Title: Resurrectionists: Near-Death Experienced
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writer: Fred Van Lente
Artist: Maurizio Rosenzweig
Inker: Moreno Dinisio
Colorist: Moreno Dinisio
Letters: Nate Piekos
Cover Artist: Juan Doe
Spoiler Warning! This review talks about the plot of the graphic novel being reviewed. I try to avoid mentioning anything I see as a major twist or reveal, but I don’t guarantee it. Read at your own risk!
When you combine Egyptian mythology, reincarnation, and a heist thriller with excellent comics art, the result is Resurrectionists. Near-Death Experienced collects the six print issues of Resurrectionists, which Dark Horse’s website says is now a digital-exclusive series. These issues are a strong start to a series I hope to see more of in the future.
On the story side, the concept is imaginative, the characters are complex and nuanced, and the twists are plentiful. The action shifts between ancient Egypt and the present day. Master Maker Tao dreams of a future in which he is a thief named Jericho Way, a former architect whose boss, Lennox, framed him for the collapse of a skybridge. Similarly, Way dreams of himself as Tao, an architect of tombs disgraced and hounded by Herihor, a high priest who takes the title of pharaoh through force and deceit. When an ally unlocks memories of his past lives, Way learns that he has opposed Herihor/Lennox for thousands of years, starting when he was Tao and continuing through all of his crew’s reincarnations.
One of writer Fred Van Lente’s greatest strengths in Resurrectionists is his ability to layer in expository detail. At first, readers are thrown into the action after a stunning full-page panel of incarnations in a ring around Tao and Way. During the first lines of dialogue, a woman who has just beaten up a handful of men in suits throws out jargony terms like “Answerers,” “Sojourn,” “the Maker,” and “the Scout.” She speaks to someone who knows them, so she has no need to explain them for the audience’s benefit. It’s clear that “Answerers” refers to the suited men trying to apprehend the woman and “Sojourn” refers to a company. While we learn “the Maker” is named Jericho Way and the woman is “the Scout,” later named Lena Parsifal, it isn’t immediately clear what those titles mean. They refer to roles played by Tao and his associates in their many lives. Way/Tao, for example, is the Maker, the leader. His partner in thievery, Mac Gardner, is the Guardian, the Maker’s friend and protector. Quinn, a go-between for their jobs, is the Double, the Maker’s lover. The reveals of each role and the present-day player are gradual, making for an interesting read where new information is around every corner. I felt issue #4 is not quite as strong on this front; much of it feels like a stream of exposition as it flashes back to Way and Gardner’s time in prison together, coupled with Parsifal explaining how she unlocked her memories. The story loses a little momentum here, but quickly regains it in the next issue.
One thing issue #4 does very well, however, occurs in the first few pages as we gain insight into Lennox as a character. Herihor’s current incarnation is just as ruthless and scheming as he was in Egypt. His company, Sojourn, markets heavily to paranoid consumers who fear a “storm” coming, selling them doomsday bunkers and insurance policies while encouraging their fear of the storm. Lennox engineers popular culture to cultivate the market he wants, all in the name of preparing for his next life. This is just one example of narrative reflexivity in Resurrectionists, recalling Way explaining the Egyptian belief that life on Earth is a preparation for the next life, their eternal afterlife, which Way reasons is an infinite cycle of reincarnation. The difference is that Herihor constantly and consciously prepares for his next life, over and over, while Tao attempts to stop his reincarnation.
Reflexivity also frequently appears in the art, strengthening the layers of narrative patterns in the plot. Character designs share elements across incarnations: Way and Tao share prominent, pointed ears; Gardner shares a scar over his eye with Bahati, his Egyptian life; and Parsifal’s lives all wear ponytails. Panel transitions between Egypt and the present are connected by motifs. At the end of one page, Way and Gardner take a staircase into the subway, and at the beginning of the next page, Tao and Bahati descend deeper into a tomb.
Maurizio Rosenzweig’s pencils are top-notch. His stylized figures and dynamic perspectives give the proceedings a lot of energy, but they don’t steal the show nearly as much as the layouts or surreal moments. Action panels often tilt and distort, and on one page, the desk of Way’s probation officer is also the next panel. I’ve seen very few artists who create layouts as unorthodox as that, and my jaw dropped when I made the connection. Toward the end, there’s a two-page spread of mummification that visualizes the supernatural forces at work, a true feast for the eyes. Moreno Dinisio’s inks and colors pop. Even background characters wear bright colors that stand out and demand to be noticed. When the Resurrectionists access their past lives, they become them, morphing into a sepia-colored version of the person they were. Nate Piekos turns in unique letters that are just a little bit different from most comics lettering. They’re easy to read, but they look different from everything else on the stands. Finally, Juan Doe’s covers are well-drawn and well-composed, featuring a character with their past lives, all similarly posed, often reflected along an axis as though with a mirror.
I was thoroughly impressed by the construction of Resurrectionists, in every sense of the word. Van Lente crafts a fascinating mythos that echoes back and forth to itself. Rosenzweig, Dinisio, and Piekos create unique visuals that set Resurrectionists apart. One slower chapter aside, Resurrectionists is an excellent comic from an excellent creative team. I recommend it for fans of stories that incorporate mythology with the modern world.