Tag Archives: Vertigo

What the Hell Did I Just Read? Enigma: Part I by Emily Scott

Let me just get this out of the way to start – Peter Milligan’s Enigma is an aptly named comic. I know I will be tempted as this article goes on to make a lot of mystery-based puns, but maybe if I just say that right from the beginning, I can save myself some undeserved pats on the back and you lovely readers some groans. Dean, proprietor of this fine blog, who was kind enough to let me come back to talk about this brilliant and unique piece of work, kept asking what I thought of Enigma as I was reading it, and I kept responding, “It’s weird.” He wasn’t sure if that was good or bad, and at the time I couldn’t have said, no more than I mean it as praise or criticism when I tell you now that all I could do when I finished was stare at nothing in particular and mumble, “The hell did I just read?”

Before someone wants to throw the Internet equivalent of rotten vegetables at me, I will reuse two words from the previous paragraph: brilliant and unique. This comic is a staggeringly original and daring work of art, and I’ve honestly never read anything like it, but it is challenging and not always pleasant to read, and the pieces of the puzzle don’t all quite fit together till the end. Even then, it still takes some mental gymnastics to make sure you’ve put them all together, and even after multiple reads, you can never quite be sure. It defies easy categorization or summation. I could list all the things that happen in this comic, but it would be like saying Picasso painted a lot of pictures of people; it would be an accurate, but by no means adequate, way to get at the heart of the work.

Incidentally, painting superheroes in Picasso’s style must be a big thing because a Picasso Google Images search is chock full of them. This one’s for you, Dean.
Incidentally, painting superheroes in Picasso’s style must be a big thing because a Picasso Google Images search is chock full of them. This one’s for you, Dean.

In emphasizing just how out there and occasionally disturbing this comic is, I by no means want to detract from it truly being a masterpiece, but I feel like it’s important to establish right away that is no ordinary fare, even for a comic. I say even for a comic because, well, let’s face it: weird things happen in comics. We take a lot of them for granted because they have had ubiquity our whole lives, but come on, a guy who has the powers of a spider and a man-beast with metal claws who can’t die are a little surreal. And yet there are reasons why Spider-Man and Wolverine are on lunchboxes around the world and I had never even heard of Enigma till Dean asked me to read it for this blog.

Enigma will never be mainstream, and that might be the highest compliment I could pay it. (I may be refraining from patting myself on the back for mystery-related puns, but you guys who’ve like this comic for a long time go ahead and give yourselves one now. You know you like feeling smug about liking stuff other people don’t like. I do too. We all do.) This is not a comic for kids, and not just because it contains “adult” content. So much happens in its eight issues, not just in terms of plot, but in issues addressed, themes like identity and sexuality explored, and mindfuckery conducted that I’m starting to wonder if I’m not stalling as I write this because it’s hard to know where to even start.

Already you have to be wondering where this could possibly be going. I was worried it would be like the Phantom of the Opera...yeah, it’s not like the Phantom of the Opera.
Already you have to be wondering where this could possibly be going. I was worried it would be like the Phantom of the Opera…yeah, it’s not like the Phantom of the Opera.

Enigma opens on a farm in Arizona, the sort of place, we are told by a narrator whose identity only becomes more mysterious as the story progresses, “where you’d have sexual relations with your parents and end up shooting someone.” We are told something very bad happened on this farm 25 years and then are immediately taken to the present day and introduced to Michael Smith, the most boring man in the world. (Once again fiction teaches us that if you want something supernatural or fantastical to happen to you, the best thing you can do is be as ordinary as possible.)

Michael is the sort of guy who has to have a certain number of bath towels and only has sex with his girlfriend on the same day every week. These are our first clues exciting things will happen to him. He goes to work, which on this day is fixing the phone of a famous actor. The actor says he bets Michael wishes he were him, which is our first clue something terrible will happen to the actor.

Seriously, who the hell says that? Of course, the narrator is not being much kinder to our protagonist. What’s the point of YOU, buddy?
Seriously, who the hell says that? Of course, the narrator is not being much kinder to our protagonist. What’s the point of YOU, buddy?

Next we spend a bit of time with our Phantom of the Opera and are given a glimpse into his mind in ways that make absolutely no sense on a first read. Seriously, it does not matter how observant or analytical you are, much of this material defies even speculation until you know everything that’s going on, which is fine because this comic is like a Lay’s potato chip: I challenge anyone to be satisfied with just one reading. Part of what makes a second or a third read so enticing is that there are so many “a-ha!” moments, where the lines you either skimmed or puzzled over (and whichever you did will tell you a lot about yourself as a reader) finally fit neatly into place. This applies to pretty much everything you see involving the character Enigma until several issues in.

