Written by Joshua Hale Fialkov
Illustrated & colors by Gabo
Lettered by Crank!
The afterlife ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.
A story about what happens after death, specifically the afterlife and how it works can be a tricky proposition. The first requirement for characters to participate is for them to be dead. Normally that takes the wind out of the stakes; death isn’t a concern, so there needs to be other things that make the character’s ordeals interesting.
A popular go to is turning the afterlife into a strangled bureaucracy. It worked for Number Cruncher, Beetlejuice and Heroes in Hell. Nothing is more terrifying (in tedium) than being stuck waiting for help or judgement from someone who is overworked, underpaid, and has a million other cases just like yours. If you consider the threat of an eternity trapped in such a grinding banality the stakes are high indeed. Now add in the idea that this entire system is close to collapsing into chaos and the afterlife is life and death times ten.
This is the driving idea behind Fialkov’s Exodus. Someone named Jude (according to the preamble, the son of God) can fix things but Jude is lost. Stuck in purgatory. A foul mouthed kid, Esse, and none other than Ernest Hemingway are searching for Jude. Their only lead is Esse’s mom, Nettie, who is suffering from amnesia or some memory trauma from dying. Oh and she can shoot balls of destructive energy too.
A bureaucrat named Tom who had been watching them through Hemingway’s dog (just roll with it) explains that the whole system is a hairs breadth away from total collapse. Apparently this is a secret the powers that be want to protect because Tom is punished for telling them about the impending chaos and helping the rebel trio.
All this might sound too weird, dense, and off putting on paper but I assure you Exodus – The Life After unfolds both visually and plot wise into something pretty unique. And “unfolds” is the best way to describe the progression.
For starters Fialkov’s writing manages to be both minimal and densely packed with ideas. Some writers, especially comic writers, would be tempted to shoot off verbal fireworks when dealing with such an out there concept as the afterlife. I kept thinking of how verbose and made-up-wordy this would be if, say, Grant Morrison was writing. Fialkov’s style has always been a bit more direct even with the high-concept material he often tackles. The closest comparison might be Johnathan Hickman but not as smarty-pants. The structure of Exodus benefits from his minimalist approach simply because the high-concept ideas don’t come across as such. For example: at one point Tom talks about how things in the afterlife haven’t gone as planned “… When we installed this stuff we never predicted, well, anything you people have done.” That line says a lot without saying much at all. Plus it’s very much in line with what a middle management type, as in Tom a self-described “middle management type”, would say. This kind of writing is no easy trick and Fialkov makes it look natural.
Gabo’s art shows just what can be done with indie comic sensibility. The art isn’t showy or bombastic but has a organic flow, even when “reality” becomes unhinged. Gabo melds elements of softer water color-ish anime, lo-fi indie comic idiosyncrasies, and straight up strangeness all while juxtaposing with the utter banality of this afterlife. As the issue progresses Gabo pushes the boundaries from a plunge from a meadow into existential and literal darkness to an urban street populated by a dog, cars, and giant red slugs to a version of Escher’s “Relativity” as imagined by Pac Man to God being a multi-page psychedelic gibbering mouther from Dungeons and Dragons by way of an issue of “Heavy Metal”. Just stunning.
This is why “unfolds” seems the best word to describe the nature of Exodus because the ideas reveal themselves visually and plot-wise the further you progress down the metaphorical rabbit hole (Wonderland being another influence)…
Combining influences like Anime, Beetlejuice, Heroes in Hell, M.C. Escher, psychedelic art, Kafka, and even Cabin in the Woods; Exodus – The Life After vibes like browsing around the smoky haze dorm room of the coolest most interesting art/philosophy student you’ve ever met.