The idea that a person can live one life in the real world and a completely different one online isn’t exactly a new idea. At first, it looked like that was where writer/artist Peter Bagge was going in this graphic novel about four people who are friends to varying degrees in real life, yet hiding or expressing their true selves online. To Bagge’s credit, he develops most of his cast in ways that I didn’t expect. Vlad may think of himself as a plagiarist reporter, yet the truth is more complicated -- just like his family history. His buddy Woodrow seems like he’s a responsible family man, but he’s got a gambling addiction that leads to some incredibly sad, disturbing and honest scenes later in the book. Their mutual college friend Javy wants Vlad to believe his story about being a government agent researching internet terrorism so much that when the truth comes out, it’s a little heartbreaking. Only Vlad’s girlfriend, Ivy has a journey that doesn’t really go anywhere as she creates an avatar in the book’s “Second Life” analogue to do a lot of things she couldn’t do elsewhere. The transgressions she engages in seem like they’ll make for great drama when she’s finally called out on her actions. Unfortunately she never is.
Even with that flaw, “Other Lives” proves to be a pretty engaging read and shows that Bagge hasn’t lost a step with his utterly distinctive cartoonish style over the years. Then, about 20 pages from the end, the book takes a neck-snappingly abrupt and violent turn. (With no actual neck-snapping, though.) It’s a twist that comes right out of nowhere -- I honestly didn’t believe it when I saw it -- as one character monologues about his master plan to make his life better. To say that this is a complete tonal shift from what has come before would be about right. You really get the feeling that Bagge realized that he only had a certain amount of pages left to work with and had to do something to wrap things up in the space allotted to him. The creator does manage to salvage things a little in the epilogue as we see how two of the book’s characters have created a life for themselves online in spite of the other’s murderous intent. Thanks to this, “Other Lives” manages the neat but not particularly impressive trick of being better than I thought it was going to be, but not as good as it should’ve been.