When it comes to anthropomorphizing the stages of human existence, everybody loves Death. No one has much time for colicky Birth or the awkward advances of a pock-faced Puberty, but in art, skeletons and scythes are always in. Part of it's the irony, part of it's the macabre, but perhaps the largest appeal of turning the End Of All Things into a Halloween costume is the struggle to normalize the unfathomable. In Death: A Life, the Grim Reaper tells his story for the first time, from his early days in the Garden of Eden to his wild nights with the Four Horsemen (Plus One). With the help of human author George Pendle, Death tries once and for all to set the record straight, and show the personality behind the personification.

Death was born as the son of Sin and Satan, and spent the first millennia of his existence wandering the lava pits and abattoirs of hell. It was as abysmal a childhood as one could hope for, but Death didn't find his true purpose until God started a new project: Earth. Moving to the planet with his parents, he learns that it's his job to usher souls from their expired bodies into the all-encompassing Darkness. The job is satisfying and work is steady, but when Death meets a human named Maud with a passion for expiration, he starts to question his place in the cosmos. Life has a certain irresistible charm; as he's drawn to puppies and happiness, Death risks the balance of the universe, and even more importantly, job security.


In the comedy-fantasy world, the Death from Terry Pratchett's Discworld casts a long shadow; for Pratchett fans, it's disappointing to open the first chapter of A Life and not see the text done entirely in capital letters. Still, Pendle's interpretation of the character is enjoyable enough to stand on its own—he operates with a childlike enthusiasm for his work, and serves as straight man to a cosmology of lunatics and busybodies. A Life is more interested in rapid-fire gags than plot; not all the jokes land, and when they don't, the story becomes forced and sluggish. The good gags, like Death's problematic life-addiction and the true nature of Jesus, make up for the weaker ones, but A Life's lasting interest expires by the final page.