Last Days of an Immortal
The 2013 Eisner Nominations have been available for a while now, and it is always interesting to examine the list for conspicuous exclusions. Last Days of an Immortal, by Fabien Vehlmann & Gwen De Bonneval, is probably the best work released in 2012 that is not on the Eisner nominations list.
The story’s hero, Elijah, is a Philosophical Police officer. While the story’s title emphasizes his immortality, it is only a fact of his existence, and not the source of his uniqueness, as everyone in the future has a bank of echoes in which to insure his or her continued existence. His claim to fame is that he is a skilled negotiator known for being a mediator between alien species.
The story is equal parts space opera and philosophical science fiction. On the one hand, there is a bestiary of aliens to rival Star Wars, and on the other hand, the setting is an utopian future in which citizens’ rights are perpetuated after clinical death through the transfer of consciousness into “echoes,” or clones. Life, devoid of its mortality, has simply become a legal fact, and, in fact, one character in particular negotiates the settling of his estate after his legal death.
Echoes not only give a person immortality, they also provide multiplicity of being, as one is able to have several echoes living large at one time. This is of great utility to an investigator and negotiator like Elijah, and he uses it more than most, as it allows his investigation and the narrative to advance on multiple fronts. The downside is that when one merges with an echo, one obtains their experiences at the expense of some long term memory. Elijah is very old and attached to his early memories, so he keeps his echoes separate for as long as possible and they share memory the “analog” way, by chatting.
While the A arc is Elijah’s wrestling with his sense of self and identity, the B arc shows Elijah at work as a go-between two alien species, the Ganedans and the Aleph 345. Elijah gains an understanding of the brutal crimes at the root of the cycle of violence between the two species, and imparts that to the Ganedans. Just like the Star Trek TV series, in which many episodes have a meditative or speculative arc embedded in an action arc, this larger than life detective story is the perfect framework for the more vital tale which asks an intriguing question on self and identity: when one’s identity is gone, is one living?
The eponymous death referred to in the book’s title isn’t so much the literal death that occurs in the first few pages as the soul death that Elijah fears; that by merging with his echoes he will lose his recollections of Matthias, who at one point was his dearest friend. They have since become estranged (to the point that he was not invited to Matthias’s funeral), but Elijah feels that these memories of his old friend are so central to his sense of self that his identity would be eroded beyond repair were he to lose them in merging with an echo. The book ends as Elijah makes a decision about his own mortality, that there is no value in living without an attachment to life.
Last Days of an Immortal is published by Archaia Books, a publisher of high quality award-winning graphic novels, and you can find a preview of the book on their website. You can ask for it at your local comic shop, as well as quality booksellers like Barnes and Noble or Amazon. The hardback is a lovely addition to your bookshelf, but if you prefer digital you can also find it on comiXology.