Hello, my friends. As we fight through the challenges that life and the outside world continues to throw at us, there’s a constant battle that we also have within our very selves. Through that struggle, there’s always a chance that we can make something spectacular to share. On that note, I welcome you once again to another entry of…
Throughout this string of reviews, we’ve highlighted several characters from the greater DC Universe who don’t regularly get the same kind of mainstream attention that the more well-known folks regularly receive. Over the years however, certain beings like Jonah Hex, Green Arrow and even Shazam (a.k.a. DC’s Captain Marvel, as I’ll always personally call him) have managed to branch out into other media projects. This time however, we shall delve into a character who finally gets her true moment to shine outside of the grand scope of Vertigo-released Sandman comics. As such, we’ll be dealing with the creation of something everlasting in the face of oblivion during our date with…
Originally released on October 22, 2019, this serves as a Blu-Ray bonus feature for “Wonder Woman: Bloodlines”. If you’re interested in knowing my thoughts about that flick, click the link and find out. For everyone else who’s staying put, let us plunge into this venture directed by Sam Liu and written by J.M. DeMatteis in order to discover what we’ll find upon our palette.
After opening on a young child coloring with crayons in his room as he builds a youthful, ever-growing drive towards his budding artistic pursuit…
…we then shift ahead to present day where’s he grown into a young adult. As Vincent Omata (voiced by Leonardo Nam) paints Arkham Asylum’s main gate, he’s suddenly approached by his Supervisor (voiced by Keith Szarabajka) who scolds him for taking way longer than necessary to finish this simple task. Vincent says that he has to do this objective in just the right way and that he’s an artist, but his boss gets fed up with the excuses and fires him. Omata then hears an internal voice asking him “How many jobs has it been now, Vincent?” before he takes his leave.
Later, he arrives at Noonan’s Bar as the bartender talks to him about a tragic turn-of-events where a guy named Pedro arrived at his job before suddenly getting sick and then just dropped over dead, leaving behind a wife and children. Just then, Vincent notices a familiar figure from his past who tells him that unlike Pedro, his life amounted to nothing past hopelessly “chasing dreams they’re always just always beyond your reach”. Omata yells at the guy claiming that he “doesn’t know anything” about him, to which the bartender asks whom he’s talking to. With the man not actually there, Vincent excuses himself to use the restroom.
Just as he’s about to enter, he sees a fiery-looking tentacle reaching out from beneath the door that quickly slithers back in. He gets briefly shocked by it before he sits down to ease his mind with a cigarette. As he lights one up, he’s met upon by a young woman who warn him about the fatal risk of smoking. When he says that “it’s the least of my problems”, she asks him if he’s having a bad day before he’s stunned by the sight of her beauty. Unbeknownst to him, this is the titular Death (voiced by Go Go Tomago & Blink herself, Jamie Chung). Fortunately for Omata, he responds by saying that he was recently fired from a gig at Arkham Asylum, seeing it as a blessing in disguise since it now gives him more time to work on his art. After Death picks up that he’s a “struggling artist”, he mentions how she’s somehow familiar to him and asks if she could volunteer herself into letting him paint her portrait. Suddenly, a fiery female demon boasts how this is a thinly-veiled excuse for sex, to which he denies the claim. However, Death didn’t hear the devious pretext and asks him what he’s talking about. With him unable to explain himself, she gives him her top hat and begins to head out. She tells him that she’ll see him “around” before taking her leave with a transparent man, as Vincent is met upon by his personal demons.
We then have a quick flashback where a Professor (voiced by Reinhardt himself, Darin De Paul) chastises Vincent’s artistic effort in front of his classmates, even saying that he’s not even good enough to get a passing grade and that he should abandon this endeavor in favor of a “practical” occupation like dentistry. As Omata takes his leave, it’s soon made crystal-clear that the professor had become one of Vincent’s personal demons.
Back in the present, Omata wearily walks back to his rundown apartment. After reaching his work station, he’s soon approached by another inner demon who taunts him for not being financially sound and that it’s not too late to give up on his artistic career. From there, we immediately flashback to his dad yelling at him to go back to school before Vincent talks back by calling him “a miserable failure who hates his life”, as well as his own family. Back in the present, Omata tells this representation of his father that he never appreciated him, to which the personal demon counters by saying that it’s nothing more than an excuse to blame others for his short-comings.
Afterwards, Vincent is met upon by his lone female demon who tells him that he’s been far worse with women as opposed to art. From there, we flashback to a failed romance as a woman named Charlotte (voiced by Kari Wahlgren) is leaving him after spending the last six years of her life supporting him both “emotionally” and “financially”. After explaining that she’s unwilling to see him “wreak” himself, he snaps and angrily tells her to never come back once he finally becomes a successful artist. She then says that she misses the man that he once was before taking her leave. After shifting back into the present, Omata sits on his couch with a lit cigarette in hand before dozing off, surrounded by his personal demons.
