Dorothy Gambrell's New Adventures of Death, reviewed by Matt Trepal
Is Death a popular guy? Does he have lots of friends? Does he enjoy his job of collecting the souls of the newly deceased and ushering them to their final reward, or does he secretly yearn for something that makes him feel better about himself? These might be, and sometimes are, the issues covered in Dorothy Gambrell’s Modern Tales strip, The New Adventures of Death.
Like Gambrell’s other strips (Cat and Girl and The Four Fours), The New Adventures of Death is an exercise in understated surrealism. Death hangs out with Mars and Anubis, yet winds up holding a job at a Lost and Found window. As it turns out, being Death actually seems to have little or no effect on what he’s doing. Which is why, I suppose, they are his new adventures.
Gambrell’s artwork is distinct and recognizable, a solid style that both complements and contrasts with her writing. Unlike her two other strips, Gambrell uses full color for The New Adventures of Death -- a move that contrasts brightly-colored backgrounds with Death's shining white skull. One interesting touch that has developed over the strip’s run is that only the foreground objects and characters are outlined. Although this was not the case early on, now all background objects are rendered in colored swaths, allowing the objects in the foreground to stand out even more distinctly.
The strips run in short story arcs, each unrelated to the other: Death is a prisoner of pirates, he is an astronaut, he acquires a social disease. Sometimes these short story arcs -- as in "Get A Job" -- come to a coherent, successful conclusion and sometimes -- as in "Deadbeat" -- they do not.
From the very beginning, these stories (even the ones with endings) are often of the non-sequitur variety, filled with oddities ranging from belligerent potatoes to dinosaur skeletons to parallel universes mapped like “Candy Land."
Overall, these non-sequiturs leave The New Adventures of Death floundering. If all that comedy requires is the random juxtaposition of images with text, then there’d be much more funny stuff on the Internet. The overall feeling of The New Adventures of Death is akin to Gambrell’s other comics, but where Cat and Girl satirizes popular culture and The Four Fours is specifically targeted at the music scene, this one has no purpose, no sense of direction. And it suffers for it.
The New Adventures of Death has its good moments, its funny moments. But those are generally outweighed by the oddness, the moments that leave you scratching your head and wondering whether it is you or the comic that comes up short. Best to leave this one where it lies.