Well, we made it to 2022 folks! Here’s hoping for a new year full of health, community, and great indie comics for all!
And this year is starting off with a bang, because one of the best indies I read last year is out this week in trade form, so if you slept on this series when it first came out, now is the time to give it a chance.
So let’s get into it with this week’s read: The Many Deaths of Laila Starr
Here’s the blurb:
Humanity is on the verge of discovering immortality, which means the avatar of Death is out of a job… or is she?
Humanity is on the verge of discovering immortality. As a result, the avatar of Death is cast down to Earth to live a mortal life in Mumbai as twenty-something Laila Starr. Struggling with her newfound mortality, Laila has found a way to be placed in the time and place where the creator of immortality will be born. Will Laila take her chance to stop mankind from permanently altering the cycle of life, or will death really become a thing of the past? A powerful new graphic novel from award-winning writer Ram V (These Savage Shores, Swamp Thing) and Filipe Andrade (Captain Marvel) that explores the fine line between living and dying through the lens of magical realism.
Many life long comic readers like me have gotten used to the perpetual cycle of mainstream comics. The heroes rise and fall, only to rise again and save the day. Small battles may be lost, but true defeat rarely, if ever happens, and when it does the results are usually retconned away by the next author who wants to play with the characters they grew up reading.
If I can take a moment here. This is one of the reasons why I just can’t get into the character of Spider-Man. Spider-Man is one of those characters that seems to imprint on people’s minds like no other. Kids read Spider-Man growing up, and no matter where they started reading, that’s who Spider-Man is and will forever be to them.
A few of those kids grew up and took over the writing duties for Spider-Man, and immediately worked to put everything back the way it was when they were reading the book as children. As a result, whenever Peter Parker has even a hint of progression as a character, it’s only a matter of time before the next author comes along and undoes all of that so that they can have the Spider-Man they loved back.
Spider-Man is far from the only character stuck in this perpetual cycle. Batman certainly deals with this a great deal as well, as do many other popular characters. Even if an author legitimately wants to push a character beyond, to give them the chance to change and evolve, there will always be a ridiculous outcry from the fans about how they are “ruining” the character by allowing these changes, and a further outcry to change the character back.
Ironically a lot of those same people will also later complain about how nothing new and interesting happens in the the book anymore.
And this is a very human response, because at our core we all suffer from this bizarre conundrum. We grow and change, and even celebrate our own development, while at the same time we desperately want to maintain the world around us. We want our loved ones to live forever, our treasured possessions to be preserved forever, and the comforts in our lives to be forever unchanging. We want Batman and Robin to always be a dynamic duo fighting crime with witty retorts and strong right hooks. We want Spider-Man swinging through the city of New York taking selfies to sell to his clueless boss. We want our children to never grow up, our spouses to never fall out of love, and everything golden to stay that way forever.
But life doesn’t work that way. People die, things change, and while it is a very human impulse to try to keep things from doing so (and boy, do we suffer so much in life trying to maintain things forever), in the end we have to admit defeat.
But what if we didn’t have to? What if all that suffering and loss could be stopped? What if we could freeze life in place forever?
Well that’s the core of The Many Deaths of Laila Starr. That’s right, my long winded ramble actually found it’s way back to the point! You see, while this book is focused on the character of Laila Starr (or more specifically the character of Death inhabiting the body of Laila Starr) what it really is about is how humans deal with loss and suffering.
Laila is trying her best to stop the man who will kill Death, but she is constantly failing in her attempts. Instead, she keeps getting herself killed and resurrected at different points in his life, where each time she sees him having to come to terms with terrible loss and the seeming futility of life. She sees the forces motivating him to fight back against the inevitability of death, and to stop it from taking anyone else from him.
She also, unknowingly and unwittingly, helps to constantly keep pushing him down that path.
And that’s what this book does so wonderfully. It is a meditation on life and death, on purpose and frustration, on accepting death and fighting against it.
We don’t get many books like The Many Deaths of Laila Starr. I won’t ruin the ending, but when I finished it the first time it took me a while to fully process my reaction. Ram V has written a lot of great comics, but this might be his best ever.
I love superhero comics. I love the bad guys being defeated and the heroes emerging victorious. I love how no matter what humanity will always fight the good fight for what they believe is right and true and just, and we need superhero comics to give us those moments, but we also need books like this. We need books that ask us to look inward and think about the things in life that really motivate and drive us. We need books that ask us to step outside our comfort zone. We need books where there are not heroes and villains, but just people trying to live their lives and do what they think is best.
Read this book. Support this book. Send a message to publishers that this is the kind of book we desperately need more of. We need Spider-Man, and Batman, and all of our heroes, but we also need books like The Many Deaths of Laila Starr that show us that just being alive is heroic enough too.
Until next time, stay safe.