach here. I wanted it to feel, as imaginative as it was, like a real place we were going to. So I needed the religion to be a real, well-thought-out thing, not weird imagery just for the sake of it.”

Ward continues, “Willow and I talked about, what were the ideas of this belief? It struck me that the religion was very much about looking inward to your core, to enter this place of euphoria, this invisible kingdom. I wanted imagery that would grab this religion to represent the idea of looking inward and through your center. That’s where this idea of a sphere came from, and the nuns wear domes so their gaze is directed inward. Then the nunnery has this big hole in the center of it, the idea being you go through the center and enter this world. There’s a lot of imagery, as we go through the nunnery, where that architecture is designed like we’re moving inward on this spiritual journey these nuns have to do. I didn’t want to have a spire pointing to the heavens, because they don’t see it as they’re going outward, but inward.”

The first issue is evenly divided between Vess’ religious ordeals and the plight of a malfunctioning spaceship captained by Grix. Grix is employed by a massive corporation, and her struggles with her material job resonate with the obstacles Vess starts to encounter on her spiritual journey.

“It’s an opportunity to put a lot of stuff into one pot with the same story,” Wilson says. “With Invisible Kingdom, I wanted to pick apart mega-corporations and how the control of commerce by only a very tiny handful of massive companies affects people’s lives, from macro to micro. At the same time, I wanted to do a similar deep dive with religion, which does many of the same things: massive institutions that affect people’s lives in a granular way. Doing that in a sci-fi setting allows us to tell that story without picking at any religion or organization in particular, and is a lot more fun. You can literally reinvent the wheel, which Christian and I have done. We sat down and said, ‘How does locomotion work in this universe? Do they have faster-than-light travel, and how does that look? Where are all these different species located?’ We built this world from nothing and asked how it worked.”

Invisible Kingdom #1 hits stores this week. Check out an exclusive trailer above.

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