The Life After #1

The Life After #1
Written by Joshua Hale Fialkov
Illustrated by Gabo and Crank!
Oni Press

Among the most appealing stories in science fiction (or other genres) are those where reality is not what you think it is. Think of the Matrix,* The Adjustment Bureau, The Truman Show, or the Harry Potter books (or any number of children's series). Where life is boring or dreary, it's an appealing idea to think that there's a whole other reality behind the veil that's been placed in front of us all. That's part of the appeal of The Life After, an intriguing new series from writer Joshua Hale Fialkov and artist Gabo. This first issue raises a lot of questions, and provides a few answers, along with a surprise guest appearance from a famous writer. This is a promising start for a series, which also contains a very intriguing "hook."**

The story focuses on a man living an extremely monotonous existence. Very quickly however, Fialkov demonstrates something strange about this man; something (or someone) is monitoring and responding to the events of this guy's life, and adjusting temperature and other elements of reality accordingly. Unbeknownst to him, he's being manipulated. As far as he can tell, he's just living his repetitive life, remarkably illustrated in a double-page, 50-panel spread (seen below).

Every day he rides the bus, and sees a woman on the bus and every day he wishes he had the courage to get up and say hello to her. One day he decides to break free of the monotony and approach this woman, and that's where things start getting weird for him.  Those forces/people that are manipulating events around his life? They notice when he decides to do something different, and they do what they can to stop him.

Eventually he makes it off of the bus and everything gets "glitchy" around him, and starts to fade in and out, and when he finally touches the woman's hand, something remarkable happens: He sees her life. He sees the terrible things that have happened to her and brought her to this place. When he bumps into other people, he sees their lives as well. He accompanies this woman to an apartment; she's upset and he helps comfort her and is compassionate towards her, and then something extraordinary happens which gets the attention of those in charge of this place. As the story ends, the man is met by a (famous) friendly face, who tells the man where he really is, setting future events in motion.

This is a strong first issue. Without venturing into spoiler territory, I'll say that it's an interesting take on the "you're being watched and controlled" sub-genre of stories, with a mystical/spiritual bent. Fialkov (The Bunker, The Last of the Greats) knows how to tell a big story but also how to unveil a mystery, and how to take a high-concept hook and turn it into an interesting series. Here the story focuses almost entirely on the main protagonist, so that by the end of the issue, even though you don't know that much about him, you really have a sense for his inherent goodness, and his desire to break out of the pattern of his existence.

50 Shades of Panels
I wasn't previously familiar with Gabo's work, but he's a very strong artist. Here, the linework is very expressive. Gabo effectively conveys the dreary monotony of the man's existence, and uses repeating panels and layouts to really drive this point home. The drabness of the story is also conveyed strongly by the setting from which the society's controllers operate. In this sort of setting, you expect a high tech command center, but the room here is anything but. It's a shabby, windowless affair where paunchy, middle-aged men work at old, out-of-date computers (it's a nice bit of visual humor).

Faces here are very expressively rendered; the slightly exaggerated cartoon style helps sell the emotion of the characters. The cartoon style can also (in certain scenes) serve as a somewhat unsettling juxtaposition between the art style and the subject matter.  The color choices also work well here, as everything in this world has a used, slightly drab feel to it which further helps set the mood. The lettering choice here is also an interesting one, it's an almost handwriting-like lettering style which takes a little while to get used to but suits the feel of the story.

Based on the end of the first issue, there are a lot of places where the story could go. For an intriguing existential mystery, this is worth picking up.

* But not the sequels. Don't think of those.

** That information is available in interviews and elsewhere, but the story works better if you're not spoiled.