After a quick moment where he dreams about his artistically innocent past…
…Vincent wakes up due to the nearby sound of a vicious crash. As he looks out his window, he sees the familiar sight of Death who’s with a pair of people who tell her that she “can’t do this”. However, she tells them that they no longer “have a choice in the matter”. From there, Omata yells out to the two individuals to stop bugging her and leave before he contacts the cops. By the time he heads down to confront them, he only finds Death standing there as an ambulance passes by and arrives at the scene of a car crash where it’s soon revealed that the two people were actually the newly-deceased victims. When she asks him if he called the police, Omata says that he hasn’t since he doesn’t even have a phone. Just as he’s about to head back to his apartment, she recognizes him from their previous encounter and asks to come inside in order to see his artwork, to which he accepts.
Shortly afterwards, they head into his apartment as Death looks over his unfinished pieces. While Vincent’s inner demons continue to taunt him, she recognizes “an inner gift” that he’s projecting. However, they’re lacking an “essential spark” as she asks him if he’s possibly lost as he grew up. Omata explains that he spent several hours of his childhood drawing away on his bedroom floor and that all time from the outside world simply froze to him as he developed his own creativity. He then says that he wasn’t “a pick-up line” when he initially tried to ask her into painting her portrait. Despite the personal demons’ attempt to emotionally bring him down, he manages to say that he sees a certain “beauty with an incredible sadness beneath” within her and that she’s “so young, but somehow so very old”. As he says that he’s been waiting his entire life for this moment, she says that it would be “an honor” to pose for him.
After she takes a seat, Vincent takes his position at his easel. With his personal demons looming large over him, he proceeds to draw out the initial details. Despite the fiery representations of his antagonistic past continuing to mock him, Omata isn’t phased by their hurtful words as he soldiers on and renders the fine details of his project. By the time that he shifts over to his paints, he’s regained his self-confidence and causes the inner demons to dissipate for good.
Just as the last personal demon is completely vanquished, Vincent has completed his project. As Death heads over to check out what he’s made while asking him if he’s happy with what he’s accomplished, Omata then notices that it’s still evening within the outside world despite him working a particularly long time to complete his artistic task. He soon discovers that the rain has seemingly frozen in place and that several outside figures are also in the same predicament. After he looks at his clock and realizes that time is literally standing still, she explains that they’re in “a place beyond time”, which has reality for the living, but no meaning for the deceased. At the moment, it’s revealed that Vincent is actually dead.
As Omata sees his lifeless body, he finally realizes whom she really is. From there, he looks over his deceased self and discovers how little he ultimately built himself with his life. Fortunately, he takes comfort in knowing that he created a joyous picture that’ll be shown to the world. However, time starts up again as the still-lit cigarette falls from the hand of his empty husk and lands on some paper, causing a fire to erupt as Vincent discovers in horror what’s about to transpire. He tries to save his project from the growing inferno, but he’s unable to interact with it due to his deceased state.
With the threat of him dying into obscurity looming, he tearfully asks Death why she’s being this cruel to him. She simply says that she isn’t, as the Book of Destiny foretold that he would meet his fate in this exact way before he was even born. From there, he falls to his knees and begs her to spare his painting from the growing fire. Suddenly, he recalls his childhood moment where he drew an angel and not only realizes that she was ultimately the inspiration for his artistic skills, but that she’ll help him with this final request.
From there, he transforms into his younger self and thanks her. As such, Death takes his hand as they proceed to venture out “into the mystery”.
And so, the film ends as the fire fighters manage to extinguish the blaze. While Omata’s charred corpse gets carried out, they soon notice that his final painting was miraculously sparred.
Now that the main narrative has been cast upon our canvas, let’s get into my character analysis. Starting things off, we actually begin with our fateful artist in Vincent Omata. From the various backstories that serve as the source of his inner evils, he’s a deeply-flawed young man whose drive to become a successful artisan was greatly opposed by nay-sayers, disapproving figures and someone whose supporting lifeline ran out due to his own temper. For what this tale has to show, it does a good job in making us feel bad for the hardships that have been thrown onto him. However, it seems like those details could have used a few more minutes in order to flesh them out and help leave an even bigger impact on his dire situation. While it would have run the risk of making the pacing feel a bit sluggish, it’s still possible that it could’ve been implemented in a way that helps it run concurrently with the main story and only make this tale run a little bit longer. Either way, the flashbacks are sufficient enough to delve into the struggles he ultimately went through in trying to make a name for himself within his profession of choice. Through piecing his turbulent past together, it would seem that his anger & outbursts began when he failed his art class and the professor chews him up in front of his classmates. His own anger seems to be a major part of his downfall, since the art school rejection and the hatred for his father has carried over into his lovelife. It’s likely that this interfered with him allowing Charlotte to help him ease his troubled past and thus, has him stuck in his constant state of shutting out anyone and everyone who disagrees with him. Even though it takes him until the realization of his own death to discover how little he’s ultimately accomplished with himself throughout the overall course of his existence, he ultimately takes advantage of his greatest opportunity to leave even a tiny mark upon the world. For someone who’s ultimately the true central protagonist of this tale, Leonardo Nam feels very genuine with his performance. His portrayal captures a young man who’s mostly washed-up, but desperately looking for some way to prove himself. In the end, he gives the right amount of emotional range to carry the role and leave an effective impact on viewers.
