The nineties get a lot of flack nowadays from comic fans, and some of it is very well deserved. Many things happened in the nineties that made it a very dark decade for the comic industry, many things we would like to forget happened at all, and some things we just can’t seem to let go of. And pouches, so very many pouches.
For as many reasons as there are to speak in hushed tones when referring to comics in that rather fateful decade, there are many more reasons to shout at the sky in praise. Each Tuesday I discuss the many things that made that decade truly a great time to be a fan. This week, I bring you another reason the nineties weren’t all bad.
Gaiman and Bachalo’s first Death miniseries, The High Cost Of Living.
While the most popular comics in the nineties featured spandex clad, cape and cowl wearing, superpower wielding hero and anti-hero stories, there was a small subset of books coming from DC Comics that challenged the norm. Easily the most popular of these was Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, a series that began with ties to the superhero world most other books lived in, but very quickly going in other more mature directions. It gained cult status very early into its publication history, and brought a whole new type of comic reader into the comic shops, with half of its readership being female, and many other readers not reading any other comics.
By March of 1993 The Sandman was selling very well, and I suppose the timing just seemed right to spin one of the most popular characters off into her own series. But what story to tell? Most likely inspired by the 1934 film, Death Takes A Holiday, or his friend Terry Pratchetts’ own novel, Reaper Man, Gaiman decided to have Death come to Earth for her once a century visit, and spend time with the very humans whose lives she takes, so that she may remain grounded and in touch with her humanity. But it is so much more than that.
Death, in the human guise of Didi, meets a suicidal young man named Sexton and takes him by the hand on a tour of the city, ruminating on life, love, and what it means to be human the whole time. By the end of it, Sexton has found a reason to live, his love for Didi, and Death comprehends what the lives she takes feel like.
The High Cost Of Living is a charming series, with Gaiman’s version of Death being a whimsical goth girl, eager to see, hear, and taste everything. He imbued Death with such a yearning for life in these three short issues, giving her an almost perky personality, making her someone we’d all like the chance to be near, even for just one day. Through her experiences even the most mundane things became events to be embraced.
Even though this series was a spin-off from The Sandman, the main character was the only resemblance. In mood, tone, and style, The High Cost Of Living was its own entity. The Sandman always had a loose art style with a darker palette, so Death’s first solo outing would have the bright and polished Chris Bachalo on art duties. I have always loved Bachalo’s style, and this was him evolving into the style he is so famous for now. His style so far removed from his first time working with Gaiman on The Sandman issue twelve, this mini looked like no other Vertigo book of the time. Oh yeah, the first issue of this series was also the first comic to bear the Vertigo banner.
Neil Gaiman and Chris Bachalo would return to the character three years later with Death: The Time Of Your Life, but this series was the one that launched the character, and Bachalo, to stardom, and is one of the many reasons it was great being a comic fan in the nineties. Next week I’ll bring you another.