A.D.: After Death
Scott Snyder, writer; Jeff Lemire, illustrator
Image Comics, 2017
Dystopian science fiction has become an increasingly crowded genre, but Snyder and Lemire have managed to come up with a unique concept--and they execute it brilliantly. The story begins in 825 AD (or "After Death"). Humanity's situation is revealed bit by bit as protagonist Jonah Cooke's story is told. The good news: death has been conquered, and the human lifespan is now hundreds of years long. The bad news: human memory span has not been increased, so no one can remember their life beyond fifty years or so into the past (a very creative twist). And the surface of the globe has been poisoned, so the survivors are all living in a sanctuary high up in the mountains.
Jonah has been writing things down, so he thinks he remembers his past; he also has a large collection of stolen objects with memories attached. He is obsessed with making contact with the surface, sure that an expedition called Forager has left survivors who are attempting to communicate. He knows he has had a relationship with a woman named Inez over the years, but she doesn't remember, and he has only journal entries to go by. There's a sick child named Claire that he want to help by taking her to the surface with him.
These people are basically immortal, and this has unintended consequences. There is mostly a feeling of senseless repetition rather than endless possibilities (although Jonah mentions knowing how to play the guitar and the piano without remembering how or when he learned those skills). The climax turns the story on its head, as it is revealed that Jonah has been repeating the same actions for many cycles. The image of the tree on the cover of the book also turns out to be significant. I don't want to reveal too much, but it's a startling twist at the end. I expect to reread A.D. with different eyes.
The format is unusual as well. There are large sections of almost pure text--making it basically a prose novel some of the time. This is counterbalanced by extended passages of Lemire's painted art, some of them nearly wordless. I do think that the central action is all illustrated, making "graphic novel" a reasonable description. And most importantly, the end result is a fascinating story. Snyder and Lemire are both operating at the top of their game here.