24 October 2010

Faster than a DC Bullet: The Sandman Spin-Offs, Part I: The Absolute Death

Comic hardcover, 360 pages
Published 2009 (contents: 1989-2003)

Borrowed from the library
Read October 2010
The Absolute Death

Writer: Neil Gaiman
Artists: Chris Bachalo, Mark Buckingham, Mike Dringenberg, Colleen Doran, P. Craig Russell, Malcolm Jones III, Mark Pennington, Dave McKean, Jeffrey Jones
Colorists: Steve Oliff, Matt Hollingsworth, Daniel Vozzo, Lovern Kindzierski, John J Muth, Alex Bleyaert, Rob Ro
Letterers: Todd Klein, Jeffrey Jones

This last Sandman Absolute Edition collects the adventures of Dream's sister, Death. It leads off with two Death-centric issues from The Sandman, which was probably done to pad out the book, but I still appreciated the chance to reread "The Sound of Her Wings," which features Death's first appearance. In retrospect, it stands out: Dream narrates part of it, which rarely (never?) happened again in the series, and it also seems to set up some of Dream's decisions in The Kindly Ones, a full fifty issues later. But the primary point of this collection are the two Death-focused miniseries it collects.

The first of these is The High Cost of Living, which tells the story of a 24-hour period spent by Death as an ordinary, living person in modern New York. Primarily told from the perspective of a layabout teenager, it's a nice story with a lot of fun moments and couple reappearances by Sandman stalwarts such as Mad Hettie and Hazel and Foxglove. Death's adventures are alternately entertaining and horrifying, as you might imagine, and I enjoyed this one a lot.

The second is The Time of Your Life, which isn't really about Death at all, though she appears; it's more about Hazel and Foxglove, and how they deal with having a child and the pressures of fame. I liked getting to focus on these two because, for me, Death doesn't really work as a principal character-- even more so than Dream, she's all-powerful and all-knowing, and what's worse, she likes what she does, so what's at stake for her? She works better as a side character in the stories of others. Hazel and Foxglove go on a stranger journey in this tale, and learn a bit about themselves-- though unfortunately the story occasionally descends into the kind of cheesy aphorisms you might see inside of chocolate wrappers. Also the ending is a convenient cop-out.

The art of both tales is ably provided by Chris Bachalo. I especially liked his art in the second story, where Mark Buckingham's inks are clear and gorgeous. The use of color in The Time of Your Life is really great, too.

After this, there's a few mini-stories about Death, all of which look pretty good, but maybe didn't do a whole lot for me. The one about 9/11 also descends in cheesy aphorisms, I think. The AIDS awareness story featuring Death was worth it for John Constantine holding a banana while Death put a condom on it.

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