Comics

Absolute Death

Neil Gaiman's popular character from Sandman gets her own Absolute edition in a collection of good stories with some good extras, but a high price tag.


Publisher: DC/Vertigo
Contributors: Chris Bachalo (artist), Mark Buckingham (artist), and Mike Dringenberg (artist)
Price: $99.99
Writer: Neil Gaiman
Length: 360 pgs.
Graphic Novel: Absolute Death
Date: 2009-10

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.

7

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
9

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Alt-rock heroes the Foo Fighters deliver a three-hour blast of rock power that defies modern norms.

It's a Saturday night in Sacramento and the downtown area around the swank new Golden 1 Center is buzzing as if people are waiting for a spaceship to appear because the alt-rock heroes known as the Foo Fighters are in town. Dave Grohl and his band of merry mates have carried the torch for 20th-century rock 'n' roll here in the next millennium like few others, consistently cranking out one great guitar-driven album after another while building a cross-generational appeal that enables them to keep selling out arenas across America.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image