Sandman Reviews

The Dream Hunters
TITLE: The Sandman
SUB-TITLE: The Dream Hunters
PUBLISHER: DC Comics Vertigo
WHAT IT IS: A trade paperback of a stand alone story completed after
The Sandman’s conclusion as a monthly series.
GENRE: Fantasy (stories with panmythic goth gods)
WRITTEN BY: Neil Gaiman. ILLUSTRATED BY: Yoshitaka Amano.
PAGE COUNT: 128. Color illustrations and text.
DATE OF PUBLICATION: 1999
 
CONTENT: An original stand alone Neil Gaiman Sandman story
completed after The Sandman’s conclusion as a monthly series.
NOTES/SPECIAL FEATURES: The book is more an illustrated story than a comic book. Pages of illustration alternate with pages of text. Also available in hard cover.
REVIEWED BY: T.M. Doyle
WHAT I THINK:
This beautifully illustrated story is a retelling of a Japanese fairy tale in the context of the Sandman mythos. As story telling, it lacks the original touches that made the Sandman series so surpassingly excellent. Also, it lacks the interaction between the graphic and written components that make comic books an exciting medium. Still, the combination of two of the best creators in their fields almost by necessity makes for at least a charming tale with gorgeous illustrations.
 
The story, a fairy tale which links three subtales, mainly concerns a young Buddhist monk and a shape changing fox who fall in love with one another. Each attempts to sacrifice his or herself to preserve the other from the plots of an evil city magician. The Sandman repeatedly
intervenes, though with ambiguous effect from a moral or even narrative standpoint.
Sandman regulars who appear in different guises include the Sandman’s raven (though it’s not Matthew at this time), the triple hecateae of mother, lover and crone, Cain and Abel and the gryphon at the gate. But a reader could enjoy this tale without knowing anything else about the Sandman series, which is good for the non-Sandman reader and somewhat disappointing for the Sandman fan.
 
The artwork by Yoshitaka Amano is the only major selling point for this book. The illustrations are wonderfully varied, some in traditional ink brush style, some dense details of line, some effusive blasts of color, some abstractly modern, all beautiful. For those without a taste for anime, manga or the Final Fantasy video games, this may be the one format in which to appreciate on a Japan’s most popular artists.
 
The story does not deviate from a folk tale tone throughout — there is
none of the mixing between the mythological and the modern or even
across mythologies that made the Sandman stories interesting. Somehow, the Sandman mythos is too good a fit with the original Japanese story, so that even that juxtaposition is less interesting than it might have been. Finally, there is no novel twist on the resolution of the folk story or surprise that would reward the reader of this variant more than the reader of the traditional version.
 
However, Gaiman is a master storyteller, so even a less interesting and less original effort by him is a more worthwhile read that most of the efforts of the Gaiman wannabees. He also restrains his recurrent impulse to dazzle the reader with the density of his knowledge, as the Japanese origin of the story presents enough of a hurdle for full appreciation. He certainly has not damaged the underlying story, and the resulting tale is charmingly bittersweet, lightly haunting and beautifully visualized.
 
[Though we offer the paperback version here, art fans may want to
consider purchasing the hard cover version.]
 
MY JUDGEMENT: Darn good book.
WHY: The illustrations are beautiful, but the story is relatively unoriginal.
IF YOU DIG THIS, CHECK OUT: Any other Sandman trade paperback.
 

The Doll’s House
TITLE:  The Sandman
SUB-TITLE:  The Doll’s House
PUBLISHER:  DC Comics Vertigo
WHAT IT IS:  A trade paperback of issues 8-16, which includes The Doll’s House storyline and the debut of Death.  It was the first trade paperback issued from the series.  Originally issued without title.
GENRE:  Fantasy (stories with panmythic goth gods)
WRITTEN BY:  Neil Gaiman.  ILLUSTRATED BY:  Mike Dringenberg & Malcolm Jones III with Chris Bachalo, Michael Zulli & Steve Parkhouse and with covers by Dave McKean.
PAGE COUNT:  256.  Color illustrations and text.
DATE OF PUBLICATION:  Originally published 1990. Reprinted with different cover 1998.

