“Wanting to fly” is always at the top of the lists of desired superpowers — so what if the world changed to give you that? SKYWARD #1 introduces readers to such a reality. Set in the near-future, it looks at what happens when Earth’s gravitational pull all but disappears. For young-adult Willa, this is great — how could anyone hate to fly? But for those who remember G-Day and the horror of watching every possession not tied down floating off into space, the world is something more sinister.

SKYWARD #1 is the debut comic of Joe Henderson, known for being the executive producer of TV shows LUCIFER and WHITE COLLAR. Joining him on this breakout role is artist Lee Garbett and colorist Antonio Fabela. What you get in SKYWARD #1 is an invitation to a world alike — and unlike — anything we know today. It promises a series that is sure to soar high… just not too high, to stick with the rules of the book.

The Plot Gives Just Enough Information to Start the Series

SKYWARD #1 uses the first issue to establish the way the world works. Although this does mean that the story doesn’t progress the plot, don’t think that the issue is dull. If anything, SKYWARD #1 is a model example of how to begin a series.

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The event that set the story on its present course is G-Day, and we see this through the eyes of Nate Fowler. He’s just put his newborn into her crib, seeing in her eyes the hope for a bright future.

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Nate Fowler puts his daughter, Willa, to sleep. Image courtesy of Image Comics.

And then calamity strikes — in the quietest way. Fowler spills his coffee and doesn’t hear the mug break. As he watches the quivering droplets rise from his kitchen floor, his brain jumps from wonder to fear. Didn’t his wife just go outside for a run?

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G-Day breaks. Image courtesy of Image Comics.

Twenty years later, we meet the adult Willa without fear — or memories — of the events of G-Day. To her, being able to glide through the skyscrapers of Chicago is not only normal, but preferable to Earth before its gravitational pull weakened. We see this reflected in the comic’s plot, following her on what feels like a typical day delivering supplies to a school. Typical, at least, until she goes home to her father, who delivers news that will carry this series through its first arc.

In presenting an average, work-a-day life for the protagonist, Henderson avoids the first-issue pitfall of needing to explain everything. We don’t know why gravity dropped — and we don’t need to understand the characters of his story. Therefore, SKYWARD #1 accomplishes exactly what it’s plot needs to — and this is a great thing.

Willa Fowler’s Spirit Matches the World Around Her

SKYWARD #1 introduces us to its protagonist, Willa Fowler. In everything she does, it’s clear that her personality matches the world around her. As a courier in Chicago, she’s able to bounce between skyscrapers, delivering supplies to individuals who are too afraid to leave their homes. As the comic solicitations say, “you can die if you jump too high,” and the regular citizenry takes that to heart. Additionally, Willa carries a loaded pistol in her courier uniform. Crime is still a very real part of the post-G-Day world.

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Yet if you take a look at Willa, none of this perturbs her. Her personality is just like her thick, dark hair that floats around her face as if she were under water: calm, playful, and refusing to be pulled down by any of the calamity around her. She regards the world as her playground and feels empowered to behave as such. Old relics of the world before G-Day are curiosities at best, happily left in the past. In most of the comic, you never see her without a smile.

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A curiosity of the pre-G-Day world. Image courtesy of Image Comics.

Until she goes home. Her father is still caught up in the past. We don’t know much about him, other than he still sees the world as dangerous. From that worldview, he’s very much against Willa’s floating ambitions.

What’s special about all of these characters — especially Willa — is that it’s clear to see how their personalities and views arise from the world they live in. Although conflicts between the ambitions of children and their parents is typical, Henderson didn’t just assume that relationship. SKYWARD #1, again, gives us the necessary background to understand the daughter and the father — and the tension in their relationship is a logical result of that.

The Art, More than Anything, Understands Low-Gravity

It’s one thing to be a competent artist — and Lee Garbett’s work shows that talent. Characters — fat or thin, young or old — look real and well-proportioned. Easy. But how do you take the typical and make it look like it’s floating?

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Garbett answers that question in SKYWARD #1. Whatever isn’t tied down floats — all of it: coffee, hair, sweat, and tears. And yet, within that floating, characters don’t lose the ability to emote through their body language. Although the typical cues are there — crossed arms or down-cast eyes — Willa takes things a step forward.

For example, in one of my favorite scenes, she’s floating upside down — clearly in control of her body in low-gravity. Yet, when she messes up an encounter with her crush, she lets go and slumps, letting her head hit the floor. This gesture is not uncommon in our own gravity-filled world, but Garbett’s interpretation on it through Willa was fun to see.

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Lee Garbett and Antonio Fabela’s opening spread. Image courtesy of Image Comics.

And credit is also due to Antonio Fabela whose coloring gives dimension to the world. In the panels where it’s just Willa and the sky, Fabela plays with the background colors to hint at danger. Peeking out between the skyscrapers of Chicago, the sky is a vivid blue — comforting and calm. But when Willa gets a little too high, darker shadows creep in, and a brown haziness around the city hints at a more sinister world than Willa’s optimism would let us believe.

In other words, the art is beautiful. To say that it’s sufficient for the story downplays what Garbett and Fabela accomplished on their own.

Final Thoughts on SKYWARD #1

In the end, SKYWARD #1 is an invitation to read the rest of the series. This is how first issues should behave. Unlike other first issues that can be heavy with exposition — or lack any explanation whatsoever — Henderson’s first comic is a model of how to engage reader interest. It’s true — there is not much action or story of which to speak — but that doesn’t matter. We get the story of how Willa sees her place in this world, letting the audience empathize with her from the get-go.

When I was beginning to write this article, I was tempted to use the word “dystopia” to describe what was afoot. But, as Joe Henderson confessed in an interview, “I’m tired of dystopias. I think we’re all fatigued by them. This is a world where something terrible happens, and then humanity moved on.” What you see in SKYWARD #1 is that this is true, especially for Willa, who only sees possibility in a world with low-gravity. By contrast, this is not the case for her father, Nate.

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To generalize, maybe that’s what we can learn from SKYWARD #1 — how to move on. When it comes to tragedy, there’s a temptation to strap on to what we’ve lost and define our lives by the event. This attitude is plain in Willa’s father. But maybe, like Willa, we should learn to make the most of bad situations and keep striving — if you’ll excuse the shameless reference — skyward.

I’m excited to see where this series goes. Be sure to check it out when it releases on April 18th!

SKYWARD #1 by Joe Henderson (script), Lee Garbett (art), Antonio Fabela (colors), and Simon Bowland (letters)
Art
Characterization
Plot
Summary
SKYWARD #1 may not be the most action-packed comic, but don’t think it’s not worth a read. In this textbook model for how you begin a series, SKYWARD #1 takes us right to the beginning of when Earth lost most of its gravity — and makes it personal. We then get to see how the world adapts to the change through the eyes of 20-year-old Willa, our protagonist, whose upbeat personality runs counter to her father’s crippling fear of the outside world. The artistic duo of Lee Garbett (art) and Antonio Fabela (colors) brings the “low-G” world to believable life, creating a world of wonder so different — and so similar — to our own. This is a first issue — and a series — you won’t want to miss!
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