I’m starting to think not enough comic book fans are talking about Oni Press. While Image Comics gets all the critical acclaim these days for fantastic story-telling (rightfully so), and DC and Marvel Comics carry on as the Big Two behemoths driving sales and mainstream perception, Oni Press quietly proclaims their desire to “Revolutionize Comics” and goes out and starts to ACTUALLY DO IT. The first Oni series I stumbled across this year was “Auteur” a book so perversely mad I called it a Family Guy parody of Dexter (in the best possible way). “Life After #1” immediately joins Auteur in the realm of bold, risk-taking comics that challenge reader expectations and what we think about when we think about comic book stories.
The story begins simply enough with what appears to be every office-based romantic comedy since Office Space. Writer Joshua Hale Fialkov and artist Gabo paint a strikingly accurate yet familiar account of the average, mundane man’s life. Our protaginst gets up, gets out of bed, drags a comb across his head, works a “highly necessary but unsatisfying” day job… rinse and repeat. You’ve heard this one before, but fortunately Gabo makes the sequence fascinately complex with a 50-panel, 2-page spread that completely encapsulates the daily grind of the working man. The ability to tell a story so well across 50 panels—not to mention the audacity to even try—really brought me on board with the team of Fialkov and Gabo. One-named artists can often feel like a bit of a cheap trick these days; you have your Pele and you have your Nene. But Gabo is clearly the real deal and owns this first issue from cover to cover.
The wonderful play by “Life After #1” is how it plays with a familiar romantic comedy foundation, except when our hero finally works up the courage to run after his “Girl on the bus” everything goes utterly and completely NUTS. Suddenly we find ourselves experiencing chronal jumps, disparate narratives, and seemingly alien worlds both past, present, and future. Our protagonist finds that touching another person in this state will transfer their life experiences to his consciousness, which leads to the horrifically sad life story of a prostitute in the Old West. Fialkov’s and Gabo’s ability to sneak in this tragic vignette is haunting but also an incredible display of craftsmanship.
Meanwhile, mysterious operators appear to watch and possibly control the actions and events our main character faces in his daily routine. Like the production staff of the Truman Show, there appear to be forces at play that our protagonist would never suspect, in control of every facet of his life until, of course, everything changes. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but I will say that all the bonkers action and adventure and time shifts ultimately add up to a great finale and a highly intriguing concept for a continuing series. “Life After #1” is confusing in all the right ways, lending itself to mystery and intrigue in an entirely new world.
Verdict: 9.0 out of 10
Nobody is doing the truly strange quite as well as Oni Press today, and “Life After #1” joins that completely bonkers, yet wildly interesting company. This is a really interesting first issue and instantly one of the most intriguing books I’ve picked up this year. As you’d expect from the title, Fialkov and Gabo are clearly going to have a lot of exploring the after life here in an unexpected and unique style. Another win for Oni, master of the weird.