The behind the scenes story of Death: At Death’s Door is that Vertigo wanted Neil Gaiman to do a Sandman story in a manga style; he wasn’t interested, but finally gave his blessing for Jill Thompson to do one on her own. The end result Death: At Death’s Door, isn’t very good.
The art’s great, Thompson does a version of manga art which is very manga while very distinct, the problem lies in the story, which is just no good. The idea was to do a sidestory to Sandman volume 4: Season of Mist, chronicling Death’s adventures when the damned left hell after Lucifer shut it down.
Yet, the story makes little attempt to match the characterization or style of the original, so what we have here is a tie in story that isn’t cannon. (Neil Gaiman has said it isn’t) To make matters worse, Death’s story doesn’t make sense without an extensive recap of Dream’s, so we have repeated re-drawings of scenes from the original Sandman volume, intercut with Death’s.
The Dream parts are too short, and too random, to be any fun, either for someone who’s read the original or experiencing it for the first time, we’re just left with a semi-coherent mess. The original stuff with Death is absolutely pointless. Rather than giving us a tale worth telling, Thompson throws together various elements of that Sandman tale and does an ABC rundown of various manga art effects. It’s clear she’s having fun, but the story doesn’t move anywhere, and the oversaturation of manga visual elements pull the reader out of the story. The book is very cute at times, but that hardly makes up for the general mediocrity.
The trade looks just like a Tokyopop/ Viz type manga, so you might find this thing in the American or manga side of your local comic or bookstore. I have higher hopes for Thompson’s follow up manga, “The Dead Boy Detectives” since it shouldn’t awkwardly tie in to a previous story and stands a chance of having a plot of it’s own. I’ve yet to read it.
Author: Jill Thompson
1 Stand Alone Volume