Also, someone is eating people’s brains. Unlike so much else in this comic, that’s fairly straightforward. Michael finds himself drawn to the scene of the latest brain consumption for reasons he can’t explain, though it doesn’t seem like anyone would be interested even if he could articulate them. His girlfriend may not care why he feels linked to the brain eater or the strange masked man, but she does care that it’s Tuesday, and the two engage in their usual weekly amorous activities in an unusual place.

I liked it better when I could tell myself guys just thought about baseball during sex.
I liked it better when I could tell myself guys just thought about baseball during sex.

Already it is obvious that one of the prominent themes in this comic is Michael trying to suss out his own identity. When we hear about someone committing a gruesome act, it might be natural for any of us to wonder if we are capable of such things ourselves, but someone whose sense of self is as shapeless as Michael’s is that much more more susceptible to contemplating what monsters might lurk inside. His search for his true nature is something I will by needs discuss at greater length in the second part of this article, but it’s worth noting now how much it’s a driving force in Michael’s actions and how he only seems to feel anything when in pursuit of the mystery of the brain eater and the masked man. He is compelled to seek out the truth and yet, as we will discover later, unprepared to face it when confronted by it. (None of us can identify with that, right?)

His curiosity causes him to follow a floating lizard (just go with it) to another crime scene, where the Head, also known as the thing nomming on everyone’s brains, has just supped on another victim and is contemplating dessert when the Enigma makes an appearance. Michael gives chase, feeling less like himself and more alive than ever before. So of course he promptly gets his brain slurped out.

In case I haven't used enough synonyms for weird yet in describing this comic, perhaps it will serve as a helpful visual aid when I tell you that this is a fairly typical looking couple of panels.
In case I haven’t used enough synonyms for weird yet in describing this comic, perhaps it will serve as a helpful visual aid when I tell you that this is a fairly typical looking couple of panels.

This might be as good a time as any to bring up Duncan Fegredo’s art and Sherilyn Van Valkenburgh’s colors, something I normally wouldn’t discuss at length, not because they’re unimportant but because I have not taken enough art history or art appreciation classes to feel like I have any idea what I’m talking about. The images in Enigma work in such pitch perfect synergy with the words, though, that I can’t imagine one without the other.

In lesser artistic hands, I honestly don’t know if this comic would have worked half as well, no matter how amazing the script. There are a lot of ways to draw someone’s brains being sucked out, you know? Not all of them would have permanently seared themselves onto my retinas the way the above page and many others did. Fegredo’s art allows Milligan’s script to achieve maximum effectiveness.

Then he took them to a midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Then he took them to a midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

What that often means is art that is in turns disturbing, nauseating, confusing, and beautiful, sometimes all of those things simultaneously. Just as the story is told in an off kilter and intentionally puzzling manner, the world as shown by Fegredo can be disorienting, and I found myself having to stare for a bit at some pages to figure out just exactly what it what it was I was looking at. As appropriate as that is, it also serves the dual purpose of making you pay careful attention to a work that deserves it.

The colors add another note to the harmony that is Enigma, the muted palette grounding the world in which it takes place and serving as a basis on which to contrast the surreal happenings and images. You will find no bright primary colors that comic books typically traffic in, which is further highlighted when we are introduced to the comic-within-the-comic Enigma, from which Michael recognizes the strange creatures who have been appearing. (Yes, there is a whole other meta layer to this. I told you there’s a lot going on. It’s like a clown car of concepts – no matter how much you unpack, there is always more.) The colors by no means render it dark or bleak looking, though, instead intensifying what is already intense imagery.

If the person who drew this has not done copious amounts of hallucinogens, I'll just eat my hat.
If the person who drew this has not done copious amounts of hallucinogens, I’ll just eat my hat.

While it might seem like I am harping on about how much happens in a scant eight issues, I promise if anything I’m underselling it. Look no further than the impressive rogues gallery Milligan creates, which is more thought provoking and memorable than those some super heroes accumulate over decades. In addition to the Head, we are introduced to the Truth, the gentleman in the corset above, formerly the actor with the world’s most inflated self-image. Oh, the irony. (I told you something bad was going to happen to him.) You can probably infer from his name what he does.

