Does the lead character in Joshua Hale Fialkov’s script for The Life After #1 have a name? If so, I’ve missed it after poring over the first issue of the slightly surreal story of a sad sack who finds out his life isn’t what he thought it was (and that he may not, strictly speaking, have a life at all).
Dripping with a low-grade depression, The Life After sees its protagonist – nope, no name in the solicitation, that’s gotta mean something – dragging his life through monotonous day after monotonous day. Little does he know that unseen men in a control room somewhere direct and control every aspect of his purgatorial existence. It’s only through accidental contact with another poor soul on the bus that our hero is able to see that there are other worlds and other lives for the men and women trapped in his drab world, spanning space and time.
A 20-panel, two-page spread tells us everything we need to know about our protagonist: he’s trapped. He doesn’t know why, but he doesn’t have anyone or anything but a routine which seems to be the only thing he can remember about his life. Fialkov intersperses the lead’s unhappy narration with the work of the people engineering his life, so we know early on that something is “off” but we don’t know why anyone would want to mire this poor guy in such misery.
By the final pages, when our hero meets a late, lamented literary giant, Fialkov tips his hand a bit about where The Life After is coming from (without hinting at where it’s going). The best way to think of it is The Adjustment Bureau for the terminally miserable, and thanks to Gabo’s artwork, it’s a sad, cramped world of routine that unexpectedly bursts with color and strangeness in its back half.
Let me name check another movie: Dark City seems to have formed a little of the basis of this story (and if that can’t sell you on it, I don’t know what will). In the last pages of this issue, Fialkov and Gabo tease out the way that some of the inhabitants/prisoners in this world have been plucked from parts far and wide to not-quite-sugger alongside our hero. A clever conceit involving the narrator making contact with several random strangers with a small word balloon offering a quick pictogram of their lives before encountering this place gives us a sense of the character’s new “powers” or whatever they are as he awakens to the situation around him.
Special note should be given to Gabo’s colors here, with are appropriately dull and dusk-lit at the start of the issue, with a more explosive and energetic palette as things get… weirder.
If you can get past some of the on-the-nose elements here (the lack of name for the protagonist, the fact that none of this has happened in 2,000 years), The Life After creates an intriguing, potentially gonzo mystery – frankly, I’m sticking around to see what other celebrity guest stars we get.