Fabien Vehlmann - author of the excellent "Green Manor" series, a much underrated book called "7 Psychopaths", and a collaboration a couple of years ago with Jason, "Isle of 100,000 Graves" - returns with another highly imaginative and well written work with "Last Days of an Immortal".
Set in the distant future where mankind has reached a point where death is no longer an inevitability and that people regularly live hundreds of years. They can also replicate themselves a number of times - called "echoes" - who can then set off into the world and do other things before being assimilated back into the original body and their memories absorbed by the host. There's also a vast array of alien races who, along with humans, are part of an intergalactic Union, like Star Trek's "Federation".
Elijah is the main character, a Professor X lookalike who is a member of the Philosophical Police who have been tasked with arbitrating a case between two alien races whose dispute reaches back millennia where one member of the species was murdered by another. Unless Elijah can defuse the situation, war will erupt.
Very sci-fi, right? The book reminded me of the kind of sci-fi books written by Asimov and Ballard which I read when I was 12/13 years old. The invention is there but at the heart of it is something recognisable that would be a mainstream storyline if presented more mundanely: a murder mystery. Alongside this main story is a more interesting, philosophical one - if people can live forever, why do some voluntarily choose death?
Despite the many outlandish settings, characters, and even concepts, the book is very accessible and interesting once you grasp what's going on. But for all the creative aspects of the book I found the characters and story a little cold and distant for me to really connect with either and the artwork is a bit lacklustre in places. Otherwise, "Last Days of an Immortal" is a perfectly enjoyable sci-fi mystery comic book with originality and intelligence.
This is a marvelous and rewarding piece of work. I understand why the author and the illustrator have won numerous awards at comic festivals.
I have never encountered a better treatment of alien civilizations. There are several crimes and mysteries investigated during the course of the story, each of which requires our Philosophical Policeman to understand the motives and reasoning of an alien perpetrator or victim. Each alien character is fully realized and plausibly presented. The process of investigation and deduction is always believable. The result is truly remarkable.
On top of that, the lead character, Elijah, is engaging, thoughtful, meditative, self-aware, and even has a sense of humor. Secondary characters also have fully realized personalities, which is awesome when you think about the limited amount of dialogue and explication you can fit into a graphic novel of normal length.
Part of this is probably the result of the elegant and expressive drawing. The panels are in black and white, and convey information and heighten drama with just a few strokes. Some set pieces are reminiscent of Matisse, and some seem to be almost consciously modeled on Jules Feiffer, who could break your heart with a simple sketch.
So, whether you are a great fan of graphic novels or just dabbling, this volume is a terrific choice for something a little out of the ordinary, understated and elegant.
Please note that I received a free electronic copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a frank review.