Death is out of a job! This opening provides the frame for Ram V’s graphic novel The Many Deaths of Laila Starr. For those interested in fantasy, the role of Death has provided a rich topic for movies and novels ranging from chess games in The Seventh Seal to the gothic rendition of Death in Neal Gaiman’s The Sandman. In this variant, Death is the Hindu goddess Kali and she finds herself suddenly unemployed when the higher ups learn that a mortal will soon discover the key to everlasting life.
Ram V’s mythical and everyday story is a philosophical adventure infused with touches of graceful humor. Death inhabits the body of a deceased student Laila Starr and is given the gift of mortal life. She sets off an adventure to reclaim her office, but the journey rapidly evolves into a meditation on the meaning of life. Told over five issues, the story jumps ahead in time (no spoilers here) and presents a different snapshot of life in its beauty and ugliness. The two lead protagonists are Death who converses with gods and spirits and the mortal Darius who grapples with life and will somehow transcend death. The turning points naturally come in the moments when the two characters meet.
The Many Deaths of Laila Starr has been rated one of this year’s best graphic novels. These ratings reflect both Ram V’s unique touch with rendering the fantastic in a very relatable form and his eloquent pacing and language. There are many panels throughout the novel that are eminently quotable and worthy of reflection. Comic readers won’t be surprised by such powerful framing–Ram V has attracted considerable attention for his most recent run on Swamp Thing and a radical new direction in Detective Comics. This particular project illustrates V’s talents as a writer who transcends your typical superhero story. If you enjoy this graphic novel, then you also might enjoy Neil Gaiman’s Death.
Image: Stock publisher image of cover