October 25, 2021

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Halloween Horror: Afterlift's Art Keeps It from Accelerating


Afterlift
Written by Chip Zdarsky
Art by Jason Loo and Paris Alleyne
Letters by Aditya Bidikar
Published by Comixology (Digital) and Dark Horse (Print)

A young woman who struggles with her own inner demons finds herself face to face with the real thing when she gets caught up in a race to control the soul of a recent suicide in a fast-paced adventure that has a lot of Zdarsky hallmarks, which isn't a bad thing.

Chip likes to look at the idea of personal hangups and explore them in different ways. In this case, it's about Janice thinking about how she caused problems in her family and can't let them go, and how trauma impacted her, her father, and her mother in different ways. Using the idea of being trapped in hell -- or just unable to get into heaven -- because of the guilt holding you back is a great metaphor for how guilty feelings can make it hard for us to move on in real life. That's a great idea from a great writer. Zdarsky always seems to find a way to make the stories seem different from each other, even as the themes are recurring. Not all creators are able to to manage this.

In Janice, we find a person we can easily relate to. She's told she isn't doing enough with her life, even as she's making the best of the current economy. Her customers can be complete dicks, and maybe even dangerous. She has to hustle just to keep her life together. When you add in the trauma surrounding the family tragedy, it makes for a compelling character. Janice also does a great job of realistic disbelief in the fantastic situation she's in, then trying to seize what control she can by refusing to just follow the requests of the demons who, by all right, should paralyze her with fear. It's an amazing character arc, right up to the final scene with her father.

Unfortunately, with respect to the artists, I just didn't care for the style of this comic at all, finding it at odds with the script and setting. The design of the demons is pedestrian, for example. Loo doesn't stray far from the typical hell playbook, which mars an awesome opportunity. No two people think of hell exactly the same. It's a chance for an artist to cut loose. Instead, we get figures that could have appeared in any other comic set in the circles. The details just aren't there, either. I was left wanting more. The facial expressions were what bothered me the most, because they're the most easily controlled. At the very least, characters need to emote in some way, and Loo's simply do not do it strongly enough for the strained situation they find themselves in, demon and human alike. 

The cover is a perfect example--Janice is trying to fend off a demon horse and two cars with fire all around them. The setup is terrifying. But Janice looks like she's about to attempt to merge in traffic while her passengers have their eyes shut and closed mouths.  This should have them scared for their lives or curious as to what's happening or something, anything other than what we see, which is better suited for a slice of life comic. It's a missed opportunity to show the action going on in the plot and to draw attention in a crowded comics market.

Sometimes linework that's struggling a bit to provide details can be aided by the color artist, but that's not the case here, either. The colorist's overall palette is a series of red-orange and blue-purple that lacks crispness. Sharpening the focus of the color would have gone a long way toward emphasizing the expressions we do see, or perhaps given some extra detailing to the backgrounds and characters. Unfortunately, the choices made by Paris Alleyne highlight what's missing instead of concealing them.

In another story, this combination would have worked, perhaps even excelled. But for a story with horror and thriller elements, it drags down the overall feel of the comic for me. Still, I liked this enough to move it into "give this a try" territory, since I don't typically do reviews of comics I disliked. Even with some flaws, Janice and her heroine's journey is one we'd all do best to heed.