The God of Death explores the meaning of life in The Many Deaths of Laila Starr, a beautiful and rich comic written by Ram V and illustrated by Filipe Andrade.
The story opens in the chaos of life and death. In a hospital in Mumbai the young baby Darius is born, and Laila Starr, an orphan girl, dies from injuries after a fall.
Amidst this chaos, the God of Death is called to the corporate office of the Purveyor of All Goodness. It seems the newborn, Darius, will one day invent immortality. Death is fired. Her services are no longer necessary. Feeling scorned, Death returns to earth in the mortal body of recently deceased Laila Starr.
The Many Deaths of Laila Starr was recently published as a trade volume of 5 single issues originally published in 2021. In each of the 5 issues, Death is reincarnated in the body of Laila Starr. During each reincarnation, she finds herself by Darius’s side as he navigates life after the death of a loved one. Unfortunate accidents haunt Death, and her stays on earth are never long. However, the God of Life takes pity on his friend, reincarnating her after each death. Death gives Life meaning, and he does what he can to aide her on her journey..
The concept of the comic is fascinating—filled with deep subtext and meaning. Death, threatened by immortality, desperately tries to remain relevant, and in the process, experiences the human cost of death. The art by Filepe Andrade brings magical realism to Mumbai with a pallet saturated with warm tones. The illustrations capture the chaotic and beautiful realities of life and mirrors the lyrical text it accompanies.
The text blew me away. It is filled with poignant observations about the cycle of life. Over the course of the comic, both Death and Darius grasp for deeper understanding of life lost to death and the lives death leaves behind. The magnitude and our understanding of death evolves as we age. Over the course of the series, Darius grows from a child to an old man, and his experiences with the death of those around him affect both him and Laila Starr in meaningful and different ways. The lyrical text beautifully captures the rich complexity. For instance, the third issue is narrated by a cigarette in text boxes partially outlined in a cloud of smoke. While musing on the burning embers of a fragile life, it observes three teens “engrossed in the great rituals of youth. Writing their own dreams onto peeling walls. And negotiating vulnerabilities with the unspoken language of laughter, confessions, and stolen cigarettes.” These words by V paired with illustrations from Andrade beautifully explore the intricate balance between life and death.
Over the course of the last month, I picked up this book a number of times, and each new reading brought greater appreciation as I explored the depth of the illustrations and text.
I am excited to put this into the hands of my students, especially those who love philosophical explorations and beautiful stories. And it is sure to sway those who are hesitant to appreciate the literary value of the comic format. While the book is intended for an adult audience, I know that many high school students and teens, who are on the precipice of exploring life on their own, will also appreciate The Many Deaths of Laila Starr.
The Many Deaths of Laila Starr
By Ram V
Art by Filipe Andrade
BOOM! Studios, 2022
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation: Indian, Character Representation: Indian,