David: It's all I have.
Death: What would you give for your art, David?
David: ...I'd give my life.
David Smith is a struggling sculptor living in New York City. In the past year, he has lost a major investor due to some disagreements (and David's own temper with other people), sold exactly zero sculptures, and is at risk of being kicked out of his cheap loft.
But just as things are at their darkest, David makes a deal with Death itself: to have the ability to sculpt anything he can imagine with his bare hands. Of course, such a deal comes with a price: namely, David will die in exactly 200 days.
With this firm deadline, David struggles to make a name for himself with his art. But, between figuring out just what he wants to create and discovering the love of his life, David's final days will be filled with both success and heartbreak...
This graphic novel contains examples of...
- An Aesop: When you die, you're gone forever, but that doesn't mean life is meaningless. No matter how mediocre or average your life is, that doesn't matter as long as you live it.
- Affably Evil: Death, who is both friendly and comforting to David even though he's a (mostly) unfeeling force, and probably the closest to the story's Big Bad.
- Ambiguous Ending / Bittersweet Ending: Bittersweet bordering on Downer Ending, anyway. Meg dies in a meaningless truck accident while out running errands. Death disappears for another millennium. David is shot by the NYPD and falls to his death from a skyscraper. However, David finally creates the sculpture he always wanted to create and is finally recognised. The detective who shares David's name, who we only meet in the last few pages of the book, calls his wife to tell her he's alive, showing that life goes on.
- The Bad Guy Wins: If you think Death qualifies as a "bad guy".
- Big Applesauce: Most of the story takes place in and around New York City.
- Book Ends: The opening pages act as a Flash Forward to David's Dying Dream.
- Cessation of Existence: Death shows David this, represented as two pages of blank white paper. David is horrified by the vision, but all he saw was nothing, as his mortal mind can't comprehend the absence of itself.
- Chekhov's Gun:
- David's very first test of his powers when he leaves his handprints on a bridge is used by the police to gain his fingerprints.
- Ollie's wine glasses are used by Finn to identify David to the police.
- After Penelope Hammer fawns over David and offers him a spot in their gallery, Finn snarks that she must be interested in him while Ollie denies it's sexual. David doesn't think much of this until he meets her again, and she greets him in a very low-cut dress (and she appears to be at least 20 years his senior.)
- Meg asks David to promise to not let her push him away. He remembers just in time that this must have been her way of warning him about her depressive episodes.
- Chekhov's Skill: Whenever someone is about to die, Death receives detailed information about the person's life. That way, they can see their life flash before their eyes before they die. This comes up again when:
- Death tells the backstory of a random passerby who David later witnesses die that evening.
- Death meets Meg and uses their shared memories to create a fake story about them having met once, to cover that she's going to die later today.
- At the end when David re-experiences his whole life in the last second before his death.
- Chess with Death: Subverted - Death's "vessel", David's late uncle Harry, liked chess, but Death isn't a fan. He's still pretty good at it, though, and beats David in every game, except for their last, but it's implied he deliberately threw the game to distract David.
- Deal with the Devil: David makes a deal with Death, though this example is unusual in that Death isn't really a "villainous" character - he seemingly operates on Blue-and-Orange Morality.
- Don't Fear the Reaper: Death-as-Harry has human compassion, and he can feel the weight of every human life he takes. However, this will only last as long as Harry still has family in the world. Once David dies, Harry will finally fade from living memory, and Death will go back to being an unfeeling force of nature.
- Downer Ending: Since the premise involves David capping his life at 200 days, you know it isn't going to end well.
- Driven to Suicide:
- After his sculpture showing gets bad reviews, David throws himself at a train. Fortunately, Meg is there to save him.
- Death reveals that Uncle Harry committed suicide after his wife Sadie died, though it was filed as a car accident. However, with the cosmic knowledge of Death instilled in him, he's come to realize that he should have kept living anyway.
- Dropped a Bridge on Him / Surprisingly Sudden Death:
- A streetcrosser David and Death spot early one day dies later that night when a scaffolding falls on him.
- Right after their declaration of love and middle of their Big Damn Kiss, Meg and David almost fall several stories off their roof. Meg finds the experience darkly hilarious but David is in complete shock at how close to death he just came.
- Three days before David's deadline, Meg is hit by a truck in what was just another bike ride for her.
- Dying Dream: In-Universe, Death indulges that when he has to kill a person, he learns everything there is to know about the soon-to-be-deceased. This operates both ways, giving the dying person a full, final look through their life.
- Empathic Environment: The dramatic thunderstorm for the ending.
- Everybody's Dead, Dave: David lost his entire family before the beginning of the story.
- Experimented in College: A lame joke from David accidentally reveals that Meg's roommate Sam had a gay experience with her. Sam is still bitter that it was only a one night stand, Meg apologizing that she was just very drunk that night.
- Fetishes Are Weird: After his depressing birthday, David seemingly encounters a mysterious crowd and an angel who tells him everything will be alright. Unfortunately, at a party that night he discovers the miracle was actually a viral stunt, and his awe of the experience is shattered as the FX supervisor takes him aside and asks him anxiously if David thought the angel's actor wearing thigh-high socks was too fetishy.
- Foregone Conclusion: David will be dead by the end of the book.
- A Form You Are Comfortable With: Death appears as David's great-uncle Harry, as he took over his life when he died in a war and lived a mortal life through him. When he shows David non-existence, however, this falters and his real, skeletal hand can be seen.