While it’s all deftly handled, as expected, I don’t know that the Truth requires much deep analysis. No matter how originally done, the idea that people do not care to hear the honest truth about themselves, even to the point that it is fatal, is nothing new to us. (My favorite example is Buffy’s musical episode Once More With Feeling. What’s yours?) Michael, however, perhaps not particularly pop culture savvy, remains determined to seek out the truth, both with a lower and upper case T, and discovers that no matter what else he might be, he is as human as the rest of us.

What did he think was going to happen if he went in there? That he would learn the truth about the Colonel's secret recipe or where Jimmy Hoffa's body is buried? Come on, man.
What did he think was going to happen if he went in there? That he would learn the truth about the Colonel’s secret recipe or where Jimmy Hoffa’s body is buried? Come on, man.

We are also introduced to my favorite, The Interior League, an idea that sounds ludicrous, almost laughable, at first but grows more insidious the more you think about it. Basically, they break into houses and rearrange the furniture in such a way that a member of the household goes insane and kills everyone. (Someone who is really into feng shui is nodding solemnly right now.) Home is an increasingly important concept in Enigma, and there are few things more profoundly distressing than the idea that someone would violate such a sacred space as your own home, not necessarily destroy it, just fundamentally alter it, make it not yours anymore.

Rounding out the rogues gallery is Envelope Girl, a character who does not grow any less ludicrous the more you contemplate her but is an awesome concept nonetheless. In the simplest terms possible, she mails people somewhere else. They approach her, are enveloped by her (*wink*) and end up in a box in a completely different location from where they started.

In slightly snootier terms, I believe Envelope Girl illustrates some of the maternal abandonment issues that will later be addressed in ways that go even more off the rail that a lady who mails people from her abdomen. (I keep telling you, so much to unravel. So very much.) We learn that Michael was Punky Brewstered by his mother, and much like he faithfully waited on a curb for her for days, people give themselves over completely to Envelope Girl, entrusting their fate to her completely through a sort of reverse birth, back into the womb act.

Do you think Envelope Girl gets mad if people ask her to send their regular mail, like their gas bill or grandkid's birthday card?
Do you think Envelope Girl gets mad if people ask her to send their regular mail, like their gas bill or grandkid’s birthday card?

So what is this all adding up to? So far we have a lot of dead guys, some lizards, and a protagonist who only feels alive now that he is seeking the comic book characters sprung to life all around him, who he may or may not be summoning forth with his mind. What’s a guy to do but seek out Titus Bird, writer of said comic-within-the-comic, rescue him from his new throng of unwanted followers, decide to move in with him while you investigate his creations, and deck him in the face when he makes a pass at you?

Say, remember how in very recent memory, you could punch a guy for having the audacity to find you attractive and HE was the one who had to apologize to YOU?
Say, remember how in very recent memory, you could punch a guy for having the audacity to find you attractive and HE was the one who had to apologize to YOU?

If this comic is a puzzle, Michael’s questioning of his sexuality is, I promise, the last edge piece we need to identify before we can begin putting them together in any discernible fashion. This was the last place I expected this comic to go when I started it, but its ability not just to surprise but to pull so many disparate elements into a sort of highbrow Exquisite Corpse is one of its greatest strengths. (For those who don’t know, Exquisite Corpse is a drawing game, not a necrophilia thing. It is possible thinking too long on this comic has made me feel that disclaimer is necessary.)

…and then what?

 

And then what? Come back next week to find out!
And then what? Come back next week to find out!

Smile Because It Happened – Death: The High Cost of Living by Emily Scott

Every once in a while I read or watch something so mind-boggingly good, so paradigm changing, that all I can do is get pissed off. While that might seem like an odd reaction to discovering a great piece of art, I believe those who, like me, love nothing more than tumbling down the pop culture rabbit hole and losing yourself to someone else’s world, will understand. The best works, the ones we revisit over and over, feel like they were made just for us, and it’s hard not to rue all the time lost we could have spent loving them with our whole hearts, to wonder how someone, anyone could not have put something so obviously meant to be enjoyed by us in our hands any earlier.

At the top of this list for me is Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. It’s probably for the best that no one gave it to me as a teenager because it may have actually blown a crater into my mind, but when I did finally lay eyes on it, I became so enraptured and thought it so perfectly suited to my tastes that I was baffled it hadn’t found its way to me sooner. I mean, it’s not like I didn’t know weird gothy kids who liked to read. What I do know is that Sandman would have been so hugely influential on me at such a formative age, both as an aspiring writer and a fervent reader, that it might have changed the whole direction my pop culture path took. Hell, I might have even started reading other comics.

