Skyward Begins A New Arc With Issue #11: What Goes Up?

by Richard Bruton

It’s the first part of the brand-new story-arc, Fix The World, and there’s a lot of things going on. We’re racing along with young Willa, as she’s attempts to find a way to put her dad’s plan into action, a way to fix the gravity problem, a way to transform the ultra-low gravity world back to something like it used to be.

For the past ten issues, it’s been a thrill ride, packed with invention, a great main character, lots to enjoy. But, with this new issue, there’s a sense that we’ve taken a mis-step.

And I’m not talking about the kind of mis-step Willa takes in that first panel. Although that didn’t start things off on the right tack. After all, one of the things I’ve loved through Skyward was the intriguing ways Henderson presented this new low-G life. Clever ways to think about the science. And, although we know you don’t automatically fly off into space, we’ve established that if you push off against something, it’s a dangerous thing to do. Push too hard and you’re a goner. So, at first glance, Willa jumping, Hulk-like, doesn’t work. Yes, after a few looks, you could say she’s jumped a long way and the low-grav eventually brings her down, but it sort of spoilt the flow, especially as similar things before have sent people to their doom.

Anyhow, Willa’s mission is simple. Step 1; use her dad’s old coded treasure map to find the solution he claimed to have. Step 2; fix the world.

And all along she’s going to have to thwart arch-villain, Barrow, with his jet-pack, racing to get there first plus the other problem of the army of farmers and their giant bugs on their way to take over Chicago. It’s not exactly an easy job this poor girl’s got.

Oh, and then there’s the whole low gravity thing and the difficulty of crossing open ground to get over as she searches for the hidden secret on her dad’s map.

Or at least that’s one problem we thought Willa would have. But, not so. In fact, without giving much away, it’s not even three-quarters through the issue when she finds the big secret. And that gives you an idea of why I’m feeling the pacing in this issue just feels off. By the end of this issue, Willa gets to the treasure map location, finds her dad’s secret (and that in itself is something of a cop out, particularly the mechanism of the thing), confronts Barrow, and discovers just who the mystery stranger is who was following her. Phew.

Yes, there’s a lot of ground covered in Skyward issue 11, an awful lot. We bounce around from here to there and back, uncovering so much, revealing so much and, personally, I reckon it’s all too much.

Previously, Henderson’s been successful hitting us fast with the big stuff, gravity turned off was arc 1, life outside the cities was arc 2, and then, within those arcs, expanding nicely on the characters in a more leisurely pace. But, there just seems to be too much going on here. It’s all well done, but it just seems a rushed thing, something that would have fitted far better across a couple of issues.

Oh, and as for that mystery reveal we get at the end of this issue… well, if you’ve been with Skyward from the start, it was hardly rocket science to make the right guess. Henderson talks, in the end-piece of this issue, about his thoughts when crafting the idea, whether it would undermine the book or open up the story. Well, I understand what’s happening, after all, Skyward has always had that Walking Dead vibe going on, and opening it up to other main characters was always on the cards. But doing it this way just seems too easy, too contrived. Frankly, Willa’s life was complicated and difficult enough, her journey was a great one, an original one. It didn’t need this addition and I’m very dubious that it really needs a diversionary story away from Willa that starts next issue, tracing just how the mysterious stranger got from there to here. Although, hell, I could be well wrong. It’s been known.

As it is, this is the first issue of Skyward that falls just that little bit flat, especially difficult as it’s the opener to another story-arc. Is it enough to leave the book? Hell, no. The past ten issues have featured sterling stuff from Henderson, Garbett et al, and there’s no reason to believe this is anything more than a dip. I’m sticking with it, I’m just a little more wary right now.

But, let’s end on a high note. Two things. First, although I started by questioning Henderson’s science, or at least the application of it, there’s still wonderful moments in here. The throw-away idea of netting a city in that art shown above or the moment I realised that Henderson’s writing and Garbett’s art even goes as far as making sure that hair does what it’s meant to, floating slightly in the low-grav. (yes, I should have noticed that before!)

And secondly, the artwork from Garbett is still, absolutely, delightfully, good. It’s fitting really, in a book with this central idea, that the artwork should have such an effortless lightweight nature. Still gorgeous.

Skyward Issue 11, part 1 of Fix The World, written by Joe Henderson, art and cover by Lee Garbett, colors by Antonio Fabello, letters by Simon Bowland. Published by Image Comics.

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