Writer: Ram V
Artist: Filipe Andrade
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
WHAT IS IT?
A mythological pseudo-revenge narrative that marries Hindu gods with bureaucracy and hijinks.
Think Sandman meets Coffin Bound.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
In the city of Mumbai, a child is being born, one that will bring eternal life to humanity when he grows into an adult. As a result, in an impossible tower in the sky, the corporate office that deals with life and all of goodness is letting Death go. Deeply upset and with nowhere else to turn, Death chooses to become mortal with a scheme in mind: Kill the baby and get her job back.
Meanwhile, Laila Starr, a young media studies graduate attending a party, jumps from a window and is pronounced dead at the hospital. Hours later, Death wakes up in Laila's body only a few floors below the baby that put her out of a job. Will Death be so callous as to murder a child in cold blood? And would doing so guarantee getting her job back in the first place?
Ram V's sharp pacing, motivated characters, and gorgeous narration are as complex, detailed, and compelling as the best novels being written today. It's this kind of writing that is consistently raising the bar for indie comics and it needs to be celebrated.
Filipe Andrade uses rough, asymmetric panels that contrast with the eerily pristine layouts to create the perfect mood for this comic: At once chaotic and pre-ordained, cyclical but always in motion. It's ultra expressive and expertly realized.
Andrade and Inês Amaro work together on a triadic color scheme that looks completely distinct and utterly ethereal. It matches the exaggerated character aesthetics perfectly and gives just the right flavor to a story driven by modern-day twists on the world's oldest religion.
AndWorld Design creates a caption style and typeface that reflects the setting and tone of the book to a phenomenal degree. This really is the rare book where everyone brings their A-game and there are no weak links to be seen.
There's a wonderfully subtle sense of humor in this book that sets it apart from others that tackle religion, high concept themes, or larger-than-life characters. Treating Godly duties as a corporate business highlights the absurdity apparent in these stories and in our day-to-day lives.
Laila Starr touches something sublime when it dares to finally show its hand and reveal the central conflict. Anyone who's dealt with grief, loss, and heartache will be deeply moved by what this book has to say on the subject and brought to tears by the smallest of gestures.
Most writers would be tempted to give the living embodiment of concepts like Death and Goodness motivations that are beyond human understanding, alienating them from the audience and making their actions utterly inscrutable. In contrast, Death is treated as deeply, sickeningly human despite her abnormal traits and position. The motivation is simple, fallible, and immediately understandable and the resulting story is rock solid as a result.
There's a real element of intrigue and mystery that comes in at the end with the reveal of the narrator. It does everything exactly right to get its hooks in you and demand that you check out the next issue.
WHAT DOESN'T WORK?
CONTENT WARNING: There's a suicide prevalent in the first act of the comic and, while nothing overtly graphic is shown, it maybe disturbing for those sensitive to such content.
The perspective is sometimes a little warped in a way that stops being expressive and starts being distracting. This is particularly true when it comes to faces where noses can outright disappear and lose all sense of depth.
There's a first-person sequence that, while ambitious, is again too warped and distorted for its own good. It was clearly intended to be disorienting, but I'm not sure the effect was worth it.
The font makes Ps look like Ds, which leads to some hesitation on the part of the reader. It's a tiny gripe, but it does break the immersion.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
The Many Deaths of Laila Starr might just be the most compelling thing happening in comics right now. The wild art style, gorgeous colors, and visceral lettering alone make for a comic that stands out in a sea of impressive entries in the library of indie comics. Add in a new perspective on a unique setting (for Western audiences anyway), enjoyable characters, and some of the best use of subtlety in any book on the market, and you have a book that may well go on to be period-defining.
Ram V continues to prove why he's right up there with the best comic writers of all time. His hypnotic pacing and dialogue make for a book that should remind all of us that you don't need wall-to-wall action or fancy tricks to make a comic book that can grab your attention; all you need is a good idea and the means to express it. In this life or in the many more that may follow (if the book is to be believed), I could not do enough to recommend that you pick up The Many Deaths of Laila Starr.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
Blue in Green by Ram V & Anand RK
Coffin Bound Vol. 2 by Dan Watters & DaNi
Giga #1 by Alex Paknadel & John Lê
If you like the art:
Captain Marvel, Vol. 2: Down by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Christoper Sebela & Dexter Soy and Filipe Andrade
Snow Angels #1 by Jeff Lemire & Jock
Resonant by David Andry & Alejandro Aragon and Skylar Partridge
ABOUT THE CREATORS:
Ram V (@therightram) – Writer
Ram V is quickly becoming one of the most well-recognized names in both indie comics, and even DC Comics. He has written for Marvel and Image as well. He is most well known for his original titles, Paradiso, These Savage Shores, and Green in Blue, as well as his recent Catwoman (2018) and Swamp Thing (2021) runs at DC.
He is part of a group of London comic book writers and artists called the White Noise Collective.
Outlander: Originally from Mumbai, India, he currently resides in London.
Filipe Andrade – Illustrator
Hails from Lisbon, Portugul.
Aside from being an accomplished and prolific comic artist, Filipe studied sculpture at Libson's fine art University.
Infrequently posts panels and sometimes full pages on his Instagram: filipe_andrade_artist
Inês Amaro – Color Assists
Other than her name, gender, and one other project she's worked on (The Great Gatsby, Clover Press), I can find no information on this person. Great work on the book, though.
AndWorld Design (@andworlddesign) – Letterer
A lettering design studio founded by Eisner, Harvey and Ringo nominated letterer, Deron Bennet.
Have previously worked with DC Comics, Marvel, BOOM Studios, and many more.
HOW DO I BUY IT?
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