You and everybody you love are going to die. Damn. That's a depressing way to start a review. But it's also true. You're born, you do some stuff, and then you croak. So what happens after you check out for the last time? According to Joshua Hale Fialkov and Gabo's new series The Life After, it's a mix of The Matrix and The Truman Show with a little bit of Ghost Whisper thrown in for good measure. The second issue reveals a little bit more about the place Jude's found himself in and just who/what is controlling the scenario from behind the scenes.
Hemingway (comma Ernest) opens this issue by recounting how he's come to “live” in the metropolis that serves as home for the countless people and creatures that've killed themselves throughout the centuries. He explains that the punishment for doing yourself in is to relive yourself doing the deed over and over and over again for all eternity. Hemingway himself has “woken up” and broken free from the cycle (“fun”-fact: The shotgun he used is believed to have been purchased from an Abercrombie and Fitch catalog. That's just weird, right?) and he's able to do as he pleases which turns out to be just kind of walking around with a dog he's affectionately(?) named Gertie. After that, he tries to determine how Jude has come about his power to see the reasons for all of these suicides. This doesn't fly with the nerds in charge and the “program” in general. Spectral creatures give Jude and Hemingway chase and provide a fair bit of nightmare fuel before Hemingway literally breaks a panel to save his compatriot. This leads to a bit of a big reveal and a really promising future for the series.
Fialkov's Hemingway is the breakout star of this series. He may be a little chatty but the dude's been alone for who knows how long, you can't fault him for wanting to converse and make dumb jokes with the only other person not throwing themselves to their death. By finding Jude, he knows he's not as alone as he thought. He ribs the new guy, but he also immediately starts to look out for him. It's also nice to know that death hasn't done anything to his wit. When Jude mentions that he read Hemingway's book “about the fish”, he responds with a line about finally finding company only to have him be a moron. There's also a bit where he tells Jude to ask him whatever. Jude (understandably) asks about the people that are continuously jumping off the bridge they're on and Hemingway gets a little disappointed that he didn't want to ask about the Spanish-American War (I think you were looking for the Spanish Civil War, Fialkov.). Jude himself is an interesting enough character. He's a bit freaked out by what's going on, but he does seem to cool down for a bit for the sake of self-discovery (right before freaking out all over again). And then he sees some serious shit that drives him to change. He stops caring about the reason he's there or why he has these special powers and he decides to use them to save every last soul from the continuous hell that is Limbo. It's not a long character arc, but it's satisfying all the same. Then, when his past is revealed on the last page, it takes on a whole new level of awesome. The bumbling IT guys in the control room provide a bit of comic relief in their ineptitude and frustration.
Gabo's art (pencils, inks, and colors) does a lot of really interesting and different things in this issue. His portrayal of Jude's powers are awesome. The panels wash away and the person's dirty little secrets that lead to their new home are laid out. The scenes themselves also take on a colder tone that reinforces a sense of despair. On the other hand, there's the green tinted control station, lit by the dozens of tiny screens in the small broom-closet sized room. You can feel the frustration of the guys working in the room and you could guess that it probably smells like nervous sweat. These two realms differ from Limbo, which is a lot like the living world only with of a fluorescent feel. Everything is pretty well lit and there “sky” is a mix of blue and white, but there theres also a lack of any great depth of field. There are shadows of mountains and buildings in the background, but they don't gain detail until up close. It's a hazy kind of world, Limbo. Unlike the world of the flashbacks where you can see small details in the background. It's a nice way of getting across just how different these two worlds are. It's great coloring work that both sets these different places apart from one another and provides different moods. Speaking of moods, pure unadulterated terror comes to mind with the weird post-apocalypse scene that Jude sees when he's attacked by the purple ghost monsters; it does a really good job of invoking Boschian images of religious nightmares. Lot of grotesque going on in those panels. Then theres the awesome scene I mentioned earlier where Hemingway has had enough of your traditional modes of layout and smashes through the gutters to pull Jude out of his nightmare. It's awesome.
I'll admit that I'm not the biggest fan of religion (organized or otherwise). It's just not for me. But I was raised in a church and that kind of instills some values onto your psyche whether you like it or not. I also see and understand why people feel the need to place so much importance in the abstract idea of the divine. It's really mostly about asking questions and hoping to find the answers (the other parts are finding some kind of like-minded community and coffee & cookies). Fialkov has mentioned that he considers himself an atheist, and though he's dealing with religious material, he's also examining a question that every single human being (regardless of spiritual persuasion) has asked themselves at least once in their life. It's a human trait to be scared of the unknown and nothing is more so unknown than the after-life. Fialkov and Gabo have found a nice steady ground to imagine and interpret what's really waiting on the other side. It's not overly religious and it doesn't come anywhere near over-preachy; But there are some major players involved in this story that appear in other massively influential Western texts, and it'll be interesting to see how they're portrayed. This series has a lot going for it, and this issue deftly meshes humor and heart as it tries to divine the true nature of the human spirit and what it really means.