Death at Death’s Door
by Jill Thompson
DC Comics / Vertigo Comics
BW, 192 pgs, $9.95 US / Higher in Canada
Built on the foundation laid by Neil Gaiman in the Sandman “Seasons of Mist” story arc, Death at Death’s Door reveals what Dream’s three sisters were up to while he was figuring out what to do with the Key to Hell. Dream had gone to Hell to rescue Nada, a former lover, a woman he condemned to Hell himself because she had spurned his love. He expected to have to battle Lucifer for her soul, but when he arrived on the other side of the River Styx, Lucifer was packing his bags and closing the gates. The Morningstar didn’t want to fight. Hell was closed. On his way out, Lucifer gave the Key to Dream.
With Hades shut down, the condemned souls were free to wander. Many of these sought out a familiar face, the last visage they saw before leaving the mortal world. That face was Death, and so hordes of the dead arrive at Death’s door. Talk about unwanted guests.
Luckily for Death, her sisters Despair and Delirium are nearby and ready to lend a hand in rounding up and keeping an eye on the wandering souls. Death doesn’t want the souls wandering off because they’re going to have to go back to where they belong once Dream sorts out his intentions with the Key to Hell. Delirium comes up with an idea; throw a party. Afterall, these souls have been in Hell, so they could certainly use a little fun.
Sounds kind of silly, doesn’t it? It is, in fact, quite silly, but that’s the intention. Jill Thompson has crafted this story in the tradition of shojo manga, also known as girls’ manga. Folks who are unfamiliar with manga might raise an eyebrow at the interior art and some of the techniques used. As a fan of manga, however, let me tell you that Thompson does a fantastic job emulating the manga style, which includes character design, panel layout and even trademark features such as little arrows to draw your attention to a particular moment in a panel, and SD, the so called super deformed figures, which are employed in moments of comedy.
At its core, however, Death at Death’s Door is a Sandman tale, so we still get lots of brooding and thought provoking writing. Thompson splices her story of the girls with flashes to the events of “Seasons of Mist” story arc. By doing so, even someone who hasn’t read Sandman is still able to follow the story. That’s important because Death at Death’s Door also serves as a tease to get new readers interested in the Sandman series. Why else would the back pages of this graphic novel be filled with a brief synopsis of the ten trades?
Not so subtle marketing tactics aside, Death at Death’s Door is a clever way to tell a new story in the Sandman mythos. Sandman the series was a mix of artistic styles, in the same vein that Gaiman’s Sandman stories were a mix of mythologies, folklore and religions. Thompson has simply added a new style to the mix. Manga. This style is a welcome addition to the mythos, and Death at Death’s Door is a worthy addition to the Sandman library. (Chad Boudreau)