Our perception of reality is defined by a unchanging set of rules. That which goes up must eventually come back down. Those who are long dead are destined to stay that way. If those rules changed, however, our relationship with reality would break down. For instance, how would you react if gravity suddenly vanished? If you're anything like the heroes of this week's best new comics, the answer is... complicated.
Skyward's hero Willa pondering the strange nature of her world. Illustration: Antonio Fabela, Lee Garbett (Image Comics)
The ghost of William Blake invites a mother on a journey to Hell. Illustration: Kyle Charles, Dee Cunniffe (Aftershock Comics)
Her Infernal Descent
It is not uncommon in the world of comic books for a person to be presented with the opportunity to embark upon a journey into the underworld in order to save the soul of a loved one from damnation. It's much rarer, though, for these sorts of adventures to begin with a visit from the spirit of 19th-century poet William Blake.
Her Infernal Descent tells the story of Lynn, a middle-aged widow who's reeling from the recent deaths of her children. Alone, Lynn wanders through her home unmoored from her life and unsure of how to make sense of reality when, quite randomly, the ghost of William Blake shows up in her attic with a proposition he delivers in rhyme.
Should Lynn agree to accompany him down through the nine circles of Hell, Blake explains, she'll be able to wager with Lucifer for the souls of her family and likely bring them home.
Rather than responding with fear, shock, or really any sort of alarm, Lynn's first reaction it to roll her eyes at the ghost, tell him to get out her house, and mock him for speaking in prose, but she doesn't immediately dismiss the idea of saving her family. With nothing left to lose, she explains to the persistent Blake, nothing really scares her any more, at least not the idea of bargaining with the devil.
Her Infernal Descent shares a premise and many beats with Dante's Inferno, but the comic introduces a number of new narrative elements that make it feel fresh and distinct.
Instead of marveling in terror and awe at seeing Hell, Lynn's mostly annoyed by the spirits she encounters in Limbo, the first stop on her journey, where all of the unbaptised Christians and Pagans hang out to talk about themselves ad nauseam.
She tunes out Plato, Socrates and Aristotle the way one might block a group of prattling trolls on Twitter, mainly because they're a nuisance - but also because buried deep beneath her veneer of indifference, she feels a kind of hope for the first time in a long while that she might be able to put her life back together. (Lonnie Nadler, Zac Thompson, Kyle Charles, Dee Cunniffe, Aftershock Comics)
Willia taking advantage of the world's newfound lack of gravity. Illustration: Lee Garbett, Antonia Fabela (Image Comics)
Joe Henderson's Skyward takes casadastraphobia (the irrational yet horrifying fear of falling into the sky) and turns it into an interesting premise to explore the way our society works. When the Earth's gravity suddenly becomes a mere fraction of what it used to be, people (and anything else not bolted to the ground) across the planet float up into the air and... just keep going, never to come back down. The reduced gravity leads to the deaths of countless people unfortunate enough to have been untethered on "G-Day", but is also the beginning of a fundamental shift in society.
Twenty years after G-Day, the world is a different place where - even though literally everyone flies now, by flinging themselves between different points physically close to one another - most people are effectively grounded to the spaces near them, because travelling between cities and countries is far too dangerous.
Willa, a courier too young to remember life before it was practically weightless, dreams of travelling beyond the boundaries of her Chicago neighbourhood. Willa's father, though, a scientist who predicted that G-Day would occur, refuses to let his daughter drift too far from his sight, a response tied to the fact that Willa's mother died on G-Day.
Skyward definitely falls into the tradition of exploring the ways in which the bonds between family can be strained and twisted by emotional trauma, but the comic turns those dynamics into something exciting and new with its unique metaphors that are rooted in real-world physics. (Joe Henderson, Lee Garbett, Antonia Fabela, Image)