This summer we’ve resurrected one of our favorite features, I ♥ Comics, and each Wednesday through Labor Day comics bloggers and creators will discuss the things they love about the medium.
By David Welsh
Death in comics is a complex and varied experience. Lots of things can happen to characters who shuffle off their mortal coils. Sure, superheroes and villains seem to go into some kind of holding pen until they can return in an appropriately dramatic fashion. They get engaged, score with the emotionally disturbed mutant who killed them in the first place, or just bide their time until they die again.
But the revolving door isn’t the only fate for comics’ deceased. There’s a whole healthy sub-genre about people who deal with the ambivalent dead, and I’ve developed what might be called a morbid fondness for it.
So let’s say you’ve bought the farm. You probably didn’t have much say in the matter. You’re anxious, so you’ve decided to linger a bit before you go on to see what’s next. What will it take to give you that extra nudge into the beyond? In many cases, it takes a quirky, attractive group of young people to give you that boost up the celestial ladder.
The process can be gentle, as in Meca Tanaka’s Omukae Desu from DC’s CMX line. The afterlife bureaucracy tries its best to keep wayward spirits moving in the right direction, but even they need to outsource at times, which is where the comely young people come in. Student Madoka Tsutsumi can not only see dead people, he can lend them his body to allow them to clear up unfinished business in the land of the living. Said loose ends range from the sweetly sentimental to the profoundly goofy, and Madoka’s supervision is carried out by a guy in a bunny suit, a cute dead girl, and an organization with an excessive fondness for theme days. It’s charming stuff, a workplace comedy about closure and compassion.
But what if you’ve passed on and hung around a little too long? In the case of Tite Kubo’s Bleach, published by Viz, you become a malevolent, destructive creature called a Hollow who preys upon the living. Well, you do that until an afterlife immigration officer called a Soul Reaper comes along to forcibly remind you that your visa has expired. Ichigo Kurosaki isn’t a Soul Reaper, per se, but he sees dead people, and he jumps into the fray when an actual Soul Reaper finds herself in over her head. An appealing combination of Peter Parker and Johnny Storm with a mystical sword large enough to make Illyana Rasputin wonder what he’s compensating for, Ichigo and his equally endearing friends kick undead ass. The lesson here is not to dawdle on your path toward the light, as attractive young people are sometimes magically armed and extremely dangerous.
Lest you think the whole balance between life and death rests on the shoulders of high-school students, Dark Horse steps into the break to assure us all that twenty-somethings are perfectly capable of smoothing the transition as well. The cast of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, written by Eiji Otsuka and drawn by Housui Yamazaki, are students at a Buddhist university who are coming to grips with the fact that their educations have left them essentially unemployable. They adopt an entrepreneurial approach, deciding to help restless souls trapped in misplaced corpses find their appropriate final resting places. It’s not always easy to secure payment from a corpse, but it beats temp work or the night shift down at the 7-Eleven. Otsuka plays with tone and story structure, mixing stand-alone chapters with volume-long arcs, and switching between character-driven narrative and solid horror-mystery pieces. The cast is the real selling point here, using their varied skills and charmingly cynical outlook to do right by the dead bodies they stumble across.
Yamazaki is kind of a go-to provider of dealing-with-the-dead stories. He’s also written and drawn the three-volume series Mail. Is your new apartment, pre-owned vehicle or public restroom already in use by an angry ghost? Are you not quite ready to join them in their tormented afterlife? Private detective Reiji Akiba is here to help, armed with a magical gun and a geeky, diffident manner that may or may not put your troubled mind at ease. These stand-alone thrillers are extremely pleasant, occasionally chilling diversions, with Akiba serving as an amiable host. As a bonus, he’s due to pay a visit to the Kurosagi gang in an upcoming installment, for those readers who just don’t think three paperbacks were enough.
My fondness for this category of comics has expanded to include the growing throng of folks who are more accurately described as generalists. Sure, they run afoul of the occasional ghost, but they’re equal-opportunity intermediaries between the real and the metaphysical.
- Dokebi Bride by Marley (Netcomics): The granddaughter of a traditional shaman is forced to leave her rural village for the big city, bringing a big bag of supernatural angst along with her. Can her rapport with spirits of varying temperaments help her adjust to her new setting and twitchy step-family, or will it push her over the edge completely?
- Mushishi by Yuki Urushibara (Del Rey): Gorgeous to look at, this book is an intriguing blend of horror, spirituality and (oddly enough) environmentalism. Wandering the countryside in his weirdly anachronistic trench coat, Ginko helps humans find a balance and live in relative peace with the ancient, supernatural creatures of the title. His efforts aren’t always successful, which only adds to the intrigue.
- Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things by Ted Naifeh (Oni): Being a manga fan, I read a lot of comics about outgoing, optimistic young people, and it’s always nice to run into one of their surly, contrarian peers. Courtney has been dragged to an oppressively spooky mansion by her status-conscious, materialistic parents, forcing her into close contact with a variety of goblins and ghoulies. They have no idea who they’re dealing with.
Given my druthers, I think I’d probably opt for a ride to the afterlife on the back of a scooter being driven by a guy in a bunny suit. It seems like something that would distract me from the gravity of the situation. (Clearly I’m not very spiritually inclined.)
But no matter what the afterlife holds, I’m delighted that there are so many comics of this type to divert me until I find out for sure.