Magic & Good Madness: A Neil Gaiman Reread

The Sandman Reread: Death: The Time of Your Life

Oh, if only Chris Bachalo could have drawn this entire story.

Death: The Time of Your Life is the name of the three-issue series—and, of course, the collected edition—by Neil Gaiman, Chris Bachalo, and Mark Buckingham that provided yet another view of that most enchanting and delightful member of the Endless: Death herself.

Like Gaiman’s first Death miniseries, this one centers around a character coming to terms with life, and Death plays a vital supporting role.

Gaiman collaborated with Bachalo on that earlier Death mini, from 1993, but Death: The Time of Your Life, from only three years later, shows Bachalo in peak form. By then he had honed his skills and developed a style that was uniquely his. Unfortunately, he drew only half of this second series before his inker, Mark Buckingham, stepped up to pencil the second half of issue #2 and all of issue #3.

Buckingham, now best known as the longtime penciller of Bill Willingham’s Fables, follows Bachalo’s lead admirably. It isn’t a jarring transition. But Bachalo’s first issue-and-a-half had such a precise beauty that it’s impossible to say the series doesn’t suffer with his departure. It does, but not tragically so. It’s still a good Gaiman-tastic yarn, somehow smaller scale and far more vast than the earlier Death series.

Let me explain.

While the first Death mini-spotlighted a sullen young man who was ready to say goodbye to living and then introduced the spunky Didi who was actually Death in human form before pitting them against existential and magically demonic threats which they would overcome, this second miniseries is an exploration of a single relationship: the love and near-loss and renewed affections between Hazel and Foxglove.

Both Hazel and Foxglove had been introduced in the if-you-recall-I-said-it-was-quite-good A Game of You storyline in the Sandman series, and Foxglove’s later appearance in the first Death series showed that she had gained a bit of success as a singer/songwriter, with some ancillary events in that first series pushing her toward potential stardom.

But Death: The High Cost of Living wasn’t about Foxglove. Death: The Time of Your Life certainly is. She is at its center as she travels around the world on tour, and her relationship with homebody Hazel is strained almost beyond repair.

Yet even though a single relationship is at its core, this Death miniseries is immense in its scope, partially due to the way Chris Bachalo draws everything as a kind of mythic fantasia. While his gritty street-level storytelling was appropriate for The High Cost of Living, his bold iconography and hyper-packed page designs make The Time of Your Life look like something from…well, from a Chris Bachalo’s greatest hits collection.

It’s not unusual to find twelve or sixteen panels on a page in Bachalo’s work on this Death mini, a visual structure that Buckingham tries his best to mimic. But then Bachalo also contrasts those dense pages with massive, nearly full-page splashes of stunning imagery, sprinkled with smaller inset panels that add the human element to the mythic depictions of dreamworlds and desires.

Yes, even though the story belongs to Death, the resonance of the other Endless can be felt in the passions of humanity.

Big stuff, and Bachalo’s artwork is the deciding factor in its immensity.

Gaiman’s story is a good one, too. It’s a Faustian bargain kind of tale. Doubled. First, there’s the metaphorical Faustian bargain of Foxglove, as her pursuit of fame has come at the expense of her relationship with Hazel. Both women want the relationship to work, but Foxglove becomes increasingly convinced that she’s fallen out of love with Hazel as they grow more physically and emotionally distant from each other.

Gaiman throws in some other price-of-fame, musician-on-the-road conflicts as well, but the Foxglove/Hazel stuff is constantly the centerpiece of what really matters. And he’s excellent at giving the relationship some heft without turning it all sentimental and overwrought. It helps that, if we’ve read A Game of You, we know what kind of weird horrors they’ve been through together, but I suspect that even without that context the Foxglove/Hazel relationship would be well-defined on these pages alone. Gaiman doesn’t amp it up. He lets the relationship do what they sometimes do, particularly when the loved ones are living two very different kinds of lives: it withers.

But there’s a second Faustian bargain in the story. This one is more magical in nature.

Hazel and Foxglove have an infant son named Alvie. And he died. But Foxglove never saw it, because Hazel had made a deal with Death, and Alvie came back to life. The specifics of the deal, as described by Hazel to Foxglove, go like this: “Sooner or later, she’ll come back. And then we’ll all go to her…One of us will stay with her. And the other two will come back.”

The “her,” in this case, being Death.

Foxglove doesn’t believe Hazel, until they find themselves marching toward Death’s domain, and even in those late moments, Foxglove still thinks she has fallen out of love with her partner.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Foxglove tells Hazel. “But I don’t think I love you anymore. That’s all.”

Hazel laughs, and then she replies, “You followed me into Death, because I needed you. What do you think love is?”

In the end, a life is sacrificed so that Alvie and Hazel and Foxglove may live. And it’s a life sacrificed willingly, out of a sense of responsibility. No, it’s not the return of the dark-haired Dream, but the dutiful surprise hero of The Time of Your Life echoes, in deed, the actions of Gaiman’s more famous protagonist.

Life goes on, but no longer in the media spotlight for Foxglove. She “dies,” as a performer, only to be reborn as a mom, with Hazel and Alvie at her side. All it took was staring Death in the face for Foxglove to realize what was most important in life.

NEXT: Neil Gaiman teams up with Matt Wagner, titans tussle, in Sandman Midnight Theatre.

Tim Callahan was confused when he learned about the Faust story in school because he’d read the David Quinn/Tim Vigil Faust comic, and what he’d learned in class about was really different than what he saw in that sleazy, demonic superhero series.


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