Monday, July 21, 2003

Death: At Death's Door TPB - A Review

Written by: Jill Thompson
Penciled by: Jill Thompson
Inked by: Jill Thompson
Colored by: N/A
Lettered by: Jill Thompson
Editor: N/A
Publisher: Vertigo Comics

Somewhere in Texas, in a loft apartment, several days before Summer Midterms…


Starman: (tiredly) Hello?

Daron: Greetings, Minion!

Starman: *sighs* Greetings, Dark Overlord…

Daron: What is wrong, Minion #38601? You seem displeased. Surely you are not irritated by the personal attentions of your editor?

Starman: Huh? Oh, no, no, no. Just that… well, I have midterms and term papers due this week, my acting troupe is having more problems with our theater and the upper management at the comic store I work at seem to have forgotten that we are not in the business of selling whatever crap the Japanese have convinced our children is cool this week.

Daron: Ah yes. This emphasis upon all things Japanese is certainly a weighty concerns for all of us.

Starman: No kidding! I mean, take most of this Manga. The plotting is barely coherent at the best of times, the art lacks even the basest understanding of proper human anatomy and intricate characterization is sacrificed for pointless sex and mindless violence.

Daron: Indeed. That is why I have such a book for you to review this week…

Starman: (gasps) Oh no! No way in HELL am I touching X-Men: Phoenix, Part Two!

Daron: Minion…

Starman: I mean, what is holding that costume on anyway? Dental floss? And did they make metal breastplates with strategic dents hammered into them or is she somehow denting the metal with her…

Daron: Minion…

Starman: And the book doesn’t even have anything to do with X-Men! Or Phoenix. Or anything but gratuitous cheesecake poses and tentacle-rape scenes….

Daron: MINION! Cease thy ranting for the moment. I did not wish for you to review THAT book. No. It was my intent that you were to peruse the new book “At Death’s Door”.

Starman: (long pause) The one based on Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman”?

Daron: Yes.

Starman: The one with everything done by Jill Thompson, who has done more to shape the Endless than anyone but Neil Gaiman himself?

Daron: That is correct.

Starman: (longer pause) Okay. I’m not expecting much, but at least it won’t be tentacle softcore…. I hope.


(One trip to the comic store and a 400 word essay on the ethics of modern librarians later)

There are few things I would rather do than read a new book set in the world of Neil Gaiman’s Endless. There are few things I would rather not do than read any Manga comic. It has been my experience that, as stated above, the vast majority of Manga is either mindless violent crap geared towards young boys or mindlessly violent crap with lots of big eyes, small mouths and girls in sailor uniforms geared toward dirty old men of all ages.

I’m sure there are a few Manga comics that this doesn’t describe but I am speaking only of my experience with the genre, general as it is. And I am sure that I am going to get “Endless” letters (ha!) from those of you who do like Manga-driven stories and artwork and that I will likely get slaughtered by some overweight girl in a pleated skirt who will hunt me down, do her Sailor Moon impression and “punish me” for my wickedness.

That said, let me say next… that I LOVED this book!

The plot of “Death’s Door” is a series of lost scenes from the original “Seasons of Mist” story, giving this whole comic the feel of the written equivalent of a director’s cut edition of a movie. Death popped in and out of “Seasons” three times and this story tells us what she was doing between her appearances in the original Gaiman story.

Previous experience with “The Sandman” is unneeded, but does add another level to the story as we get to see certain key moments of “Seasons” acted out in a different art-style. For example, Desire sprouts cat-ears as he/she becomes catty and insulting towards Dream. Speaking of which, I must marvel at Thompson’s ability to alter her usual style (which I love) into something more Mangaesque. Most artists are unable to perform such a trick and Thompson does it perfectly.

And artwork aside, this comic does blend seamlessly with Gaiman’s original vision of the series, with some of the original dry humor that made him famous. Consider for example, Desire’s rattling off a list of people, “who don’t enjoy a good party” after Delirium states that there’s nobody who doesn’t enjoy a good party. This takes the edge off some of the more slapstick humor, such as Delirium’s supersonic hyperactive movements, which may grate on the nerves of more traditional Sandman enthusiasts. There are even moments when the elements of both comics are mixed perfectly, such as a subplot involving a certain dead writer who falls in love with the dumpy and depressed Despair.

The independent comic snob in me is pleased by what he sees in this little volume. “At Death’s Door” is a worthy edition to the Sandman mythos, so all of my fellow indie comic snobs should take a look at this… even if it is a *twitch… twitch* .. Manga.

And for you Manga fans out there, this book is an excellent introduction to the world of Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman”. The book even has an appearance list for the character of Death in the back, as well as a reading list of all “The Sandman” Trade Paperbacks. And, all Gaiman fans should take note, a summary of the stories to be told in the upcoming “Endless Nights” book is also in the back.

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