Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: Joe Henderson
Artist: Lee Garbett
Cover: Lee Garbett
Colors: Antonio Fabela
Letters: Simon Bowland
Reviewer: Steve Sellers
Admittedly, Skyward was a comic that I was initially on the fence about. This has nothing whatsoever to do with the creators, whose work I haven’t read previously but have solid track records. I certainly can’t argue with the showrunner of the Lucifer TV series writing a comic for Image. I’m also most intrigued by the work of Lee Garbett, who can produce some entertaining and dynamic visuals. This team is, at least on paper, capable of producing some quality comics.
The concept of the book, however, gave me some pause. In general principle, the idea of a world that seems much like ours except for a specific fantastic exception is a common staple. That’s certainly an approach that can work for a successful independent title. However, the particular idea of an Earth that mysteriously loses most of its gravity, comes across as somewhat implausible and difficult to accept without a very strong justification for it.
While I still have some skepticism about the concept, Skyward delivers a fun experience that takes advantage of its core idea.
This particular cover struck me immediately and succeeded most effectively at getting me to turn the page. In the first place, this is a simple image that uses the character of Willa as a striking focal point. There isn’t that much in terms of background detail beyond just the cityscape, and the cover doesn’t need any of that. Willa herself sells the cover in terms of both concept and character as Garbett depicts her here. The creators cleverly show Willa floating upside down over the cityscape, which is both a visually interesting image and a cue about what this book is. Furthermore, Willa’s visual characterization hits the tone of the book—she comes across as a joyful character who takes pleasure in flying, with arms spread and a broad smile. This is a cover that promises a fun time with this character, and that is always a great way to bring in reader interest.
I honestly regret never having encountered Lee Garbett’s work before this, because the art is quite impressively done. His figures are well realized and defined, and he shows a broad range of character designs that are distinctive and interesting. With the exception of Willa and her mother, none of the characters in this book look even remotely similar in these pages. Garbett’s visual characterization is likewise quite strong, especially in his portrayal of Willa, who comes across as happy and adventurous in her expressions and posture. More than the script, the panels help to establish the character of our heroine, and that helps to ground the reader into a new series like this.
At the same time, the storytelling is also first rate, and the flow between panels in this issue is nearly seamless. There is some solid linework that gives a kinetic flair to the action in this book, which is a necessity here. Because this is a title revolving around flying and mid-air combat, the movement needs to be clearly depicted through the panels. Garbett embraces this idea, making the most of the low-gravity environment in this setting. Even simple things like blowing bubbles works differently in minimal gravity, and that’s captured effectively as well. I appreciate the thought placed into the panel design as well as the worldbuilding, and the art gets these ideas across nicely.
Antonio Fabela sets the tone rather nicely this issue through some strong coloring work. One of the elements that helps to give Skyward its lighter flavor is the bright colors that are used throughout the issue. This is at its most pronounced in all the outdoor scenes in daylight, where the focus is on bright lighting and clear blue backgrounds. Lighting on the individual scenes is good, with just the right amount of brightness at just the right angles. At the same time, Fabela also puts some dramatic shading where it’s appropriate, such as the indoor scenes at the end of the issue. The visuals pop out at the reader overall, though, and the coloring helps to reinforce the lighter atmosphere of the book.
For the most part, the lettering is pretty solid and tells the story effectively. The word balloons are spaced out well enough and there’s no trouble in determining who’s speaking at a given moment. Background details like a crosswalk sign look believable and help to build the sense of an Earthlike setting. However, while there’s little that’s technically wrong with it, there are some small issues that nagged at me. For one, the word balloons look a little too large compared to the text inside them. The extra space isn’t really needed and just ends up covering more of Garbett’s beautiful artwork. For the most part, this isn’t a problem, but it could be just a little bit better. Another small concern is that sound effects could have been used to greater effect. While the second gunshot is well executed, the first one really needed a sound effect to give it dramatic weight. As it is, we don’t get the sense of impact as Willa flies away that the panel should convey. These are minor issues, to be fair, and nothing that makes the comic any less enjoyable, so much as missed opportunities.
As mentioned previously, I had my doubts about this concept, but I remain willing to give Joe Henderson a chance to overcome them. This issue doesn’t really explore the mechanics of how a planet of the size of Earth would suddenly lose its gravity or any of the related scientific questions, though the ending does hint at answers in the next issue. So if you’re interested in any of the hard science fiction questions, this issue won’t change your mind about that.
What this issue does do, however, is introduce the world of Skyward and illustrate the joy inherent in the idea of flying. This is actually the most challenging part of the series, especially when comics readers are used to flying people as a matter of genre convention. Henderson addresses this by experiencing this world and the mechanics of flight through the character of Willa. While her life has challenges, Willa is presented as a character who has lived in low-gravity her entire life and has grown to love the world as it is. We also see that the character shows some cleverness with this idea, particularly when she’s accosted by thugs. The low-gravity combat is well thought through in the script, and this world comes across as a place that would be fun to live in. This sense of joy in the comic and just the idea of a comic that is meant to be fun uplifts the book (in more ways than one).
At the same time, we also see how the G-Day event affects the people in Willa’s life. Some people have it much easier because of the loss of gravity, while others, such as Willa’s father, have taken it much harder. These viewpoints help to ground the book in a sense of reality and show that Willa is likely to be faced with harsh realities as her innocent and joyful outlook are challenged. The last page presents a possibility that will lead to conflict, but also give the adventure hook that changes things for her. I’m left curious as to what Henderson’s explanation will be, and how this revelation will affect Willa’s relationship with her father. There’s a humanity in this concept as well, and it’s this approach that makes the book accessible and intriguing.
For all my small concerns about this comic, Skyward manages to transcend them by creating a genuinely enjoyable reading experience. I came in expecting relatively little, but I found Willa an enjoyable character to spend time with and the world to be credibly devised, even if it leaves some outstanding questions for later issues. Furthermore, the art is captivating on its own merits, and helps to draw the reader further into the setting.
As a first issue, it hits all the correct notes, whatever my misgivings about the underlying premise, and I had fun reading this title. Because of that, Skyward earns an uplifting 9.0/10, with the potential for more if it can give satisfying answers to its main questions. Image has put out some very strong new release titles recently, and this is a good new series to try if you have some extra money to spend.
Written By Steve Sellers
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