I had heard nothing but great buzz about this graphic novel before having the chance to sit down and finally read it, and that scared me. Usually I’m not one to listen to hype, because on several occasions I’ve been burned by reviews of comics that certainly did not live-up to said hype, and that’s the worst feeling to have. You keep expecting to see why such a book garnered such praise, only to get to that last page and become annoyed by no such promised fireworks. Then you become a recluse, cut yourself off from the world, grow a bitchin’ beard, and go live in a cabin in the woods like Spider Jerusalem.
I’m happy to report that Last Days of an Immortal from Archaia certainly does live-up to the praise, and deserves every bit of your undivided attention. Imported from Europe and adapted for the English speaking audiences, this book is truly an out of this world reading experience, and dare I say one of my favorite graphic novels in recent memory.
Set in the far-off future, alien civilizations have been intermingling with humans for a long time now, giving it that sort of Star Trek vibe of diversity. The story follows Elijah, an immortal Philosophical Police agent trained to solve conflicts between individuals as well as entire species of aliens who have integrated into our society. Elijah is the best there is, and all who meet him always want an autograph at one point. In this future, one is able to make several echoes of themselves (think Madrox from X-Factor), with the only side-effect being you lose some of your oldest memories if you wish to merge with an echo and gain their memories and experience. Elijah doesn’t wish to lose any more of his oldest memories, so he constantly chats with his other selves to keep himself up to date with the several different cases he’s working.
One of the reasons he doesn’t want to lose any of his memories is because they include his oldest friend Matthias. Matthias has recently decided to end it all with his primary body, and allow his echo to remain for a short time to get his affairs in order and complete some work. Elijah wasn’t aware of Matthias’ decision to depart from the living, and felt quite hurt when he discovered he wasn’t even invited to the funeral. So the only memories he retains of Matthias were from the earliest days of their friendship, and Elijah doesn’t wish to part with them so easily with a mergence.
The main conflict that requires Elijah’s attention and expertise is an escalating crisis between two alien species; the Ganedans and the Aleph 345. It’s been growing more heated over the past few centuries, and the Ganedans aren’t aware why. It doesn’t help that the Aleph 345 are pure vibrations, who only communicate through complex cave systems that sometimes takes several years to decipher. It’s up to Elijah to act as mediator between the species, and figure out how to communicate with the incommunicable.
Gwen De Bonneval’s beautiful illustrations and stunning vision of the future had me studying every page for minutes on end. The myriad of alien species were wonderfully imaginative, with each one more mesmerizing than the last. Even the different worlds we visit across this universe each were unique in their own ways, from architecture to the native species. Two things that definitely stood out were the fantastic 3D community swimming pool, and the flying Eloa roving sculpture exhibit. De Bonneval’s style definitely matched the smooth, simple-yet-advanced feel of the future imagined, and hammered home the tone with the lack of coloring.
I must also shower Fabien Vehlmann with praise for creating this magnificent story in the first place, for it is truly beautiful the way he blends science-fiction with philosophy, while still making it understandable to the reader. The theme of communication also flows throughout the story, and why it’s so important not only in relationships in Earth society, but society on a universal scale as well. Watching Elijah adapt to whatever species he came into contact with was elegantly executed, for every civilization has their own way of communication.
I’m calling it now; Last Days of an Immortal is going to be Archaia’s Jim Henson’s Tale of Sand for this year. The page stock and book design alone is worthy of Eisner nods, but the story and art is what’s going to nab it some well-deserved praise and awards at the Eisners this summer. Archaia is just in the business of publishing great stories, and this one is definitely one you want to own and lend to friends.