Mourning in America with Lady Death, Part 1 -

Comic Book Interview

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Mourning in America with Lady Death, Part 1

Writer John Ostrander takes Chaos! Comics' Bad Girl into deadly territory with a miniseries about AIDS and loss

By Arnold T. Blumberg     August 07, 2002

As a young child, John Ostrander was forbidden from reading the kind of "offensive" comics that figures like the infamous Dr. Frederic Wertham railed against in public appearances and in print. Now he's a comic book writer himself, working on characters like Lady Death, whose fashion sense and penchant for mayhem would certainly have drawn the ire of Wertham and prevented Ostrander from reading anything of her exploits. But he insists there is no intended revenge at work in his decision to script the latest Lady Death story arc, THE MOURNING.

"God, I hope not," laughs Ostrander. "That's a lot of baggage to be carrying for 40-odd years. I'd be more comfortable with 'paycheck' than 'payback.'"

Originally, LADY DEATH: THE MOURNING was part of another story arc, but the powers that be determined that this particular chapter in Lady Death's life needed to go it alone.

"It was part of the "Gauntlet/Goddess Returns" storyline," says Ostrander. "Brian realized that it was too important and we already had way too much story for those issues. So he suggested we make it a two-issue story of its own. Chaos! set it but I think it's appropriate - [it] makes the story very condensed, with a real drive."

Lady Death: Alive #3

Chief among the challenges in crafting this tale was striking a balance between the harsh reality of something like AIDS and the dark fantasy of Lady Death's world. Ostrander also notes that while the title says 'Lady Death,' this series is especially concerned with one of her supporting characters.

"AIDS is a fact of life and we deal with it as such," says Ostrander. "Lady Death is fantasy but, as I've often said, all the best fantasy has one foot planted solidly in the real world. Lady Death isn't there to 'combat' AIDS or 'cure' it - it's not what she does. Also, the AIDS story element is not the central story, although it is central to what is part of the story, which is about Virgil Solomon and his son. Virgil is dead and his son is dying. It's really, ultimately, Virgil's story rather than Lady Death's."

Nevertheless, dropping a weighty subject like AIDS into Lady Death's reality does suggest some possible parallels given her former occupation as Death's avatar and of course her nom de plume. Ostrander shrugs off such associations.

"That's not really where the story is going," says Ostrander. "There will be parallels, but the reader can find them for him- or herself. It's ultimately about character and the things that separate us."

Ostrander himself was separated from the artists, Carlos Mota Jr. and Joe Pimentel, who worked from a full script and apparently did not work as closely with Ostrander as some teams do. But the results will certainly speak for themselves. Ostrander may be as excited as the fans to see the finished version of the series.

"The story is done full script," says Ostrander. "Sometimes I don't even see the art until the story is published."

Last month's ashcan previewed LADY DEATH: THE MOURNING.

When fans do get to see the completed arc, they will be happy to learn that although many aspects of this new story stand apart from the underlying 'mythology' of Lady Death, there will be some motion forward in her continuing saga as well.

"I think primarily [it's] a stand-alone tale, in that it should also be accessible to those who have never read Lady Death before," says Ostrander. "There are elements that will contribute to Lady Death overall. She will learn more about her relationship with the Reaper, the true personification of Death in the Chaos! Universe, [she will] learn something about why Earth and humans are important in the cosmic scheme of things, and what the Reaper wants her role to be."

"Gee, having said that, I guess I was wrong - this is pretty important to the overall mythos," laughs Ostrander. "But it should still be pretty accessible to the first-time reader, and I think pretty satisfying, although there are also some very horrific elements as well. There is a very real bite to this story, [with] things in there to make people uncomfortable. Some of it made me uncomfortable, and I wrote the darned thing!"

Next time, John Ostrander explains why Lady Death isn't just another "bad girl," chats a bit about his opinion of the so-called "mainstreaming" of the Chaos! Universe, and tells us what else is on his slate for the rest of the year.



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