Scandalized
I call the last one Unbeloafable.

Yes, that’s right, people reading a comic book blog, I was not what you would call a comic book fan. I was too busy reading Neitzchse and Camus and thinking it made me very smart and cultured (news flash, 15-year-old me: it mostly made you kind of a douche). It never would have occurred to me that I could have found anything as profound as the philosophy I was pretending to understand in a comic. I just wish now that someone would have told me that not only could I do that very thing, but I could also read about angsty cosmic entities while doing it. (The first person to make a joke in the comments about Neitzchse’s Superman gets a prize.)

By the time the proprietor of this blog, Mr. Dean Compton, gifted me the first volume of Sandman (for which I will always be grateful), rightfully insisting that my loving it was a foregone conclusion, I had grown out of much of my literary snobbery. Four years of assigned reading in college had taken much of the appeal and romance out of reading things because they were “important,” and I had spent the following several years discovering all the other places beauty and wisdom could be found on a steady regimen of the best fantasy literature and science fiction had to offer. Now I much prefer my profundity to be accompanied by wizards or spaceship battles and always get a little disappointed when a book is lacking them.

I am disappointed in the Internet that I could not quickly find a picture of wizards on a spaceship.
I am disappointed in the Internet that I could not quickly find a picture of wizards on a spaceship.

That is not to say, though, that I think my tastes have gotten more lowbrow. My definition of what constitutes great literature has merely expanded. The cream of the comics crop could stand up to any work of literature in any genre, and I can’t imagine that many who encounter Sandman would argue it doesn’t deserve its place in that conversation. It’s heartbreaking and funny, epic and intimate, weighty and whimsical, a story about stories, and its popularity, critical acclaim, and endurance are all more than justified.

No small part of that popularity and longevity is the character Death, sister of Dream, the titular Sandman. Her actual part in the series may be small, as Gaiman wanted to parcel out her appearances specifically because readers liked her so much, but she more than makes up for lack of panels by being every different kind of awesome when she does show up.

I love how the contrast of Death's perkiness with Dream's sadsackness makes Dream's word bubbles seem to drip with that much more ennui. I also love that I am not the only one who loves the word 'fantabulous.'
I love how the contrast of Death’s perkiness with Dream’s sadsackness makes Dream’s word bubbles seem to drip with that much more ennui. I also love that I am not the only one who loves the word ‘fantabulous.’

Just as I have encountered almost no one who has read Sandman and not liked it, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t enjoy Death. Few characters in any work seem to be as universally loved. (A short list of other fictional characters no one hates that Dean and I came up with because you know you were curious: Indiana Jones, Wolverine, Robocop, the Ghostbusters, Tyrion Lannister, Ashley J. Williams, the Dude, and David Bowie. Yes, David Bowie counts.) Her popularity was something even I was aware of as early as the mid-90s, when I barely knew who Neil Gaiman was, and I assumed it had a lot to do with the fact that all most of her fans would have to do to cosplay her is choose from any of the 1,000 black tank tops they already owned, put on slightly less make up than usual, and rock their favorite ankh necklace with pride. (In the interest of full disclosure, my favorite ankh necklace was a large silver number with a yin yang symbol in the middle that I wore to church to get a rise out of people.)

Even after I read Sandman and discovered for myself what the fuss was about, it still didn’t necessarily make it obvious why Gaiman had chosen to portray Death as an enthusiastic, compassionate, attractive young woman. All the love I and countless others have for her might be evidence enough that Gaiman made a good decision, but I think there is more to it than idea that he made her likable so that we would like her or even that she works so well because her Not-So-Grim Reaper stands in such stark contrast to so many other portrayals of Death. She, just like Dream and the rest of their siblings of the Endless, are meant to be the embodiments of their respective concepts, and there is no denying that we, as a species, are a little obsessed with death, drawn in and attracted to its mystery, anxious to flirt with it, unable to forgot about it even if it’s been a while since we’ve seen it. What more fitting way to portray that than a fun and charming pretty girl? (It’s also established that the forms of the Endless are subjective, so it’s also possible Death’s appearance is something of a commentary on her intended audience, just as I assume the artists drew Dream to look like an even floppier-haired Neil Gaiman.)

