With most creators I find that there are three opinions that can be associated with them. The most common is the lack of an opinion; they never excite you, but also never piss you off. The second opinion is that you get them. Everything they touch interests you and you can’t get enough of their creative voice. The last as you may have guessed, is not getting them. These are creators that everyone seems to like and enjoy, but you yourself can’t seem to see what all the fuss is about. If there wasn’t so much hype around them they would likely fall into the “lack of opinion” pile, but instead you’re constantly checking out their work in the hope that you’ll “get it.” That’s where I find myself with Joshua Hale Fialkov. I know that he’s a skilled writer and able to craft a well-plotted story, often times with a “high concept.” He knows and understands the comic book medium and so he’s able to communicate and work with gifted artists and even allows them to flex their creative muscles. He is added to my not-literal list of creators that I simple don’t mesh with. It might even be a badge of honor as the list contains popular writers like Matt Fraction, Jason Aaron and Scott Snyder to name a few.
The reason I’m telling you all this is because The Life After was not for me. It’s a high concept story that has some interesting aspects, but much like The Bunker when the introduction is over and the real story begins, I can’t see myself being too interested in what it has to say. I am going to talk about The Bunker a bit as I did enjoy the first issue, but as I said in our group review, I don’t see how the concept can hold up for the rest of the story. In fact that first issue is a great one-shot in my mind because when I read the second issue all my fears about the series were right there in front of me on the page. What does that have to do with The Life After?
This is an interesting and mostly entertaining first issue. The concept is that purgatory is for suicides and it’s a computer program of sorts. Everyone is living out their suicide over and over unaware that everyone else is doing the same thing. Our main character breaks from the programming, but he’s completely unaware of the fact. He’s just tired of seeing the same woman drop her handkerchief in front of him on the bus every day and decides to do something about it. There is a nice fake out in which you think it’s going to be a romantic comedy of some kind, but when the man attempts to leave the bus he discovers the programing. He doesn’t understand it, but when he touches people he can see their lives and what lead to their deaths.
With the women he sees that she’s not from his timeline and was someone’s mistress until she became pregnant and then was kicked to the curb, became a prostitute, then robbed and kicked in the stomach forcing her baby to be born prematurely. Then she kills herself. Charming right? It is purgatory for suicides so I don’t expect it to be happy, but this is right after the bait and switch for the romantic comedy. It’s sadly another example of how women are portrayed in comic books and while the argument could be made that it’s historically accurate, I would remind you that this is a work of fiction in which the author has complete control over the story.
Our nameless man frees the woman by telling her that her child is in a better place waiting for her and suddenly her building comes apart and flies into the sky while our dude runs away and watches the program move the rest of the city block together as if the house was never there.
After that he meets a famous writer that’s killed themselves as well and the writer forces some exposition about them both being “awake” and in purgatory for suicides.
Interesting enough right? I mean other than the part where the ladies life had to be that of a prostitute, I found the story to be interesting. Much like with The Bunker I don’t see how it can get better from here. The problem being that introduction is too big. It’s too much and stands alone as a concept and issue. It’s like an episode of The Twilight Zone, there was a reason after a high concept idea was introduced and played out that they didn’t go back to it. There wasn’t a part two, because it would have weakened part one. I’ll see for sure if that’s the case with the second issue, but with the famous author introduced at the end of the issue I can’t see it being that strong.
Without spoiling who it is I can say that they’re well known, well quoted and in my opinion a difficult character to get right and when you do it makes them less interesting.
The art by Gabo is the best part. It’s detailed and has a quirky style that kept me going through the story. Maybe the intention wasn’t to bait and switch the type of story it was. I do know that it wasn’t going to be a traditional romantic comedy because of another element that I’m leaving out of my review, but something about Gabo’s art lead me there. Perhaps that was my mistake. Gabo should also be commended on the coloring which plays a huge role in the success of the art. The color tones constantly change throughout the issue, but they always have the right look for the panel.
I gave you a lot of context for my review so that you can see were I’m coming from. My concerns for this series are grounded in my experience with Fialkov’s other Oni Press title The Bunker because they’re birds of a feather in a many ways. At the end of it all I asked myself if I enjoyed the book, if I had fun reading it and the answer was simply… no. I was heavily emerged in my reading and able to put the creators out of my mind while going through it, but by the end… it just wasn’t for me.
That doesn’t mean that it’s not for you, so if the concepts I’ve listed intrigued you or you just want to know the elements I’m leaving out then check it out for yourself by picking it up at a convention or pre-ordering it for its release in July.
Writer: Joshua Hale Fialkov Artist/Colorist: Gabo Publisher: Oni Press Price: $3.99 Release Date: 7/9/14