Skyward is one of those comics – featuring a deceptively simple concept that reveals wonderful layers of complexity on closer inspection, all wrapped up in a delightfully bright adventure that soars as beautifully as young Willa there on the cover.
The basic concept, if you didn’t already know, is that one day, 20 years back, gravity suddenly pretty much turned off. And over the past 20 years everyone on Earth has had to learn to live in this new low gravity world. Young Willa is one of the low gravity natives, who’ve never known anything but the feeling of weightlessness that she loves. Others, including her father have had a much harder time coping with it all.
Her dad might even be the key to getting the world back the way it was, he’s a scientist who was working with his friend Roger Barrow on gravity experiments at the time. But when the gravity shift happened, Willa’s dad lost his wife on gravity day, and has been a recluse ever since, terrified to leave the house, racked with guilt that he couldn’t save.
Barrow, meanwhile has taken full advantage of the events to become a rich and powerful leader in this new world. And if there’s one issue I have with this great comic, it’s the sloppy handling of Barrow as arch villain. There’s so much subtlety and clever detailing in every other aspect of Skyward that the very two-dimensional character of Barrow comes across as a jarring error. But, that aside, Skyward continues to be a comic to absolutely cherish.
In issue 4 we see the aftermath of Willa’s visit to Barrow, who she now fears will stop at nothing to get to her dad, to stop him doing whatever he can to fix gravity. Willa rushes home to dad, fearing that Barrow has made it there before her. And then it’s away, armed with a destination, a map, a possible way to fix this messed-up world. If only Willa’s guilt-ridden old dad can make it out the door.
Trouble is, Barrow’s one step ahead of them both, meaning Willa has to step up once more.
And that’s just one of the things that makes Skyward work so well, Willa is a fabulous hero, resourceful, brave, but above all, she’s full of life and joy. And despite things taking a far darker turn as we reach the end of this first 5-issue storyline, that sense of wonder, of joy of life is still something that comes through in Skyward loud and clear.
The other major draw of Skyward, is the ways Henderson keeps coming up with fascinating examples of the science of this low gravity world. The idea of guns being pointless things because the low gravity alters the mechanics and forces involved, or the way the ground dwellers have to use magnetized boots to travel, or the problems facing the world dealing with farming and irrigation. And they do it here yet again. Magnificently, wonderfully. And annoyingly, I can’t really talk about it yet because it’s a bit of a spoiler for the cliffhanger at the end of this issue.
Dammit. All I’ll say is it’s a very clever moment where you suddenly find yourself, yet again, going ‘oh yes, low gravity, of course, that’s just what would happen, why hadn’t I thought of that?!’ A brilliant bit of scientific speculation in a book that’s been full of clever things.
Skyward Issue 4 was released on July 18th by Image Comics. Written by Joe Henderson, art by Lee Garbett, colors by Antonio Fabela, letters by Simon Bowland.