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Absolute Death

(DC/Vertigo; US: Oct 2009)

Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans. -- John Lennon

For a character named Death, she’s certainly no Bengt Ekerot, the famous chess-playing Death from Ingmar Berman’s The Seventh Seal. In Neil Gaiman’s conception, she’s a cheery, young goth. As these stories illustrate, she wants to get to know you, not kill you. It’s this angle that Gaiman pursues in detail in The High Cost of Living and The Time of Your Life.


Collected together for the first time since their original publication in 1993 and 1996, The High Cost of Living and The Time of Your Life constitute the major corpus of this volume. The rest of the book has two lengthy appearances from The Sandman—“The Sound of Her Wings” and “Facades”—as well as her story from Endless Nights and two never reprinted appearances (“A Winter’s Tale”—drawn by Jeff Jones—and “The Wheel”—drawn by Chris Bachalo). There is also a lengthy miscellany of visualizations. This section comprises different guest illustrations and merchandising items.


Unfortunately, there is no appendix of all of Death’s appearances in Sandman. Rounding the edition out is Gaiman’s script for “The Sound of Her Wings” with included pencils by Mike Dringenberg. Having all of this in one oversized volume is wonderful. However, it is puzzling why the two stories from The Sandman are included. While this is a helpful inclusion, it might also prove a redundant one. The target audience for this book already has the two stories either in the trade paperback copies or the “Absolute” editions of Sandman. Buyers of this book need no introduction to Death and the material does appear in Absolute Sandman.


In “The High Cost of Living”, Death is on Earth for one day out of every hundred years and on that day she meets a young man who wants to die. He is Sexton Furnival and he is miserable. Death, by contrast, is joie de vivre incarnate. This is Kurt Cobain versus Mary Poppins as the two make their way through the Big Apple and see the sights. Subplots aplenty (like witch who’s looking for her heart and a man who wants Death’s secrets) ornament the basic story of Death having an interesting day while she tries to cheer Sexton up.


In “The Time of Your Life”, the focus shifts to two women whom Death is trying to help. In this book, Death takes more of a supporting role while the story examines life and the sacrifices made to live it. With Death in the background, Gaiman makes use of more characters so as to examine the bonds of friendship. Whereas “High Cost of Living” felt like it had too few characters, “The Time of Your Life” seems inundated with them. This uneven spread of characters does provide an elegant contrast. The basic story is about friendship and how these bonds are both treasured and tested.


Aside from the joys of Gaiman’s characters and seductive art from Chris Bachalo and Mark Buckingham, the miscellany section is a major source of delight in this book. Most of the guest artists offer excellent renderings of the central character. The highlights include Bachalo’s iconic painting of Death, as well as Moebius, Michael Zulli, and Paul Chadwick amongst others. Colleen Doran’s contribuition showing Death at the mass grave of a concentration camp proves to be perhaps in questionable taste. There is also a section of Death-related merchandise—tee shirts, statues, action figures—with some beautiful artwork by Chris Bachalo. The miscellany section is a great boon for fans of the character.


At the end is Gaiman’s script for “The Sound of Her Wings” from The Sandman #8. This was Death’s first appearance in Sandman oeuvre so it is insightful to draw back the curtain and glimpse the script that Gaiman originally wrote. It was particularly interesting to see his approach to writing the issue. Gaiman noted there that he had been looking forward to writing the story since the series began and this inflects his work on Death as a whole. Quiet, intimate stories about people relating to the world are what Gaiman does best in this book. It is thrilling to see his unique voice here in Sandman #8 develop and then grow stronger as The High Cost of Living and The Time of Your Life were written.


Absolute Death is a testament to Gaiman’s career in comics as well as the talent in choosing gifted artists to collaborate on his vision. While the price makes this a fetish object (almost literally as the cloth of the cover attracts lint and demands careful handling) for the most hardcore fans, the “Absolute” edition is assembled with care that caters to the magnificence of the art.


For a character named Death, she’s certainly no Bengt Ekerot. In Neil Gaiman’s conception, she’s a cheery, young goth. As these stories illustrate, she wants to get to know you, not kill you. It’s this angle that Gaiman pursues in detail in The High Cost of Living and The Time of Your Life.


Collected together for the first time since their original publication in 1993 and 1996, The High Cost of Living and The Time of Your Life constitute the major corpus of this volume. The rest of the book has two lengthy appearances from The Sandman – “The Sound of Her Wings” and “Facades” – as well as her story from Endless Nights and two never reprinted appearances (“A Winter’s Tale” – drawn by Jeff Jones – and “The Wheel” – drawn by Chris Bachalo). There is also a lengthy collection of visual miscellany. This section comprises different guest illustrations and merchandising items. Unfortunately, there is no appendix of all of Death’s appearances in Sandman. Rounding it out is Gaiman’s script for “The Sound of Her Wings” with included pencils from Mike Dringenberg. Having all of this in one oversized volume is wonderful. However, it is puzzling why the two stories from Sandman are included. It’s a helpful inclusion, but also a redundant one. The target audience for this book already has the two stories either in the trade paperback copies or the Absolute editions of Sandman. Buyers of this book need no introduction to her and the material is in Absolute Sandman anyway. They also need no introduction to her from Amanda Palmer. All in all, the volume is value for the money even if it is overpriced value.


In The High Cost of Living, Death is on Earth for one day out of every hundred years and on that day she meets a young man who wants to die. He is Sexton Furnival and he is miserable. Death, by contrast, is joie de vivre incarnate. It’s Kurt Cobain versus Mary Poppins here. In any case, the two make their way through the Big Apple and see the sights. Although they also get involved with a witch who’s looking for her heart and a man who wants Death’s secrets, the basic story is Death having an interesting day where she tries to cheer up Sexton.


In The Time of Your Life, the focus shifts to two women whom Death is trying to help. In this book, Death takes more of a supporting role while the story examines life and the sacrifices we make to live it. With Death in the background, Gaiman makes use of more characters so he can examine the bonds of friendship that his characters here hold dear. Whereas High Cost of Living felt like it had too few characters, this book has many good ones as a nice contrast. The basic story is about friendship and how far we go to treasure (and test) those bonds.


Aside from the joys of Gaiman’s characters and the lovely art from Chris Bachalo and Mark Buckingham, the miscellany section is a major source of delight in this book. Most of the guest drawings are excellent. The highlights include Bachalo’s iconic painting of Death as well as Moebius, Michael Zulli, and Paul Chadwick amongst other lovely work. Alas, one by Colleen Doran is in rather questionable taste as it shows Death standing at the mass grave of a concentration camp. There is also a section of Death-related merchandise – tee shirts, statues, action figures – with some beautiful artwork by Chris Bachalo. The miscellany section is a great boon for fans of the character.


At the end is Gaiman’s script for “The Sound of Her Wings” from Sandman #8. This was Death’s first appearance in Sandman so it’s nice to see the script that Gaiman wrote. It was particularly interesting to see his approach to writing the issue. Gaiman noted there that he’d been looking forward to writing the story since the series began and this inflects his work on Death as a whole. Quiet, intimate stories about people relating to the world are what Gaiman does best in this book. It’s thrilling to see his unique voice here in Sandman #8 develop and then grow stronger as The High Cost of Living and The Time of Your Life were written.


Absolute Death is a lovely collection of work and a nice testament to Gaiman’s career in comics as well as the talents of the artists. While the price makes this a fetish object (almost literally as the cloth of the cover attracts lint and demands careful handling) for the most hardcore fans, it’s assembled with care and sized to the art’s advantage.

Rating:

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