Of course, it could just be coincidence, as Dream also appears to herald the coming of Sad Keanu.
Of course, it could just be coincidence, as Dream also appears to herald the coming of Sad Keanu.

Given the character’s likability, it’s unsurprising Death received her own miniseries, Death: The High Cost of Living, in 1993, about midway through Sandman’s original run. The story revolves around a day that Death spends as a mortal, which she must do once a century to better understand the lives she must take away. Just as in Sandman, though, we don’t consistently see a great deal of Death, or at least not as much as I might have expected for a series that is purportedly about her.

We open instead with a haggish pile of an elderly woman named Mad Hettie and a few Cockney street punks, the sort of characters I will assume appear in everything Gaiman writes till I read otherwise. The woman has tasked the youths with finding her a dove, but when they are no longer satisfied with her five quid compensation and attempt to rob her, Hettie proves herself to be more than you’d expect. The street toughs, exactly as you’d expect, prove not to be so tough, and leave her to perform some blood magic, also something you’d expect from the moment you knew that a lady named Mad Hettie wanted a particular kind of bird.

If it weren't for Monty Python, I might never have noticed how often, true or not, people get accused of witchcraft in popular cultural. I will now give you a moment to hear the entire "she turned me into a newt" scene in your head…….all right, we good?
If it weren’t for Monty Python, I might never have noticed how often, true or not, people get accused of witchcraft in popular cultural. I will now give you a moment to hear the entire “she turned me into a newt” scene in your head…….all right, we good?

We next meet Sexton Furnival (who seems to have a silly name so he can repeatedly and resignedly acknowledge he has a silly name), a sixteen-year-old who, more so than Death, functions as the story’s true protagonist. As a protagonist he suffers from the same problem that all teenagers do, real or fictional, in so much as he is not particularly pleasant to be around. While I’m sure I would have identified more with him had I read this comic as a teenager, it’s not a given, as my hatred of teenagers was never so intense as when I was one.

Reading it now, more than a decade removed from my adolescence, I just cringe as I remember my own mopey, self-important musings (and then cringe a little more when I think about how I’ll probably do the same about the things I say now when I’m 40). My new standard for how well a teenage character has been portrayed is how retroactively embarrassed they make me for my own teenage self, and by that measure, Sexton is pretty damn accurate.

With the ringer tee, that haircut, the Nirvana poster, the complaining about his mother's wishy washy hippiedom, and his writing a suicide note à la Doogie Howser diary, the only way this could be more 90s is if the next panel contained Will Smith showing Alanis Morisette how to do the running man.
With the ringer tee, that haircut, the Nirvana poster, the complaining about his mother’s wishy washy hippiedom, and his writing a suicide note à la Doogie Howser diary, the only way this could be more 90s is if the next panel contained Will Smith showing Alanis Morisette how to do the running man.

Sexton is suicidal because…just life, you know, man? I’m being glib, but he states he doesn’t have any particular reason for wanting to die beyond not having any particular reason to want to live, which is a worthwhile distinction to make. As the story progresses, Sexton encounters more than one person who has more reason (i.e. an actual reason) not to go on but still does, and it serves to throw his own more nebulous woes into stark relief. While that might not be the most exciting choice narratively, I appreciate that Gaiman is addressing the fact that depression often needs no specific catalyst and that at an age where you are trying to figure out what your life is going to be all about, it can often feel like there is no point to any of it. You’re old enough to start to recognize that adults are enormous hypocrites and that being one might not be something to look forward to after all, but you’re too young to do anything about it except resign yourself to becoming one.

While Sexton can be insufferable, he is nonetheless relatable. I may want to smack him when, for example, he tells the mother of the wheelchair-bound neighbor boy that that he can TOTALLY understand how her son gets really bored, but I still remember a time when I was the one deserving that smack. We have all deserved that smack. We have all inflated our problems or lack thereof, taken our health or our youth or the gift that is life for granted. Had Gaiman given Sexton a more concrete or tragic source for his suicidal thoughts, it would only remove some of that universality and muddy the waters by putting an emphasis on life being worthwhile in spite of its ugliness rather than it being worthwhile because of all its beauty, no matter how small.

Sexton finds himself at a garbage dump and manages to end up trapped underneath a refrigerator, leading to, what we would call in the parlance of our time, a meet cute with the original Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Death rescues him from the refrigerator and offers to clean him up, all the way remaining indomitably cheerful in the face of Sexton’s relentless snideness. We learn that she is spending the day in the guise of Didi, a teenage girl whose family was recently killed. Sexton learns that his savior is the manifestation of Death living a once-in-a-century day as a mortal and responds how anyone not being on the right side of the fourth wall might.

