The magic of first person narratives is that they put you directly in the mind of a character; if done well you’re practically living through them, which makes these stories more powerful and meaningful.
Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire are producing such a story with A.D.: After Death, using first person prose to capture the thoughts of its protagonist, which puts extra emphasis on memory in a story that jumps around in time. It reminds me of a fantastic quote from Peter Watts book Blindsight, “After four thousand years we can’t even prove that reality exists beyond the mind of the first-person dreamer.” We review the second issue to answer the question, is it good?
A.D.: After Death #2 (Image Comics)
So what’s it about? The summary reads:
What if we found a cure for death? The second chapter of the haunting sci-fiepic by SCOTT SNYDER (WYTCHES, Batman, American Vampire) and JEFF LEMIRE (DESCENDER, Moon Knight, Sweet Tooth). Jonah Cooke is haunted by his long, long past, but will it be enough to push him to turn his back on eternal life? And who or what may be calling to him from? And who or what may be calling to him from the old world below the clouds?
Why does this book matter?
Each issue of this series is a giant 80-plus pages which allows it to take liberties with the storytelling. Pages upon pages of this work are prose printed on what appears to be aged and stained paper. Lemire’s art graces some of these pages, and the story cuts to traditional comic book layouts at times too, which altogether creates a truly unique reading experience. The format allows Snyder and Lemire to tell a different sort of story by pushing the boundaries of comic books. If you’re at all interested in alternative comics, this work is for you, and if you’re interested in new ways of telling stories you must read this work.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
The prose are deeply meaningful and thought provoking.
After reading this issue I felt the need to go back and read issue #1 as the themes and ideas seem to extend to the new ideas and themes introduced here. I stopped myself though, because I felt like this issue should stand on its own in some respect as a singular experience. Under that lens, A.D.: After Death #2 succeeds in a lot of ways, particularly because of the length and use of prose to capture the thoughts and feelings of Jonah Cooke so well. This issue focuses on quite a few different ideas as Jonah ruminates on how he helped find a cure for death. Scott Snyder builds towards the answers we want to learn via Jonah’s memories of becoming a thief for the first time, hanging out with astronaut buddies, and his inability to hold down a relationship. By the end there’s a lot covered and excellent sections of prose (that might just stick with you), explore the notion that life isn’t just the now, but many moments combined that lead us there.
Once again, the prose pulls you into the internal struggle the character is going through quite well which in turn makes him feel real and relatable. The character is lost, (most people are now that they live forever but slowly forget their oldest memories) which makes sense considering his current crisis; Jonah continues to want – no need – to hear and find any survivors who live below. The motivation to find anyone isn’t quite clear, and there are additional mysteries introduced in this issue too, but it’s a resolution that I’m sure will be brought up in the next installment. Similar to the first issue, the traditional comic book pages focus on the future Jonah while the prose focuses on the past. Considering these memories only exist in a book it makes sense (and it’s why the pages are old and worn).
There’s a dreamlike quality to the narrative that makes this book feel otherworldly and philosophical. By melding prose written in the past with the present – which is in the future – Snyder and Lemire have created a comic that feels meaningful and incredibly compelling. Lemire’s art is an extension of that as his watercolors feel wistful and capable of change right there on the page. Most prose pages contain one or sometimes two images across two pages which increases the wistful nature of the story. The experience feels like art, much more so than a conventional comic, as chances are taken throughout.
Take for instance an excellent double page spread with musicians playing on the left side and their notes – depicted with wavy lines – flowing across the pages. It helps convey the ideas expressed via words about how a character has made new songs that last years. It brings to mind the question of why you would want music to last so long, but when you live forever time is in abundance. Squandering it means nothing, which in turn makes time itself somewhat meaningless. It’s thoughts like these that make this work so interesting.
It can’t be perfect can it?
Snyder and Lemire are asking a lot from the readers because much of this series’ entertainment value involves getting inside Jonah’s head and actively working to understand what is happening. I don’t know if this type of reading experience is for everyone, which isn’t so much a knock on this work, but it’s worth noting. That said, I did find myself wondering why we needed to learn about Jonah’s astronaut friends, or what the heck a “reverse eyeball fashion show” is. Portions of this work seem to meander and go off into areas that don’t seem relevant to the scenes in the future. This in turn makes you fight harder to find meaning, which increases the value of the prose, but it’s still taxing to read at times. This work is certainly not trying to make it easy on the reader to understand the deeper meaning or what is going on in the future. It doesn’t help that this issue doesn’t offer too many answers; the seed is planted as far as the cure of death, but how or why its developed isn’t answered and actually may never be answered.
Not looking good.
Is It Good?
A. D.: After Death #2 continues to be a rewarding experience as you attempt to find meaning in Jonah’s prose. There’s no doubt this is a work of art on many levels, though it does force the reader to do a bit of work in order to understand it. Whether or not you find this comic entertaining resides entirely on how much work you want to put in.