Reading The Life After from Oni Press makes me want to commit suicide.
Wait, let me explain! The Life After is an ongoing series from Joshua Hale Fialkov and Gabo (Gabriel Bautista) focusing on the wild awakening of a man named Jude in the afterlife. The comic takes place in Purgatory for people who have committed suicide—frowned upon by all religions—and their souls are tasked with repeating the same mundane workday for the rest of eternity like mindless drones, unaware of their surroundings.
Get up, go to work, wait in traffic, eat lunch, go home, watch television, fall asleep on the couch, repeat. It all seems pointless to Jude, but it's "life" as he knows it. After accidentally breaking from routine by trying to return a dropped handkerchief to a woman named Nettie on the bus, touching her hand awakens him from his "life" and he suddenly realizes he has the extraordinary gift of seeing how people offed themselves in life and wound up in Purgatory. Because of this revelation, he's immediately rescued by another individual who's been awake for quite a while: Ernest Hemingway.
The environments of Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory are fascinating, so different to what we're used to seeing in media and literature. Imagine the afterlife as a giant computer program, and those who are awakened and become aware are seen as glitches in the program. Think The Matrix, only a lot more fun and interesting. Oh, and God is an alien space potato in a human flesh cocoon comprised of eyes, teeth, and fingers. Intrigued? You should be.
The inhabitants of all three planes of existence aren't just humans, but alien, animal, and all manner of other interdimensional species as well. Fialkov is brilliant for including such a vast array of oddities as both main and supporting cast, for just when the reader thinks they have a grasp on what's going on, the characters and story throws them a curveball that still makes sense, weirdly enough. More importantly, Fialkov writes a mean Hemingway. As a fan of the author and the amazing life he lead, it's refreshing to see him naturally casted as such a badass in this comic.
Both God and the Devil want the glitches dealt with, but Jude and Hemingway constantly give them the slip as they're able to travel in-between environments, semi-making it up as they go along. Their plan is to awaken more souls and start a revolution, helping the rest of Purgatory escape to either Heaven or Hell. The programmers are definitely kept busy trying to eliminate Jude and Hemingway, bombarding them with Wraiths and Seraphims and making their servers practically meltdown.
Gabo does a fantastic job bringing such a chaotic and sensational world to life. The settings look like bits of science fiction, fantasy, and history all thrown in a blender and poured out over an old copy of SimCity. Illustrating all manners of creatures and their own views of Heaven and Hell is equally fascinating, for some Heavens and Hells are better or worse than others. Some of my favorite scenes in the comic involve the wormlike Wraiths hunting our heroes, and the discovery of ancient gods thought lost long ago before the afterlife program was ever engineered. And yet Jude and Hemingway keep on the run, trying to remain one-step in front of the world.
The Life After has the potential to span several years, being the next The Sixth Gun or Wasteland for Oni Press. The amount of ideas and different upcoming characters that could be introduced is endless, and I'm personally hoping for a cameo by either Hunter S. Thompson or David Carradine. And that's the beauty about the tone of the comic; while it's a little dark and macabre, it's definitely full of dark humor and that sense of adventure throughout.
Fialkov and Gabo aren't advocating for readers to commit suicide but they're not afraid to explore the idea of, "What if a Purgatory for suicides actually did exist? Who would inhabit it?" While I wouldn't recommend it for younger readers due to some of the more mature themes of suicide, miscarriage, and graphic violence, it's definitely for that niche audience of all things bizarre and wonderful.
The first volume and sixth issue is now available, with the seventh being released on February 25th. The trade paperback also includes some beautiful covers and chapter breaks by Nick Pitarra and Megan Wilson. There's still plenty of time to catch-up on one of the most original and entertaining comics of the past year that's slipped beneath a lot of radars, and I highly recommend you do so.