"The Life After: Volume 1" Trade Paperback Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Oni Press
Originally published as The Life After #1 - #5
Illustrated by Gabo
2014, 140 Pages
Trade paperback released on January 28th, 2015
Jude had a pretty boring life. He did the same thing every day. He'd get up, go to work, come back, pass out in front of the TV, repeat. He never veered off course. He never took any risks...that is...until he did. One day, Jude finally breaks up the monotony of his daily routine by reaching out to a woman on the bus, returning the handkerchief that he sees her drop every day. That's when the trouble starts. A wave of light washes over him and suddenly Jude is in a different land altogether. It turns out Jude's boring life ended a long time ago. He's dead and roaming around Purgatory. His little stunt just really pissed off the higher ups. Fortunately he's got a new friend in Ernest Hemingway to help him deal with it.
If the premise of The Life After sounds a little kooky to you, you're not wrong. It does appear to be rather strange when you actually start to explain it. If I had to provide an elevator pitch for the comic, I'd describe it as Cabin in the Woods meets Lost (assuming you go with the whole theory that they're all dead). The former comes into play when you see the guys tasked with the job of monitoring the different sectors of Purgatory and making sure everyone stays in their designated areas. To them, this is just a job, although one wonders if they're dead too and this is just their version of Purgatory.
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The Life After quickly grows in scope. It starts out a bit like the Matrix, with Jude's eyes being opened by Hemingway instead of Lawrence Fishburne and some pills. Although the famed author has been around this area for some time, he's astonished by Jude's bizarre abilities. With a touch, Jude can wake someone up to the world around them, making them see their surroundings for what they really are. He also gets an instant understanding of their past and what they did to get here. Based on what he's seeing, he's not happy with why these souls are being put through these motions. He wants to change things and that's exactly why senior management is annoyed.
The mystery about Jude is core to the book. I'm not going to spoil anything, but there are some pretty big reveals packed into the five issues collected here in the first trade paperback. Writer Joshua Hale Fialkov carefully uncovers aspects of the story that will make your jaw drop. Some are absolutely heartbreaking while others are downright terrifying. Each packs a punch and amplifies the overall story to must-read levels.
This brings in the Heaven and Hell element to The Life After. Purgatory is neutral ground between the two, but both can access it and pull in angels or demons as needed. Speaking of the angels, artist Gabo has designed quite possibly the most horrifying version of these creatures ever with the Seraphim. At first they look somewhat normal, although they're sporting six wings instead of the traditional two. They have claw-like feet, almost like a bird, and there's a robotic feel to them. Then they get close and their faces open up, revealing a hideous monster, similar to an insect but with razor sharp teeth. It happens suddenly and it instantly increases their threat level a thousandfold.
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The design for the demon shown in the book is also top notch. At first it appears to be a woman in a white suit with a stylish haircut. Upon closer inspection, you'll find that she has cloven feet and they're covered in blood. When needed, she transforms into a hulking beast with horns and wings, but still sporting that haircut. Gabo definitely delivers the monsters in this comic.
The Life After provides a whole new take on Heaven and Hell. It shows that life can be just as boring when you're dead as when you're alive. That is, if you let it. Jude is taking matters into his own hands and standing up for all these lost souls. There are many forces working against him including angels, demons, and possibly the big man upstairs himself.
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