Best Shots Review: JASON LOO and CHIP ZDARSKY's AFTERLIFT VOL. 1

Afterlift
Credit: Jason Loo/Paris Alleyne/Aditya Bidikar (Jams + Jellies)
Credit: Jason Loo/Paris Alleyne/Aditya Bidikar (Jams + Jellies)

Afterlift, Vol. 1
Drawn by Jason Loo
Written by Chip Zdarsky
Colored by Paris Alleyne
Lettering by Aditya Bidikar
Published by Jams + Jellies
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Credit: Jason Loo/Paris Alleyne/Aditya Bidikar (Jams + Jellies)

Writer Chip Zdarsky and artist Jason Loo deliver a divine-ish comedy in Afterlift. Janice Chen is a woman just trying to make ends meet - struggling against her conservative parents and the gig economy, Janice passes the time juggling various ride-share services, which allows her long nights driving to calm her thoughts. But when a fare takes a hard right turn into the supernatural, Janice finds herself acting as a Millennial Charon, ferrying a demon and pure soul across the thresholds of death, while trying to stay ahead of a trio of demons eager to snatch her fare for their own demonic purposes.

Though not as obviously funny or as broad as Kaptara or Sex Criminals, Afterlift revels in Zdarsky’s grounded sweetness and the deep well of pathos he has for his characters. Much of the visual comedy comes down to Loo, who, even through a few solid car chases and Dante Alighieeri's Inferno-inspired takes on Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, peppers in drolly funny visual touches like the hilarious logos Janice wears throughout the series and the over-the-top weapons the demons wield. Armed with a surprising sweetness and a pedal-to-the-metal pace, Afterlift is a winning, charming isolation read.

Credit: Jason Loo/Paris Alleyne/Aditya Bidikar (Jams + Jellies)

It started as an ordinary night for Janice Chen - after tooling around the city for a bit and having a bristling encounter with her hard-headed parents, she returns to work as a Lyft-style driver, picking up a slick-suited man named Dumu. But what starts as a regular fare turns into something much, much weirder as Janice is brought into the world underneath the world, tricked into being Dumu’s “carrier” into Hell. Though the concept seems straightforward enough, Chip Zdarsky works extra hard in these early pages to make everything as clear as possible for the reader.

Carefully laying out the rules of the ride and of the afterlife, Zdarsky uses the oversized first issue to deliberately map out the story before setting us on a highway to hell. But after the rules and characterizations are set, Zdarsky upshifts nicely, transforming the story into a constantly moving “chase” story, setting a trio of demons on Janice and Dumu’s trail.

Credit: Jason Loo/Paris Alleyne/Aditya Bidikar (Jams + Jellies)

But even through the rapid pace of the book, Zdarsky doesn’t skimp on the character details. As Janice and newly dead soul Suzanna move deeper and deeper through the strata of the afterlife, they are forced to confront their lives and pasts, attempting to reconcile with themselves if they are “worthy” for Heaven or damned to Hell for their actions. While that might sound a little maudlin, Zdarsky’s handling of these turns are deftly handled and positioned for the hardest possible emotional impact. It all leads to a stirring confrontation with Dumu and their own lives in the shadow of the pearly gates. I wasn’t completely expecting a story about “Uber for the dead” to turn into a story about self-actualization and the nature of morality, but I’m very glad Afterlift delivered.

Speaking of delivering, artists Jason Loo and Paris Alleyne really show up nicely during the duration of Afterlift. Though the pair start off fairly mundane, keeping the visuals and vehicles of the story pretty realistic and grounded, they slowly mutate the visual language into something much, much more Franciscan, building out the scope and tone of the book.

A great example of this is the pair’s take on the River Styx. Buttressed between two massive mountain ranges crawling with chimpanzee-inspired demons and a creeping fog that seems to be made of screaming faces, Loo and Alleyne confidently throw readers into a whole new world and visual-scape for the title. And from there, the pair only improve, walking our leads and readers through a classic, fiery take on Hell, only to rise out of the flames and blood to a sparsely set dressed and luminous take on Heaven. Again, you don’t really expect these turns based on the more metropolitan and realist opening, but Jason Loo and Paris Alleyne consistently impress throughout this holy and unholy ride.

Stories about religion and our relationship with the divine are always a thorny prospect, but I feel Afterlift finds a good balance between entertaining and preachy. Thanks to the droll charm and bold emotions of the script and the consistently impressive artwork this comiXology Original stands as a sweet, effective binge-read for these uncertain times.

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