Death Can Be Strange

Article by, Matt Gorman

The Life After vol. 1
Writer: Joshua Hale Fialkov
Artist: Gabo 

It’s an age-old question, one the colloquial “we” have been exploring since the first hominid came online as a sentient being and had that shattering epiphany that it all might end: What happens when we die? The Life After, written by Joshua Hale Fialkov (Ultimates, Hunger) explores a different take on the Christian model of the afterlife. With bio-mechanical angels, all-seeing potatoes, and a late great American novelist, Fialkov shakes up standard Ecclesiastes. All throughout, the reader is led through what is in essence, a grandiose exposition. The reader is shown a bizarre and surreal version of Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory. Exploring this strangeness, we learn of the protagonist’s ability to see the deeds of the denizens of the afterlife, and ultimately what brought them to where they are. With gorgeous and gut-wrenching visuals from Gabo (Elephantmen, Albert the Alien) Fialkov’s story is invigorating and new.

Ernest Hemingway, the nigh legendary author plays the guide and companion to Jude, a man who like Hemingway, has regained his free-will in the eternal loop of purgatory. Suicide victims, both of them, they stick together, Jude’s ability cuing them slowly into the structure and nature of the Life After. All around them, souls play out and replay the mode of their demise as penance for the deed, until Jude touches them. Prying into the events leading up to each soul’s demise, Jude finds he can do much more than merely see. All the while, Jude and Hemingway are beset upon by nightmarish versions of celestial beings, from both ends of the spectrum. Behind the scenes and beyond Jude and Hemingway’s knowledge, another plot unfolds.

I typically hesitate to use the word “visionary,”  but in this case, it well-describes Fialkov’s writing. The pacing of the overall story, and adherence to a continuity are excellent, as well as for individual scenes. I found many great transitional scenes as well, rather than just jumping here to there. Jude’s visions change-up and add interest and color amidst his and Hemingway’s journey. As for character development, it’s intriguing to watch Jude piece together the grand scheme laid out around him, and to see how it affects his psyche. There are legions of emotions and enigmas for him to deal with all at once, and you can see it in his actions as well as in his face.

Demons, angels, viscera, and *shudder* bureaucrats, Gabo renders the worlds of the life After with a unique style and flair. At first I was put off from his linework, but that soon subsided as I became engrossed in the story, and became rather fond of his style. Like licorice or a hard IPA, Gabo’s style may be an acquired taste, but that being said, it is expertly crafted. The quality of production, especially in the color department, is exceptional. Gabo shows a command of light and shadow that reflects the nature of the story, one of dualities itself. This may be Fialkov’s story, but Gabo has made it what it is, in every frame and moment of distorted and monstrous creatures. I consider illustration to be a tool to help tell a story, while fine art tells a story in and of itself. Gabo finds a middle-ground here, a balance of telling Fialkov’s story and telling his own.

There are still tomes worth of unanswered questions. Like I said, this is primarily an exposition, an introduction, and a foundation. While this is the case, the Life After isn’t devoid of it’s own arcs, of course, and what we see are a handful of stories that begin to play out. With Fialkov’s storytelling, Gabo’s creature design and sense of color bring it all together, and make the Life After truly stand out. I am thrilled to see what the next installment has in store. The Life After vol.1 was published July 28th 2015, and is available digitally and in print for $9.99 and $15.80 respectively.

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