Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #174 by Drew Barth

Reaping Benefits

As anyone who is a fan of the classic The Mummy (1999) film or its subsequent roller coaster can attest, death is only the beginning. Every myth and religion and folklore has something to say about death and the loneliness that can come with it. But it doesn’t always have to be so lonesome. In the first issue of Grim by Stephanie Phillips, Flaviano, Rico Renzi, and Tom Napolitano, we get to see the facet of death being a kind of ending for some and a new beginning for others, whether they want it or not.

Jessica Harrow is a reaper and is one of many. Trusted with ferrying the recently departed to the grand waiting room, she is on a routine reaping for Bryan Andrews’ soul. He experiences, like the reader, what this entails. From the doubt of being dead and the grappling of his own mortality to sailing down a river of punished souls, we get to see the slow process of a new soul being transported and having to wait for whatever comes next for them. But there’s a complication. The multitude of reapers all have a device, an incorporeal scythe, which they use to traverse the river of souls and open their way into the afterlife. Jessica’s scythe, however, was pick-pocketed by Bryan shortly after their arrival. He uses said scythe to escape to the living world to yell at his former girlfriend while Jessica hunts him down but, in the process, can now be seen by the living around her.

What Phillips, Flaviano, Renzi, and Napolitano excel at throughout this first issue, though, is the idea of the reapers. We’ve seen similar aspects in other media, but those have typically been similarly uniformed teams or the odd one out among their contemporaries. But here we have each reaper as individuals—each one with a personality and a style unique to themselves from across time. It helps to reinforce this idea of the afterlife as this grand waiting room with the reapers just being there to do a job. While they don’t clock in and out, they’re basically the office workers of the afterlife. And, in a way, it works to demystify this aspect of death and dying. It’s regular. It’s routine. These reapers can stand out as individuals, but they’re only there to help the process of death run smoothly.

For a first issue, Grim works well in establishing the world and tone it will likely follow throughout the series. As a comic about death, there is that sense of melancholy, but there’s this streak of oddity that comes with the reapers that we’ve seen so far. Having this balance between the idea of death and all of the weight that carries with the gallows humor of those tasked with enforcing it is going to be important, but from what’s been shown here, Phillips, Flaviano, Renzi, and Napolitano can absolutely make it work.

Get excited. Get dead.

Drew Barth at Miami Book Fair in 2019.

Drew Barth (Episode 331, 485, & 510) resides in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.