"Girls can be anything they want to be! Even the anthropomorphic personifications of aspects of the universe!"

Death: At Death's Door is an American Japanese-style comic by Jill Thompson (of Li'l Endless fame) following the adventures of Neil Gaiman's proto-perky goth, Death.

The story is set in parallel to the Season of Mists' storyline in Gaiman's The Sandman. Through a series of unfortunate events, Lord Morpheus has found himself in possession of the key to the main gate of Hell following the retirement of that smooth devil, Lucifer Morningstar. Hell's denizens have been released to the four winds, demons and damned mortals alike. With a whole bunch of dead mortals suddenly without their afterlife of choice (that's how it works in the Sandman universe), Death finds herself in quite a kerfluffle: as was shown in Chapter 4 of Season of Mists, the dead of Hell are coming back.

Apparently while there are some instances of the dead returning to their bodies and walking around again, a vast majority of the dead sought out Death due to some primal urge telling them that she would know what to do. Needless to say, she doesn't. Joining forces with her younger sisters, Despair and Delirium, Death tries to make the best of a bad situation, hunting down rogue dead in the world of the living, and keeping the rest of the dead occupied with a huge party in her apartment.

The story has a very Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead feel to it. Bits and pieces of Gaiman's original tragic storyline are woven into this book, and indeed a certain amount of the book's charm comes from the sheer novelty of seeing The Sandman reinterpreted in an Americo-Japanese style. In the sequences actually appearing in Season of Mists, Gaiman's prose is left intact, in juxtaposition to the traditional manga-style chaos that apparently lies broiling just outside of what Gaiman showed us.

And what utter chaos it is. Thompson runs Death through traditional genres of Japanese comics like they were going out of style. Magical Girl, Sports, and High-Fantasy themes seem to come almost out of nowhere. This keeps the pace of the book moving at a steady clip, though sometimes perhaps rushing just a bit too much. Die-hard fans of Gaiman's carefully laid-out and heavily foreshadowed writing style may not enjoy the "damn the plot holes, full speed ahead" attitude that Thompson is channelling from modern Japanese humor comics.

What is perhaps the most unsatisfying thing about the book is that, of course, since Death did not actually cause her problem, she is not the one to solve it, either. Morpheus eventually gives the key to Hell to a new owner, Hell re-opens, and all the demons and damned -poof- away. Granted, Thompson represents all the major plot points from Season of Mists that show the reader how this comes to happen, but the fact that our title character essentially is just caught up in events completely outside of her control makes the book ring a little hollow (though it does provide yet another Rosencrantz and Guildenstern reference).

That said, we're seeing a fairly faithful representation of Japanese comic art technique here. Characters and objects shift in level of detail depending on their relationship to the reader and the other things in the frame (and I would note that Morpheus is almost always drawn with a fair amount of detail, which distances him from the reader). Individual panels tend to be laid out in whatever fashion best fits the scene, rather than conforming to any traditional grid pattern. And, of course, the whole "Big eyes, small mouth" thing.

If you enjoy Gaiman's Death character, or just like Japanese-style comics, Death: At Death's Door is worth a look... but you don't have to take my word for it (doo doot doot).

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