Very rarely is death one of the more popular aspects of, well, anything – but Death of the Endless (of Neil Gaiman’s ‘The Sandman’) is perhaps one of the most charming characters to frequent the comics page, ultimately making her an all-time fan-favourite.
Death first graced the pages of ‘The Sandman’ in issue 8 (‘The Sound of Her Wings’), and despite her fleeting appearances across the complete volumes of Gaiman’s work, she quickly became cemented in fan popularity, which ultimately led to two of her own mini spin-off series. Death of the Endless directly confronts the typical Grim Reaper characteristics presented in popular culture, being portrayed as a kind-hearted, nurturing young woman. A stylish character sporting a silver ankh and Horus eye-tattoo, Death subtly reflects the gothic feel portrayed throughout The Sandman series; and her soft features and caring personality ironically contrast the negative connotations of death.
The second eldest of the Endless siblings, Death often appears in The Sandman to act as a confidante to her brother, Dream. Whilst it is evident she adopts and adores the role of maternal sibling, Death is undoubtedly the most powerful of the Endless. An immortal, omnipotent power, she is respected and feared throughout the universe. She is the only one of her siblings able to intimidate the Furies, and it becomes apparent that she is the only one unbound by the ancient rules.
Undoubtedly, Death’s most poignant power is that over life and death. It is believed that she appears twice in a lifetime: once at birth, infusing the body with life; and again at the time of death, where she passes the soul to the appropriate Death Gods. One of the most appealing aspects of this character is her ability to take her job seriously; she finds no joy in what she does, but accepts the responsibility of the difficult role. In response to the development of her character, Gaiman stated, “I didn’t want a Death who agonised over her role, or who took a grim delight in her job, or didn’t care. I wanted a Death that I’d like to meet, in the end. Someone who would care. Like her.”
This is perhaps what makes Death’s character so appealing, explaining why she often graces the ‘best comic book character’ lists. The distinct irony of her appearance and personality completely contradict everything she personifies. She is not a terrifying skeleton draped in a hooded cloak, carrying a scythe, grinning manically at you as time runs out. Nor is she someone who completely disassociates from her duty. Instead, she’s comforting and compassionate; becoming mortal for one day a year to remind herself of the significance and weight of her job, and the impact it has on humanity.
Death is undoubtedly one of the most powerful and poignant comic book characters. But she does not abuse her power, nor does she carry a distasteful glee or unsettling distance from her responsibility. Her kind and caring characteristics make her an uncanny, yet comforting figure; more angelic than demonic; a friend rather than something to fear. So my advice to you this week? Read (or reread!) ‘The Sandman’, and don’t fear the reaper.