Though they may be set in the future, post-apocalypse stories are often fixated on the past. When everything’s crumbling, we might as well focus on what we’ve done and where we’ve been. Though most post-apocalypses don’t have the literal spirits of the dead quietly watch on as humanity’s collective work turns to dust. In Land of the Living Gods from Aftershock, Isaac Mogajane and Santtos have created a world where humanity has chosen to cope with its coming extinction through worship, pleading to their ancestors for strength. Too bad that none of those ancestors seem terribly impressed.
Mogajane continues the story of Naledi, an albino teenager in a post-apocalyptic South Africa who has found herself captured and sold by scavenger Kaelo. Because, as it turns out, witches will pay good money for albinos. But Kaelo quickly starts second-guessing her sale of the young girl. Meanwhile, Naledi is placed in the same prison cell as a young boy who was sacrificed and brought back to life by local King Shandu. And a conversation with that boy may just turn what we know about the series upside-down.
While the series has focused pretty squarely on Naledi up to this point, Mogajane sets some time aside in this issue for Kaelo. Initially introduced as fairly cynical and jaded, her conversations with lover Kheti show a side that hasn’t fully resigned itself to using people to get by. Her slow turn towards helping Naledi reaches its climax, however, in a moment of violence that’s less cathartic and more… concerning. Kaelo might not be choosing the best outlets for her anger. But, hey. Whatever gets Naledi out of captivity, right?
And speaking of Naledi, she continues to show her bright, youthful optimism, laughing at the idea of Kaelo selling her to organ traffickers after seeing the King’s minor miracle. She stops laughing when it actually happens. And moving forward, Naledi’s trust in the living gods is about to hit a major roadblock. So the poor girl’s outlook is being put through the wringer. Naledi’s always needed to mature a bit, but Mogajane hasn’t completely shown his hand as to what that will look like. It definitely won’t come in the form of Kaelo’s guarded cynicism, but Naledi is going to need to get past her self-doubt if she wants to find hope in the world outside of praying an outside force will fix it for her. I’m very interested in seeing what Naledi’s outlook will be by the end of the series.
Santtos’ art in this series is both very expressive and stripped down. It’s impressive that the world feels so well realized, when after an establishing shot or two, the backgrounds tend to fall away to focus purely on the characters. This helps bring out the emotions of the scenes, but also adds to the bleak feeling of the world. Each backdrop the characters find themselves in has one or two primary colors associated with it, so you can tell where they are based on the color dominating the panel. But Santtos is all too willing to leave blank space on the page, often choosing to leave corners or margins pure, stark white. It accents his color choices and emphasizes the white gutters between panels, leading to a more contemplative, quiet feeling in the comic. Like the spaces between moments have stretched out to the corners of the page.
Dave Sharp’s lettering helps highlight the non-English words of the multicultural setting in scarlet, often given a translation in the bottom corner. He also has fun with hand-drawn sound-effects, drawing them with thick, visible brushstrokes.
Land of the Living Gods #3 focuses on fleshing out one of its main characters while setting up the direction for the remainder of the series. With its willingness to change direction and upend what’s come before, it’s hard to predict exactly where the series will go from here. But what’s here is strong enough that it’s earned trust in whatever that may be. It’s out today at most retailers, so make sure to check it out.