- Gay Moment: The hug:
- Gayngst: It's implied Ollie was practically an adopted son to David's family because his own family wouldn't accept him after he came out. Afterward Ollie basically admits he doesn't care Finn is using him to further his career because he finds the alternative is Dying Alone.
- Informed Judaism: Both David and Meg are secular Jews. It doesn't affect their lives much, except that they celebrate Passover and Hanukkah.
- Irony: A tragic example - David wastes his life due to the fact he misinterprets something he is told earlier in the story. His only mark on the world is the enormous sculpture of Meg he creates at the end.
- It's All About Me: Ollie screws over a roster of artists, including David his oldest friend, so he can give an exhibition to Finn, the talentless hack Ollie's having sex with. David reminds Ollie he overheard Finn admitting he's using him, before David learns Ollie knows but is tired of being alone.
- Kubrick Stare: Death. All the time.
- Lampshade Hanging: There's occasionally chunks of Medium Awareness worked in with Death, such as Death telling David not to become a superhero.David: Hey, if I win a game [of chess], can I live forever and run around saying "I beat death"?
Death: No. Though, if it makes you feel better, you can put it on your tombstone.
- The Last DJ: David refuses to filter himself or his art to make it more appealing to critics and investors. However, this results in constant poverty and a lack of recognition.
- Love at First Sight: David falls in love with Meg the minute she descends from the heavens on angel wings (as a piece of performance art but still). Made problematic as (1) she's already in a relationship and (2) she can't stand David objectifying her. And even when she does end up returning David's feelings, David realizes that his inevitable death would end up breaking her heart.
- Magically-Binding Contract: David can bend any material with his bare hands and sculpt whatever he can imagine, but on two conditions; firstly, he has no more than 200 days left to live; and secondly, every time he tells someone about the deal, he loses a further three days of his life.
- Magical Queer: Ollie, David's oldest friend, is a gay character who serves to advise him on his career and manage him. Later subverted when it turns out he's clueless enough to sell out David and his integrity for the chance at a relationship.
- Magical Realism: David has the power to mold concrete with his hands - people are more concerned about the damage to property than the fact he has superpowers.
- Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Reconstructed. David falls in love in a girl named Meg when she appears to literally fly out of the sky on angel wings to give him hope. The event turns out to be a flash mob prank, but Meg sincerely cares for David after hearing about his problems. While Meg resembles the trope in that she is often energetic, has many random quirks, and is devoted to David's wellbeing, she avoids the trope's pitfalls through being fleshed out. Meg has made a job for herself in helping the homeless, is not flawless, suffers from depression (made worse by not taking her medication), and has her own life with friends outside of David. This is best demonstrated in a speech she gives him towards the end of the comic, where she promises David she'll help make his name great but she wants her own name great too.
McCloud: I married the trope — what am I gonna do?
- Much of Meg's traits that resemble MPDG quirks are actually are based on traits of McCloud's own wife Ivy. He also responded to the criticism in several interviews, mirroring Nathan Rabin's response that the problem isn't quirky female characters, it's female characters who are nothing but quirks.
- My Life Flashed Before My Eyes: See Dying Dream above.
- No Medication for Me: Meg refuses to take her medication, because she "wants to feel everything". Her friends chastise her for this, but they can't force her to take them.
- Not Afraid to Die: David will do anything for his art, and doesn't care that he only has 200 days to live. He has second thoughts after Meg teaches him how to live life.
- The Nothing After Death: What keeps David motivated through most of the story. It doesn't work.
- Oh, Crap!: David's reaction when he realizes the Wham Line below.
- Plot Armor: Averted; David can die before his 200 day deadline arrives; having a death clock doesn't make him immortal until time's up. He dies on day 195 after being shot by a cop. No one else is safe either, not even Meg.
- Prophecy Armor: Averted. David Smith is given artistic superpowers by Death in exchange for living for only 200 more days. However, he is fully capable of being killed before his deadline, so as Death warns him: "No crimefighting!"
- Really Gets Around: Meg's roommates chuckle at one point that she's slept with all of them at some point. David quips that Sam (a woman) is probably not among that group, only to find Meg tapped her too. However, while Meg's guy friends are more amused by her history, Sam is resentful about it.
- Riddle for the Ages / Silent Whisper: We never find out what the secret David shares with Meg is because they both promise that when they die, the secret dies with them. Guess what, they're both dead.
- "Shaggy Dog" Story: Of a sort. It turns out that had David stuck around his exhibit after the first visit and tried to get in contact with Ms. Hammer, his sculptures would have been picked up and he would have had a big exhibit. Instead he tried to kill himself that day thinking all the visitors hated him. He doesn't find out the truth until the second-to-last day of his life, by when winning success no longer matters.
- Villains Out Shopping: Every thousand years, Death takes a semi-vacation by stepping into a dead person's life when they die. Continuing to act as a cosmic force whilst developing human feelings, he keeps this up until the life he took fades from memory; in the case of the story, David is the only living person who knew the real Harry, so Death remains as long as David lives.
- Wham Line: After his last chess game with David.Death: I've never been to that theater, David. ...I have an appointment with her in ten minutes at fifty-third and ninth.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Beyond a mention near the ending, the Russian landlord never reappears after threatening David. Justified in that his presence acts as a plot device to push David into moving in with Meg.
- Your Days Are Numbered: 200 of them, to be exact.