The end of Scott Snyder’s author bio, published at the end of all of the books he’s written, says that Snyder is a “dedicated and un-ironic fan of Elvis Presley.” Well, consider me a dedicated an un-ironic fan of Scott Snyder.
Ever since he rocketed onto the comic book scene with his hits American Vampire and Batman: The Black Mirror, Snyder has been crafting compelling comic books that deftly blend tense and freewheeling action with deep and true character moments. His latest work sees him teaming with another top creator, writer-artist extraordinaire Jeff Lemire, in A.D.: After Death, the story of what happens to humanity after we discover the cure for death. The result is a unique comic book experience that’s well worth the high cover price of six dollars.
What makes A.D. so unique is the way that Snyder and Lemire tell their story. Instead of simply utilizing the standard use of panels to mix words and images together, Snyder interjects the narrative with long asides in straight-on prose and static images alongside them. These sequences bring an almost storybook approach to the format not often (or ever) seen in modern comics. Snyder’s forte is prose writing, and A.D. shows his skills haven’t dulled from years of working on comic book scripts. A more traditional panel grid is used to tell the story in the “present” of 825 A.D. (or “After Death”), while these prose sections are used to detail the backstory of Jonah Cooke, the protagonist of the story who is slowly revealed to be a crucial figure in the history of the cure for death.
Right from the first pages, Snyder uses prose to detail Jonah’s first memory of a trip to Florida that ended badly for his family. Readers who are used to quick reads from their single issues will be forced to slow down and appreciate the way Snyder lays out the story in this manner. The past informs on the present in large ways in this book. To rush through the prose is to miss out on crucial character moments that make Jonah a sympathetic character despite his proclivity to steal things from jobs he works at in the present.
Snyder and Lemire work together to craft a world that is both recognizable and alien to us at the same time. Snyder’s strength is in the prose work detailing the past, but Lemire is the one that truly shines in the present elements of the story. The opening shot in the present is of an alien world covered in vines and populated by purple tentacled monsters (no, that isn’t a typo) chasing human figures. Later images showcase a sweeping world of farms and cities that combine both familiar looking houses and barns with futuristic towers and machines. Unlike some stories that take the opportunity to realize a fully unknown world of the future, Snyder and Lemire design a landscape that is vaguely recognizable to us.
Alongside the world-building done by the creators are grisly, disturbing images that play up a level of horror that is always present in Snyder’s writing. However Snyder chooses to detail many kinds of horrors that challenge the reader to wrestle with both fantastic and realistic nightmares. Descriptions of a goat’s hooves rotting and splitting open are skimmed over with little fanfare, yet the image of Jonah’s mother falling to the ground in a seizure-like fit reverberates throughout the issue. When all is said and done, the real terrors stayed with me longer than the imagined ones.
Snyder and Lemire are self-professed friends and admirers of each others’ works, so to see them collaborating together is truly a gift for fans. Lemire’s art has always managed to capture the wide-eyed innocence of youth very well, going back to his work on Sweet Tooth and Essex County. Here that work is on display yet again as Lemire renders Jonah as a young boy struggling with his family’s troubles. He manages to find just the right image from Snyder’s prose sections to connect with the words on the page. Lemire’s art hammers home what Snyder’s going for in terms of larger themes with each passing page.
Snyder’s work here, especially his prose, is arguably some of the best he’s done to date. His work on superheroes is always a fun time, but it’s in his smaller, more character-focused works that his talents truly shine. Some of the phrases and ideas he poses in his prose sing in a way a speech bubble can’t hope to match. Perhaps the most impactful idea here was Jonah’s thoughts on death being like playing on a sheet of ice, with the threat of falling through into the dark water below always hanging over the fun you have sliding around. I can’t do justice to what Snyder does with this idea, so you’re better off going out and reading it for yourself.
Following this project from its announcement to publication, it’s interesting to note that A.D. was originally supposed to be a complete graphic novel. Somewhere along the way though the creators decided to release it as a series of three oversized single issues. The change doesn’t take away from the impact the story leaves on the reader but sometimes does come across to bite in certain places. Most notably is the introduction of Inez towards the end, someone Jonah knows from his past but doesn’t stay long enough for the reader to get to know. Again, these details are small and don’t impact the overall narrative, but do stand out as question marks that keep this “chapter” from feeling complete.
Perhaps I’m a bit biased when reviewing this book, since I’ll read anything Snyder writes or Lemire draws, so to see them together is a match made in heaven to me. But A.D.: After Death really does stand out as a solid book that wrestles with large ideas and utilizes a unique story format to linger on crucial moments in the history of one man living a never-ending life.