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Peter Bagge Hates Your Avatar in ‘Other Lives’ [Review]

Peter Bagge has one of the most distinct and talented voices in comics. So, it was with some surprise that “Other Lives,” his new Vertigo graphic novel about virtual online worlds, felt so unoriginal. Reading “Other Lives” was like watching a depressing episode of “The Guild,” but instead of the characters being charming and hilarious, they’re unrelatable and seriously destructive.

I’m not willing to call “Other Lives” a bad graphic novel, much in the way I’m not willing to call Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant” a bad movie. Both start with the best of intentions, but both miss the proverbial mark. Just as it was clear in “Elephant” that Gus Van Sant didn’t fully realize the loneliness of outcast high school students, Peter Bagge doesn’t fully understand the online culture of social tribes.

Set in 2003, a good portion of the book takes place in an online community called “Second World,” a cobbled together hybrid of real online communities “Second Life” and “World of Warcraft” where the users are more interested in logging-in for social interaction than they are for gaming. But unlike “The Guild,” “Other Lives” is written from the point of an outsider looking-in, somewhat judgmentally, on a sector of modern life that is easily stereotyped.

All of the characters in “Other Lives” are flawed in some fashion, and it’s their shared flaw of lying that ultimately causes their downfall. Both online and in real-life, the characters are frauds, professionally and emotionally. It’s a classic set-up for a dark comedy, and structurally, “Other Lives” achieves this goal quite well. However, the lack of a genuine foil can make the book seem to drag on, even at only a 135 pages.

The social commentary in “Other Lives” is obvious, but only functions on a surface level, and even seems tangential to the point of distraction in the opening scene. Bagge is a regular contributor to “Reason” and has created some of the most intelligent counter-arguments to hot-button issues like Gun Control, and rightly supporting the importance of weighing both sides of an argument, like in the case of philosophy of Ayn Rand. Here, however, there’s nothing to counter the slide of delusional loners into tragedy — no one that makes the case for sanity in “Other Lives.”

Still, and to the book’s credit, Bagge does an excellent job of showing how it is the characters internal shortcomings, and not the Internet or online-communities — that are responsible for their failures. As well, Bagge shows how online actions can have serious consequences in the real world, something I think we’ve all learned now that our mothers have started using Facebook.

>Bagge’s “Other Lives” is clearly the work of a professional, but one that seems to have lacked editorial oversight. The mere 135 pages is densely littered with dialogue, some of it unnecessary when characters, like protagonist “Vader Ryderbeck,” describe what can easily be understood from the art, and the ending is contrived, rushed and then unnecessarily sprinkled with one last bit of in-your-face black humor.

If you’re a fan of everything Peter Bagge has ever done, you’ll enjoy “Other Lives.” But if you’re passing fan or someone who has yet to experience this creator’s talent, I’d try looking elsewhere.

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