A.D.: After Death, by expert craftsmen Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire, is a haunting, beautiful, heady read. This hardcover collects the three issue miniseries. Reading the whole story in one sitting is challenging, but it’s hard to put down.
This book is kind of hard to summarize. It is a character-driven piece about Jonah Cooke, a man who lives in a future where the cure for aging has been discovered. Through a mix of illustrated prose and comic we learn about his life, the world, and his newfound mission. It is a story full of mystery and meandering memories.
Snyder does some really cool stuff with the script structurally that hits you right from page one. The book opens with a memory of Jonah’s childhood. The memory is recalled with beautifully descriptive and emotional prose. The book then transitions to the present, and with that shift, it becomes a comic. We are shown the post-death world Jonah lives in and see how the boy from the memory grew up. The story continues with this pattern: prose for flashbacks, comic for present. Early on, it’s established that Jonah is a studious recorder of the past, so these prose flashbacks are almost like him reading his journals. It is a very cool technique that I’m not sure many comic writers could pull off.
As unique as the prose sections are, they do most of the heavy-lifting to develop Jonah’s character, which is a little disappointing. On one hand, it allows the comic sequences to really move the story forward without much exposition. On the other hand, we don’t get a great sense of who Jonah is in the present. I think this is probably justified by the strong third act, where the comic portion really takes over, but getting there takes a while.
Meanwhile, I found the flashback version of Jonah very compelling. The characters’ recollections seem really realistic. In the telling, he sometimes focuses on really small details while the rest is blurry, or goes on a tangent that is inextricably linked to his memory. Snyder also deftly weaves in the story’s themes of loss, of clinging to the past, of escapism. Some of the tangents Jonah goes on could be considered random or obtuse, but Snyder’s writing is evocative and engaging enough to make it worthwhile. Most of the time, those moments are also made more relevant later on, as Snyder circles back to those elements. This strategy gives the prose sections a sense of mystery, uncertain how the pieces of Jonah’s memories are going to fit together to form his present.
Bringing Snyder’s script to life is Lemire’s gorgeous art. He renders everything in a slightly exaggerated, gaunt style that is kind of unsettling. Jonah looks on edge and exhausted, almost at his breaking point at all times. The illustrations he adds to the prose help break up and sometimes shape the text, typically lending some focus to the rambling recollections but never distracting from the words. Throughout, Lemire uses what look like watercolors to color the world, and they look really good. They help lend some levity and lightness to what is a pretty deep, thoughtful story. His skies and clouds in particular really stand out as beautiful.
A.D.: After Death is not an easy read. There is a lot of text, and some big ideas that require a certain level of “let’s see where this goes,” but if you can roll with Snyder and Lemire, the story is definitely worth it. I’d recommend the book for the prose sections alone–I don’t think I’ve ever read a flashback or memory sequence as true to the way memory works in real life. With the hardcover collection you can read the story in i’s entirety at a pace that is right for you, but I think you’ll find yourself reading it in one sitting, too.
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