Finally, we have our titular being herself: Death. Despite the fact that this is her featured tale, she actually somewhat takes a backseat in order for Omata’s character arc to take shape. Given her own incredible power set from the comics (Immortality, Omnipresence, guiding the newly-deceased to the afterlife, etc.), her position within the vast grand scale of the DC Universe does make it so that she would be somewhat limited to a particular scope and thus, she would only serve as a kind of grand being within a certain set of rules. For this tale, she mainly serves as Vincent’s guide in various ways. After all, his smoking was a strong signal of him wasting his mortal vessel away and that’s when she first popped up to meet him. As such, his pure and innocent essence of who he truly is would be what goes with her into the great beyond. Just like Omata’s childhood picture, she becomes an Angel of multiple sorts for him. While her titular name is also a huge part of her job, she’s also an inspirational figure since it’s her unique bodily make-up that gives Vincent the inspiration that he’s been searching for throughout his life. Finally, she’s also a guardian angel for him. Not only does she make sure that the pureness of his soul be allowed to emerge, but his last gift to the world (his portrait of her, which was made by comic book artist Jae Lee) would be protected from harm. Given her presence and status within this tale, she’s perfected her position throughout the ages and is absolutely skilled throughout with what she can do. As such, her role within this story is suitable for the events presented here and Jamie Chung brings a performance that’s calm, cool & confident. Given the seemingly-eternal age of the character and the ins-and-outs of what she’s seen over the grand scope of time, it fits the personality that’s on display here and allows her to shine in a fittingly subtle way.
The story is mostly dour throughout, though it never gets so depressing that it makes the experience tough to get through. After all, the artistic joy that Vincent had hoped to share with the world ever since he was a child is sprinkled into the plot at certain moments to bring a particular tonal balance, thus making the journey emotionally satisfying by the end. If there’s a message that this story is ultimately trying to say, then I would interpret it as such. No matter what hardships, obstacles and hurdles life will throw at you, it’s never too late to make something special that’s all your own and can be presented for all of mankind. After all, I share my thoughts upon various comic book-based projects that I’m able to read and/or watch. Though I’m but one critic within a vast internet sea that’s full of those who’re either working for professional sites or even their own independent one, everyone who does so is sharing something to the vast majority with a voice, style and viewpoint that’s all their own. Whether it’s through multiple projects like my own reviews or even one singular magnum opus like Vincent’s portrait of Death herself, we’re all giving something that can be appreciated on multiple levels. Getting back to the main tale at hand, the small cast is able to handle their roles in order for the story to come across in the way that it needs to be presented. Although De Paul, Szarabajka and Wahlgren are credited for certain characters, they’re also expanding their range by mainly portraying Omata’s personal demons and making the burden that he’s been under feel even heavier. There were a few times that I couldn’t make out what they were saying initially due to the sound filter that was used to make them have an echoing and booming tone to their speech delivery, but that was rectified when I was making this review and I made sure to clarify myself with their dialogue. Either way, everyone handled themselves in a professional way to help bring this tale to life. As such, it’s also backed by nice animation that’s fluent throughout and moves at a steady clip to help with its pacing. It also has a good grasp of its color palette, ranging from bright & colorful to muted and moody. I’m able to make things out within its brief timeframe, thus allowing its tale to deliver its message in a courteous manner.
Overall, this is a nice solo highlight for a Sandman-based character. While I would have liked a bit more elaboration on Vincent’s background, it’s really the only major criticism I can find since it delivers some good performances, professional-grade animation, a wondrous color palette and a gripping use of emotions throughout the narrative. It’s a refreshing break from the traditional comic book action & superheroics as it delivers a well-handled character study for a down-on-his-luck artist and allows the titular figure to showcase herself enough to make it worthy of a watch. If you’re interested in exploring the less-familiar folks of the greater DC Universe, then draw this entry upon your digital canvas and take a ride on the celebratory side of life and death. Your soul will thank you for it.
Next Time: In a similar vein to a familiar Spirit of Vengeance, we’re heading back to the Swinging 1970s with an otherworldly twist. When a young girl joins some rebellious people over at a decrepit house, the supernatural will be looking to intervene. As such, it’ll take a certain Spirit of Justice to save the day as we summon “The Phantom Stranger”.
Death (created by Neil Gaiman & Mike Dringenberg) is owned by DC Comics.