03 July 2011

Faster than a DC Bullet: The Sandman Spin-Offs, Part VII: Destiny: A Chronicle of Deaths Foretold

Comic trade paperback, n.pag.
Published 2000 (contents: 1997)

Borrowed from the library
Read July 2011
Destiny: A Chronicle of Deaths Foretold

Writer: Alisa Kwitney
Artists: Kent Williams, Michael Zulli, Scott Hampton, Rebecca Guay
Color Artist: Sherilyn Van Valkenburgh
Letterer: Todd Klein

As with WitchCraft and the Triple Goddess, I doubt anyone was clamoring for a Destiny spin-off, but he is one of the Endless, and he's the easiest for DC to do as it will with, for he predates Neil Gaiman. Curiously, this book follows the same format as WitchCraft: there's a frame story by one artist, and then three substories, each illustrated by a different artist, ranging through time. Our story opens in the far future year of 2009, when bubonic plague has devastated the Earth and a strange man, one John Ryder, shows up at the house of Ruth Knight, one of five survivors in a rural village. He brings with him The Book of Destiny, an 1899 publication reconstructing the meaning of the Destiny Scroll, a page torn from the Book of Destiny. It connects the four comings of bubonic plague to Destiny of the Endless and the mysterious John Ryder himself.

I like this a lot at first. The art in the frame story (I don't know which of the four artists was responsible, unfortunately) is angular and moody, perfect for this postapocalyptic world, and Kwitney's writing is powerful enough to match. The relationship between Ruth and John is very well done, too-- it's complicated, as each wants something out of each other. The first flashback story is great, too, about the wife of the emperor at the fall of Byzantium and her illegitimate child (who turns out to be John Ryder), who becomes the pawn of Destiny, carrying the plague. But after this, the flashback stories get muddy. What is John Ryder trying to accomplish in 1348 or 1665? It's not quite clear. And thematically, I never figured out what the book was trying to do, either. It wants to be about destiny and Destiny, but there's a lot about plagues in it, and that never really links together. I guess those who die of the plague are destined to die? But so what-- according to the mythos here, everyone has an inescapable destiny, so the plague stuff feels like too much. And as for that ending... I just didn't get it.

Despite my comment at the beginning, I think there's definitely possibility in a story about Destiny, as in all the Endless. The inescapability of Fate has been the basis of many a tale. Destiny looks cool, sounds cool, and even gets in a good joke here, to my surprise. But this story isn't it; it never coheres into saying or doing anything in particular.

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