Welcome to another addition of Catching Up with the Classics where I talk about a comic book series or story that I have failed to read up to this. This time I am taking a look at The Sandman Vol 1: Preludes and Nocturnes.
If I am being honest Neil Gaiman’s work can be intimidating. I have read a number of his stories in both comic and novel form and enjoyed them a great deal. The thing is I know going in that a lot of time and energy needs to be taken in order to fully appreciate his stories. Now I don’t mind doing that work, it is just sometimes you have to be in the right mood. Sometimes I feel like reading something of true significance and sometimes I just want to read something quick and easy with a lot of superhero punching. It’s like I love most of Terrance Malick’s films, but I wouldn’t necessarily hit the theater on a Friday night to watch Tree of Life if I am just looking for a good time.
The Sandman series is one of the most notable in all of comics history. I know a lot of Gaiman fans and most began their fandom of his career after reading these comics. This series is the crowning achievement of the medium of comics for many people. My first exposure to the series came watching the documentary Comic Book Superheroes Unmasked that pointed out it’s major acclaim and award winning success.
With that said many have noted the first volume of the series, while great, does not hit the heights it later achieves. Considering where Neil Gaiman was with her career at the time and how different this series was for comics it is easy to understand why that is the case. Thanks to this blog series I am once again diving deep into a comic I have kept on my list of shame for far too long.
Going into this book I expected it to be dark, dreary, and full of meaningful soliloquies about human nature and universal morality. What I did not expect was it to have such a strong sense of humor. Humor and fantasy do go hand and hand so I should not be that surprised. Still, seeing Morpheus and John Constantine sitting in the back of a cab was one of the most shockingly hilarious images I have seen in comics in some. Gaiman used moments like that and characters like Kane and Abel to inject a necessary amount of comedic relief into otherwise dreary stories.
Seeing Constantine in this series was in itself a surprise. His inclusion along with characters like Batman and Martian Manhunter were somewhat out of place considering the tone and style of these stories. I assumed it would be separate from the DC universe entirely but in this volume it is still well connected to much of the DC lore. Not knowing what comes after this volume I do wonder how much of that connection remains in future stories.
Considering how far reaching many of the ramifications are this first arc I assumed at first the rest of the DC universe would be kept far way. The story opens with Morpheus being imprisoned for nearly eighty years as world suffers with the Lord of Dreams torn from his realm. Their inclusion was done with a light touch. With most of this story existing in the outer edges of a world made up of superheroes. In away their inclusion helped point out how different much of this book was compared to the rest of the comic world.
Concerns for New Readers:
Neil Gaiman may be one of the most well respected authors now, but at the time of this release his name was just one of many trying to make it in the very competitive comic book field. He had only one book Black Orchid at the time, which gave a spec of insight to his skill was a writer. So if you have read more of Gaiman’s more recent work do not be surprised if this is not nearly at his most polished level at first.
Major credit should go to the former Vertigo editor Karen Berger for seeing something in Gaiman and giving him a chance to shock the comic book world with nothing they have ever seen or read before. At first Gaiman wanted to use the already established DC Sandman character to tell a number of stories set completely in the dream world. Berger push him to create his own character, which opened the door to craft his own brand new world.
Those that prefer a comic artwork to remain consistent until a story ends should know this opening volume includes work from both Mike Dringenberg and Malcolm Jones III. Dringenberg began the series with a Gothic style I was ready to stick with for the long haul. I was surprised to later find out that Dringenberg felt his work did not fit the style of story Gaiman was telling, although Malcolm Jones III’s pencils makes the story much more contemporary.
Worth the Hype:
The first volume of The Sandman is like buying a brand new wardrobe from the finest clothing store you could ever imagine. You can see a lot of gorgeous material, amazing designs that are unlike anything you have seen prior, and the fresh style opens up grand opportunity for some incredible new ideas. It is just that not everything quite fits yet. You can tell Gaiman and his team are still sizing things up to find the appropriate way to put everything together. That is until the final story “The Sound of Her Wings’.
In this epilogue Morpheus’s sister Death sees that something is bothering her dear brother. Morpheus admits that now that his quest to restore himself is over he feels purposeless. The desire for vengeance that once motivated him is now gone, and that vengeance was not as fulfilling as he had hoped. Morpheus then travels with his sister across the world as she welcomes a number of individuals to their new internal plain of existence.
Within this story all those elements that had be building since the first issue come together to craft a cathartic tale that works as an isolated story, but more important is an ultimate culmination of Morpheus’s development. Malcolm Jones III should also get a lot of credit for making this issue such an achievement. His paneling layout is inventive and progress the story so well you barely need Gaiman’s artful words.
The other stories are worth merit as well. While it was surprising to see other DC characters making an appearance it also worked to subvert expectations over the stories Gaiman was telling. In typical superhero stories evil does not win to this degree. When it comes the hero tends to come in at the last moment to prevent the horrific act from occurring, but here we witness it in full degree. Quickly Gaiman establishes that this will be nothing like the past characters of DC lore.
Without question The Sandman is a remarkable read. With that said it is not a story that will work with everyone. Considering the heavy material and the dark places the story goes some may find it a difficult read. Those that are opposed to anything within the horror genre are likely to find issues. That’s part of what makes The Sandman so phenomenal. Gaiman never attempts to please everyone. He is a patient storyteller. There are not many comic book writers that would be willing to not have their main character even speak or show his face until late in the second issue. After this first volume I greatly look forward to what this series has to come.