Review - The Life After #1

"The sun rises at 5:58 every day, waking me up just a tiny bit before my alarm would go off, robbing me of three minutes of sleep."

Some days feel like repeats of days past. It could be because of your job. It could be the route you take every day to get somewhere. Regardless of what it is, there's a familiarity in patterns; one that feels comfortable to some and soul-crushing to others. The Life After #1 from Oni Press is a book that dwells in the latter. The issue is written by Joshua Hale Fialkov and illustrated by Gabo.

It's very easy to get settled into something of a routine, which is exactly what Jude "suffers" from in the book. He wakes up at the same time everyday, goes to the same job (long enough to be promoted) and rides the same bus everyday. Lather, rinse, repeat. It all makes for a rather boring life, until he decides to finally muster the courage to approach a woman who rides the same bus as him. From there, things get pretty crazy as Jude realizes that there's a lot more to the life he leads than he was previously aware of.

There's some pretty existential ground to be covered in The Life After #1 and Fialkov makes sure that it's covered in rather weird ways. The book opens up feeling like it's really going to be another instance where the main character struggles to break out of complacency. Then it turns into something akin to Philip K. Dick's Adjustment Team, where everything everyone does is meticulously planned and deviating from that plan creates havoc. By the end of the book, it feels as if the entire story is unraveling and you're trying to keep up. Jude generates a lot of empathy because he's a character many readers can relate to: someone who goes through life living the same routine everyday and feeling there's not much they can do about it. The twist lies in the rationale behind such a routine in that the character is essentially trapped in a purgatory of sorts. Such an arc in the first issue feels extremely ambitious.

If the story itself is ambitious, the art is quirky. Most of the characters exhibit doldrums in their emotion and it's something that Gabo does very well. His style further enhances the run-of-the-mill appearance of Jude, helping the reader really believe he's just another guy. The opening pages are chock full of smaller panels showing off the monotony of the routine, but thankfully Gabo gets to stretch things out a bit later on in the book. As the story veers in different directions throughout, Gabo handles the strangeness very well, successfully blending together many elements of the odd into one coherent whole. The characters themselves don't showcase the same detail as the settings and backgrounds, but Gabo blends them together in a way that just works.

The Life After #1 is rife with questions of fate versus free will. It's a book that seems to meander at times, trying to figure out exactly what it wants to be. Fialkov proposes concepts that could be very interesting down the road (such as the real reason for Jude's routine), even if they're presented in ways that snowball the story by its end. There are really only two characters for the reader to latch onto; Jude and the other who is presented as something of an awakening conduit for Jude. Gabo's art is distant in a way that's befitting of the book and the potentially heady subject matter. The Life After #1 starts off going down one path, but by the end it hits a fork in the road and goes in a direction that doesn't even seem to exist. Whether or not it works remains to be seen, but the first issue forces you to think about life in ways you may not do on a daily basis.

The Life After #1 is in stores July 9.