Image Comics has two of the biggest creators in comics coming together. Both Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire are known for great storytelling that hits at the core of a character or our very humanity. Mix in a science fiction premise, creative use of prose, and Jeff Lemire’s artful hand, and you have A.D.: After Death…but is it good?
A.D.: After Death #1 (Image Comics)
So what’s it about? The full summary simply reads:
What if we found a cure for death?
Why does this book matter?
Running 70 plus pages, co-created by Snyder and Lemire with letters by Steven Wands at a comic book publisher that lets their creators take chances…if you’re a lover of comics this is an event level release. If you’re not a comic lover, but like storytelling, you can’t go wrong either.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
A realistic looking future, but is it a calm before the storm…
When you crack this book open and find two sentences broken up and running down an entire page, with a smear of green watercolor at the center, I imagine there are going to be hundreds of reactions from readers. It’s clear from the very start Snyder and Lemire are at the frontiers of creativity, pushing what we think and know about comic books. More than once I tried to find something to compare it to in comic book history–a few books from Fantagraphics by foreign creators maybe, but still, I never did pinpoint something quite like this. It takes a very big chance, especially with the reader’s patience, but if you give it said chance, you’re not going to be disappointed. Comics that do new things should interest everyone, partly because everything doesn’t need to fit in a perfect little box, but it’s also because books like this are a reminder of how comic books tell stories no other medium can.
Given how many pages are straight prose however, some might argue this is more of a novel than a comic book. Only one page in this book has no image, though it is part of a double page spread, but the length at which the prose runs is nothing like you’ve typically seen in comics. The trick of it is how Snyder pulls you into the head of the main character, at first speaking from some future, but then delving into his first memory. The story draws you in and reminds you reading prose with little visual support (as is the case in sections of this comic) allows you to almost become one with the character. You’re truly in their head, imagining what they describe and seeing things as they do. Snyder’s prose is poetic at times–always moving, and does a lot to capture the frailty of childhood, the fear we have rational or not, and how something as mundane as driving in a car can be momentous.
And that’s when the comic sends you into a future that’s crazy weird and frightening. The story continues on from there going backward in time (Snyder is loving the time hopping lately; just look at All-Star Batman) forcing the reader to keep these memories in context within the story). I found myself attempting to hold my attention on when things happened, how they relate, and what it all means. Don’t be surprised if you need to read this comic more than once, not only to understand the character–there’s a lot of character work that requires you to think–but also because of how all these scenes taking place at different times ultimately come together. Science fiction elements pop in, although they are revealed in a realistic way, yet all the while you get a sense of sorrow, fear and doubt from the main character that holds it all together.
Lemire’s pencils and colors are fantastic, especially if you’re a fan of his work. The science fiction elements have a rustic vibe that makes them more real, maybe due to the watercolors, and the characters are always genuine. In the pages with heavier use of prose, Lemire’s art is placed on the page in important ways, or is haunting in just the right way. It all comes together to enrich and enhance the emotional resonance on the page. It’s works like this where I wonder how many hours the writer and artist spent simply discussing the meaning of the words so as to capture the perfect image, especially when only a single image rests on some pages. The colored paper, aged and almost stained, also enhances the story’s resonance, making it almost wistful and more meaningful.
The letters by Steven Wands are great, with a typewriter font for the prose sections that hit home the idea that the protagonist has written everything down. The lettering in the more traditional comic book pages has a bold look that enhances the tension of the moments. Believe me, there is tension in most moments in this book.
It can’t be perfect can it?
Carve out an hour to read and think about this comic book, because you’ll need it. It’s not action packed, doesn’t fulfill instant gratification or offer a story that’s easy. Like a novel, you’ll need to commit and power through a portion before you understand and enjoy it. I went in knowing next to nothing and wasn’t sure what I was reading, but ultimately enjoyed its uniqueness. Many may not agree.
Part of the reason you’ll need patience is because this is light on answers and plot, focused much more on character development as it slowly peels back the world. How or why people can live forever is never explained, nor are some of the more crazy aberrations. If you’re expecting a world building type of comic, or a science fiction story that clearly defines its rules, you will be sorely disappointed. Considering it’s 70 pages or so long I was left wanting a lot more as far as its direction and purpose. I certainly felt something powerful from it, and already feel a connection to the protagonist, but the lack of plot leaves me with more questions than answers.
Is It Good?
Science fiction fans will love A.D.: After Death. Its mix of prose and comic book panels draw you in and make you ponder the power of both. It has a Twilight Zone vibe as if it will pull a sheet out from underneath you and reveal further truths you never saw coming.