animefringe october 2003 / reviews

Death: At Death’s Door
Format: left-right American manga, 192 pages
Production: Vertigo / Jill Thompson
Comments: Who knew Death could be so cute?
Animefringe Reviews:
Death: At Death’s Door

There’s been a lot written in the past several months about the rise of so-called “American manga” – that is, graphic novels in the Japanese style created by American artists and writers. Some are wholly against the idea, arguing that if it’s not authentically Japanese, it must somehow be inferior. Others, like me, simply look for quality, regardless of its origin.

Death: At Death’s Door brings the quality, in spades. It’s written and drawn by Jill Thompson, creator of the Scary Godmother comic book, and illustrator of Mick Foley’s second children’s story, Halloween Hijinx. As a fan of Western comic art, I was already familiar with her work, and had high hopes going in. I wasn’t disappointed.

The title character, Death, is one of the Endless, a group of supernatural siblings from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series. Far from the robed-skeleton archetype, our Death is a perky Goth girl with a healthy outlook on her job, and wisdom beyond her youthful appearance.

At Death’s Door is essentially a sideplot to Season of Mists, one of the Sandman books, although it’s hardly necessary to read that in order to enjoy this story. Morpheus, Death’s brother and the King of Dreams, has gone to Hell to rescue an old love he had banished to eternal torment. While there, Lucifer quits, kicks everyone out and gives Morpheus the key.

With nowhere else to go, all of Hell’s captives come to crash in Death’s apartment, which is as big an inconvenience as you’d imagine. You see, she’s the last being any of them saw before being cast into the lake of fire, so naturally, they turn to her for help. It’s up to Death to keep them all entertained while she and her siblings Despair and the absurdly insane Delirium try to find a solution to their problem.

Thompson has done an excellent job at taking an established cast of characters, tossing them into the “manga-fier”, and creating a witty, energetic book that stands on its own. The character designs are wonderful; I was especially drawn to her rendering of Delirium, a cute little lunatic of an eight-year-old girl. The writing is fast-paced and witty, although I was a bit disappointed with the ending, a literal “deus ex machina.” Also, I’m a little confused by the “Volume 1” mark on the spine: I couldn’t find anything that indicated this was to be a series, and the story seemed self-contained.

The bonus materials are also of note. There are several pages of Thompson’s early character designs, as well as a brief history of the Sandman series in general and Death in particular. I’d steer clear of the synopses of the original graphic novels, though, if you haven’t read them, as some minor spoilers lurk.

Death: At Death’s Door feels like an authentic manga, from the size of the volume to the lettering style. I highly recommend it for fans of the original series, or anyone who likes a good giggle. After all, what could be better than a perky Grim Reaper?