Absolute Death

Absolute Death
Alternative editions:
Absolute Death review
Alternative editions:
  • North American Publisher / ISBN: Vertigo - 1-4012-2463-6
  • Release date: 2009
  • UPC: 9781401224639
  • Contains adult content?: yes
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: yes
  • Positive minority portrayal?: yes

Absolute Death maintains the high production standards applied to other Absolute projects issued by DC/Vertigo, presenting a handsome hardback edition within a slipcase. Unlike others of that series, though, this is more a gathering of material rather than reprinting what’s been previously issued as a single volume.

The reason is that the pallid, slim female representation of Death has only been seen in shorter stories. The bulk of the story content to be found here consists of a pair of three chapter tales previously published as Death: The High Cost of Living and Death: The Time of Your Life. As both are reviewed and recommended under those titles, let’s concentrate on the remaining content. The former also includes the Dave McKean drawn educational pamphlet in which Death delivers a talk about safe sex.

Death was introduced in the pages of Sandman, drawn by Mike Dringenberg, who based her appearance on a friend of his. It’s still odd to read her quoting Mary Poppins as she consoles her brother, recently freed from decades of imprisonment, but it’s charming now, rather than compelling. At least the mood is relatively light, not the case for her next appearance as Neil Gaiman re-works the previously whimsical DC shapeshifter Metamorpho. As drawn by Colleen Doran, this female counterpart is a depressed mirror reflection considering the horrors of her life in the company of Death.

The ornate stylings of P. Craig Russell are something to behold in ‘Death and Venice’. The deliberate contrast of their delicacy accompanying a sordid story about a man obsessed with Death is nice touch. Another short, illustrated by Chris Bachalo, was originally published in an anthology in which creators reflected on 9/11. It’s about an angry young man wanting an explanation of death. More on the fine art side is Jeff Jones, recalling his sketchy Idyl series of the 1970s as he illustrates a series of captions spread across six pages in which Death muses over her purpose. Those who like their art are treated to just under fifty pages of Death pin-ups by some excellent artists.

It should be noted that an editorial decision has been taken to include only stories written by Gaiman in this collection, so it’s not the entire Death canon. Omitted are miniseries written by Caitlin Kiernan and Jill Thompson’s manga styled Death at Death’s Door.

Is this worth the $100 cover price, though? Pleasant though it might be to see the work of the fine artists with whom Gaiman has collaborated presented at a larger size, it’s only the two longer narratives bearing any great substance. The remainder are nicely drawn, but hardly material to which you’ll return over and over again. The recommendation would be that the 2012 reprinting of the content in a paperback just titled Death: The Deluxe Edition provides far better value for those not content to have just The High Cost of Living and The Time of your Life on their shelves.