Parting Ways: the Near-Life Experiences of Peter Orbach (2005)

Peter Orbach’s problems all began when he tried to kill himself. This may seem a bit odd, since suicide usually is both the end of old problems and the beginning of new ones, but in this case it’s definitely true. See, Peter both succeeds and fails in killing himself. He succeeds in forcing his soul to another plane. In the first few pages we see Peter’s soul being collected by a member of the collections department of the corporation that runs the afterlife. Unfortunately, the agent is also rather incompetent, and somehow a breath of life is left in Peter’s body. His girlfriend Jennie finds the soulless version of Peter and saves him from hanging himself. But without his soul, Peter becomes a very different person than he was before.
Parting Ways is a very unique and funny exploration of life after death, the importance and resiliance of the human soul, and how corporations can try incessantly to smash and destroy human individuality. Along the way, we get a look at art and its importance as human expression, meet the nicest demon in all of literature, and meet a psychic who somehow understands what’s going on.
This is a remarkable comic book because it’s so fresh. No character is a cliche; instead, each seems to have a unique sense of life and energy to them. Jennie Munroe, Orbach’s girlfriend, reacts to his suicide attempt in a tremendously moving and intelligent way. We see her mourn his near-death in a way that’s particular to her, see her be as supportive as can be, and see her begin to move past her emotions in very realistic ways. Her reactions seem logical to her situations, but are uniquely her reactions. Similarly, the psychic Helena Blaise starts out seeming the stereotype of the dotty and sleazy psychic when we first meet her, but the more we learn about Blaise, the more she seems a unique character. Only manipulative art gallery owner Leo Herbert seems two-dimensional in this book. His casual manipulation of the characters in this book seems awfully familiar somehow. But every other character, from the lazy and incompetent collection agent demon to Peter’s wonderful dual identity, is strikingly unique.
Of course, one fixture of post-death stories is that each take on Hell must be unique. In this book, Foley succeeds in creating a unique take on Hell. In creating an aferlife complete with subways, bureaucracies, and bored functionaries, Foley creates a clever analogue to many people’s daily lives. The parallels to normal life are hidden, but they exist below the surface, and are very humorous. When the story hits its climax, even the reactions of Hell’s functionaries ring true. When the demon Hissrich is called before the board of directors of DIS Co., the scene is spooky, funny and stirring all at the same time.
Mooney and Craine’s artwork is clever and subtle. Peter’s reactions are conveyed wonderfully – in a story where reactions really have the potential to make or break the tale, the artists deliver. Theire portrayals of corporate Hell are clever and funny, and the way they draw demon Hissrich are quietly clever. They really do a fine job delivering on this complex and subtle story.
Foley, Mooney and Craine deliver a terrific and unique story in Parting Ways. Their story is subtle and clever and very funny. Parting Ways is one of the most thoughtful graphic novels in a long time.

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