Death’s face in the last panel is what I will now picture every time I shrug for the rest of my life.
Death’s face in the last panel is what I will now picture every time I shrug for the rest of my life.

After storming out of her apartment, Sexton gets taken hostage by Mad Hettie, who extracts a promise from Death/Didi to find her heart, which the 250-year-old woman has apparently hidden and forgotten where. Now on a mission to locate the missing heart AND get the most out of her short time in the flesh, Didi embarks with Sexton on an adventure of free cab rides and hot dogs on what would be a pretty ideal New York City day if it weren’t for his refusal to enjoy anything and her being the temporary physical embodiment of a cosmic entity with a few hours left to live.

The crazy kids end up at the show of a family friend of Sexton’s, where he continues to mope about with the sort of fervor only the young have the energy to muster. He meets a young girl who tells him what is basically the SADDEST STORY EVER, obviously about herself, a fact that, along with the point, completely passes Saxton by.

Cool story, bro.
Cool story, bro.

Our dichotomous duo soon find themselves taken prisoner by a man known as the Eremite. Ultimate-source-of-all-human-knowledge Wikipedia tells me the Eremite is suspected to be Mister E, bent on revenge on Death following the events of another amazing series of Gaiman’s, Books of Magic (which I’m sure we’ll take a look at here at The Unspoken Decade at a future date because what’s life without something to look forward to?). While not knowing the Eremite’s identity doesn’t especially detract from the story, knowing it does help him from feeling like just a random crazy dude around to wreak havoc.

I have been going through the main points of the plot pretty thoroughly so far, but the more I talk about them, the more obvious it is that they are inconsequential. Not to say that the story is bad or uninteresting, but the real meat of these books can be found in the quiet conversations rather than in the major narrative conflicts, which are resolved almost by afterthought. Didi and Sexton are rescued by Mad Hettie and Didi’s awesome neighbor, the heart’s recovered, and Death’s ankh, stolen by the Eremite, is simply replaced with a cheap version from a street vendor.

In any story where the main antagonist is thwarted by a deli owner, you know he was never much of a threat to begin with.
In any story where the main antagonist is thwarted by a deli owner, you know he was never much of a threat to begin with.

This is ultimately a story about Sexton and Didi, about the sort of unforgettable day you only seem to have when you’re young, where everything and nothing seem possible at once, where a random encounter with a sympathetic stranger can make all the difference between delight and despair. The idea that you have to take time to enjoy the small things or appreciate life in all its complexity is nothing new, but the many intimate and poignant moments mean that, whatever their sum, the individual parts make the story.

We like spending time with Death, whether she is thwarting a mystic plot or merely laying some hard truths on a misguided kid, and delight in her presence the same way she delights in something as simple as eating a bagel. (I totally get the bagel delight. If I only got to live one day every century, finding a fresh bagel would be at the top of my To Do list too.) No matter how serious the subject matter, High Cost of Living never takes itself too seriously, giving it a decidedly more easygoing feel than much of Sandman.

ProfoundThe drawback to this breezier tone was that the overall work felt a little frothy, a little insubstantial on first read. Once I had given it time to percolate in my brain, I realized I was comparing it to Sandman, which just isn’t fair. Not that one is good and the other is bad, but this book deals with its weightier topics on an intimate, micro scale rather than the epic, multidimensional cosmic clusterfuck that is Sandman. Had I read this when it came out, I probably would have just mentally inserted it into the larger Sandman tale, where it would have fit perfectly, not just because it’s the same author with a shared character but because Sandman was a book that told so many different stories in so many different ways. Reading it  now, the best thing to do for me and the comic seemed to be to judge it as a standalone, both because it could easily make its case as a great and poignant piece of art without Sandman even existing and because it makes it feel less methadone after a Sandman binge.

My other initial quibble was that we don’t really gain much new insight into Death, since her role in the narrative is mostly as a vehicle for Saxton’s character arc, but I quickly came to the conclusion that I was dumb for thinking anything else would happen. It’s fitting that we don’t learn a great deal of significance about Death because Death as a character is meant to be the embodiment of death itself, and death with a small ‘d’ will always be a mystery till Death with a capital ‘D’ comes for us all. I am more than happy to enjoy the little things, a fresh bagel here, a good comic there, till that happens.

The Death of Me