Writer/Illustrator: Tim Fielder
Publisher: HarperCollins Amistad
Immortality is far too often placed in the ‘superpower’ category in the realm of comics, a quality that allows the characters that possess it to take an infinite amount of damage and pain without ever facing death. As such, readers get immortal characters situated in a specific time and place with some backstory but no real exploration of what time does to a person that cannot die. We don’t get to see what immortality entails, what it means to see history transpire in real time while being an active participant in it.
Illustrator Tim Fielder, founder of Dieselfunk Studios, seems to prefer his immortals storied, afforded the time to present their unending lives on their own terms. This is what lies at the core of his afrofuturistic tale Infinitum, the story of an African king doomed to be eternal.
The comic, composed of one-panel pages laid out horizontally, narrates the life of Aja Ọba, the aforementioned king and warlord known for riding large canines into battle. The book starts with Ọba at the peak of his power in the time of the Great African Kingdoms, long before European imperialism extended its cruelty towards Africa. Ọba is feared, known for his ruthless and swift response to treason when smaller tribes dare go against him. He shares his power with Queen Lewa, a political powerhouse that stands as an equal to the king.
All is not perfect. The couple cannot have children, which leads them to devise a scheme to steal a baby from someone who played an important part in Ọba’s past. The plan unfolds, but the African king becomes cursed with eternal life as the baby is stolen and so the saga begins, going deep into the future as the story unfolds.
Infinitum is concerned with the sprawl of time, with the many rises and falls of a single character damned to go through it again and again. Fielder takes his time setting up Ọba’s journey, and the weight of the character’s past actions mounts as the story progresses. There’s a lot of tragedy in the events that take place and one can’t help but feel a deep sadness every time Ọba finds even the smallest semblance of happiness, knowing he’ll outlive everyone he holds dear.
A general knowledge of history will allow readers to make a kind of story map as to what Ọba will witness as time passes and where he’ll end up next. I don’t want to spoil the journey, but each stop in world history feels distinct and well-researched, placing the reader in a new era almost instantly upon arrival.
Fielder’s approach to recreating the different eras where Ọba stands out as both an anomaly and as a man of the times is doubly impressive given how brief each stay is per time period. There’s a relentlessness in how Fielder illustrates history pushing forward and he captures it in every page, especially when considering there’s a time jump every two pages or so.
The book never feels rushed, though. We get just enough character development to continue into the next historical moment. One thing that stands out as clever and highly effective from a storytelling standpoint is how Fielder treats the secondary character stories.
Ọba’s immortality confronts him with the tragic inevitability of love as life continues marching on. He meets new people, takes new lovers, and forms new families. Each companion gets his or her own story page, narrated in the first person as if it were taken from a diary entry or an audio log. These brief forays into other perspectives provide deep insight into Ọba’s life story and personality and further complicate the man’s relationship with time.
Infinitum also possesses several visions of the future that not only serve the story but also come across as educated predictions of things to come. It all feels grandiose, much like the historical events portrayed throughout the book. Whenever there’s a chance to make something look and feel monumental, Fielder takes it.
Tom Fielder’s Infinitum is an impressive feat. It’s a comprehensive story about the totality of time and its unstoppable march. Aja Ọba is a character of unforgettable qualities that will surely remain in the minds of every reader who takes a chance on the book. The rich illustrations and the textured and layered color palettes help create a story for the ages that earns the classification of being truly timeless.
Published by HarperCollins Amistad, Infinitum is available in stores and digitally now.