Nuclear Family banner ad

Early Review: Afterlift


Afterlift, a series that started out as a ComiXology Original, is making its way from digital to print. Thanks to a partnership with Dark Horse Comics, the collected edition of this original series will be available online and in bookstores on February 2nd, and then available in comic book shops on February 3rd. Written by Chip Zdarsky, Afterlift is a coming of age tale with elements of mythology. Zdarsky puts his own modern twist on the underworld mythos of the ancient Greeks.

Janice Chen, having recently quit her job in the finance industry, is content to spend her nights driving for a ride-share service. As the comic opens, things are preceding normally. Janice’s first-generation Mandarin parents want her to get a better job since she’s barely scraping by. However, the basic minimum wage pay doesn’t bother Janice as much the thought of a fare puking in the back of her car. Halfway through an otherwise normal night, Janice picks up a fare named Dumu. Before she knows it, she’s been drafted into service as a psychopomp.

For those unfamiliar with that word, a psychopomp is a being who escorts deceased souls to the afterlife. Think the Grim Reaper, or in the case of the Greek mythology Zdarsky uses for inspiration, Hermes and Charon. There’s also a bit of Christianity thrown into the mix as well. Just as she’s beginning to understand the predicament she finds herself in, Janice is set upon by demon bounty hunters. The demons are hell-bent (pun intended) on claiming the soul Janice is transporting for themselves.

Everything I’ve just described takes place in the first twenty-five pages of the graphic novel. From there, Afterlift becomes a thrill ride of car chases, fight scenes, and joyrides through the realms beyond the mortal plain. In addition, Zdarsky also reflects on faith and what it means to be a believer throughout the emotionally charged narrative. I also love that he chose an Asian woman as his main character. Many writers would be tempted to use a white Christian person. Janice was raised Buddhist and doesn’t believe in a final afterlife the way a Christian would. I found it fascinating to see a character with an understanding of Buddhism navigate (both metaphorically and literally) through and contemplate the implications of the existence of Hell.

Artist Jason Loo does a good job illustrating Afterlift, though his characters don’t look all that realistic. He does a great job drawing the car chase scenes and action sequences, but the scenes featuring characters talking to one another were lackluster by comparison. I did love the character design of the demons. Each is unique enough to tell apart from the others without them all looking like they come from different interpretations of hell.

Colorist Paris Alleyne does a great job of conveying time and setting through her color choices. I didn’t need a character to announce it was nighttime to instantly recognize the time of day in each scene. I also appreciate that Alleyne pays attention to the light source in each panel. For example, the portion of a panel underneath a streetlight is bright, while the other side of the panel is kept darker. Color touches such as these add realism to Loo’s illustrations, making me feel like I’m watching a complete story, rather than reading dialogue and then looking at the pictures.

I enjoyed the concepts and modern adaptations of mythology in Afterlift more than I enjoyed the actual plot. That being said, the story itself is really exciting, though I found it to be a little predictable. The artwork is solid if a bit underwhelming. It’s always easy to tell what’s going on in each panel, though some panels are more visually exciting than others. All in all, this graphic novel was a fun read, but it didn’t really wow me. Even though I wasn’t necessarily blown away, this is a series worth checking out. After all, it did win Eisner, Shuster, and Harvey awards last year. Afterlift will be available on February 2nd at bookstores and February 3rd at comic book shops.

Story: Chip Zdarsky Art: Jason Loo
Color: Paris Alleyne Letterer: Aditya Bidikar
Story: 7.0 Art: 8.0 Overall: 7.5 Recommendation: Read

comiXology provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Purchase: comiXologyAmazonKindleTFAWBookshop