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Death: The High Cost of Living – Comic Review

Death: The High Cost of Living cover art


Written by Neil Gaiman
Illustrated by Chris Bachalo, Mark Buckingham, and Dave McKean
Colors by Steve Oliff of Olyoptics
Letters by Todd Klein
Introduction by Tori Amos
Published by DC/Vertigo

Contents: All 3 issues of the limited series, plus Death Talks About Life
Price: $12.95 USD

My advice: Own it.

You there! Yes, you… the one hiding behind the guy in the red shirt. You don’t know who Death and the Endless are? Sigh. Okay, here’s the deal: Gaiman created the Endless for his series, The Sandman. Basically, these siblings are all personifications of universal forces: there’s Destiny, Desire, Dream, Death, Delirium, Destruction, and Despair. Death, with whom we are interested here, is a young, beautiful, perky little goth-girl with whom you’d really like to hang out. Once every hundred years, Death walks as a human among us, to remember what it’s like to be alive.

[ad#longpost]This time, Death meets Sexton Furnival, a sixteen-year-old boy who wants to kill himself. After saving him from a junkyard, Death (calling herself Didi) shares her one day with him, riding in taxis, eating hot dogs, meeting witches, chefs, and others, and basically just enjoying life. By the end of course, Sexton has realized what is so precious about life from the one who will one day escort him out of it.

The characters in Death: The High Cost of Living are familiar: Death is kind and kooky, at times corny, but then wouldn’t she be? Sexton is mad at the world and, well, typical Gen X. The assorted other characters are often representative of a type, but then the story as a whole is as much a morality tale and allegory as Death herself. Dark characters and light have a place in this story, just as they do in the world Death adores.

The plot is episodic, following as it does Sexton and Death around the city. There are a few surprises and tense moments, but the action is mostly internal–it’s trying to tell you something, not so much show you a day in the life of a superhero. It’s interesting how much richness Gaiman can pack into an ordinary, even occasionally crappy, day.

The art is perhaps not the strong point of this graphic novel, but it is rather appropriate. New York is gritty and dark, and Death knows that. She herself is endlessly (no pun intended) adorable, cool, and level-headed, much wiser than we are, as her facial expressions show. There are occasional close-up panels that pick out an important detail from the panel before it, making an emblem out of these elements, such as a close-up of Death’s ankh or the progressional burning of Sexton’s cigarette.

If you’re new to Sandman and Death, here’s a great place to start, and if you’re an old hand to the Endless, now’s a great time to revisit their world. Death might be just a wee bit balmy, but she has a lot to teach about living: to enjoy your time here, whatever the details may be… not because it could be worse, but because it couldn’t be better. The didactic tone of the story is overcome by Gaiman’s skill, and you won’t even realize that you’ve learned something until later. So come and look at the girl who spawned a thousand copy-cats at conventions everywhere, and along the way, let Death, sweetly and calmly, teach you just a little bit more about Life. It is, as Death says, the most important thing in the whole Universe.

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