CONTENT:  A compilation of issues 8-16.
NOTES/SPECIAL FEATURES:  Introduction by Clive Barker.
Also available in hard cover.  Cover by Dave McKean.
REVIEWED BY:  T.M. Doyle
WHAT I THINK:
Ah, don’t we all remember when we first met Death?  For me it was the summer of 1989, when everything in comics and the world seemed possible.  The Sandman had already established itself as the most interesting series on the market, but with the introduction of Death (an issue also reprinted in Preludes and Nocturnes), the series found it’s unique charm and voice.  We recognized at once this perky goth girl though we’d never seen her before, though perhaps we’d read her description in French poetry.  That’s her, we cried, that’s always been her. So many goth girl imitators later, it’s still her.
 
But it wasn’t just Death which we met in these issues.  The Corinthian
strolls through these pages, as ominous as a personal Borg cube, quite literally the ultimate nightmare.  Desire, for whom one sex or one of anything is never enough, plots and schemes with Despair against their brother Dream.  Gaiman also introduces an odd array of human characters who, seemingly forgotten, reemerge in later issues of The Sandman or who have friends in The Dreaming.
 
I also remember the first letter which I wrote to a comic book concerned the issue introducing Hob, an unlikely immortal.  I was astounded that a comic book of all things would make jokes about literary and historical personages and events on a first name basis and never stop to explain them for the intellectually challenged.  You either got the joke or you didn’t.
 
Gaiman is the master of juxtaposing different mythologies and of bridging traditional story telling with modern realism and psychology. The story moves from tribal Africa to a serial killer convention in America, from the world of dreams to the world of living nightmares. He is a great storyteller for any medium, and we are fortunate that he found his way to comics.
 
The interior artwork noticeably improved in style with the departure of Sam Kieth.  And the Dave McKean covers are fine art in any context, comic book or otherwise.  The covers alone always make The Sandman a good display piece (“You want to see the comics I read? Take a look at this.”). But, let’s face it, other than the covers, people seldom buy Sandman for the art, though they’ll buy Sandman art for its associations.
 
Perhaps the climaxes of this storyline are anticlimactic.  Perhaps with the wisdom of time and disillusionment with the efforts of imitators, these early Sandman issues may seem a bit pretentious, precious and reaching.  But they remain an exciting start to the outstanding effort in the medium, the like of which we have not seen for a while and may not see again soon.
 
MY JUDGEMENT:  Permanent collection.
WHY:  It doesn’t get much better than this.
IF YOU DIG THIS, CHECK OUT:  Any other Sandman trade paperback.

Fables and Reflections
TITLE:  The Sandman
SUB-TITLE:  Fables and Reflections
PUBLISHER:  DC Comics Vertigo
WHAT IT IS:  A trade paperback compilation of self-contained in one issue Sandman stories.  Reprinted recently as volume 7 of the Sandman Library.
GENRE:  Fantasy (stories with panmythic goth gods)
WRITTEN BY:  Neil Gaiman.
ILLUSTRATED BY:  Various with covers by Dave McKean.
PAGE COUNT:  264.  Color illustrations and text.
DATE OF PUBLICATION:  Originally published 1993. Reprinted with different cover 1999.

CONTENT:  A compilation of issues 29-31, 38-40, 50 of The Sandman, The Sandman Special no. 1 and a selection from Vertigo Preview no. 1.
NOTES/SPECIAL FEATURES:  Introduction by Gene Wolfe.
Also available in hard cover.  Cover by Dave McKean.
REVIEWED BY:  T.M. Doyle
WHAT I THINK:
These are some of the best short stories in any medium.  They will
continue with you long after you’ve forgotten the movie you saw last
weekend.  I’ll just remind you of some of them now.
 
The first story, “Three September and a January,” incorporates the history of Joshua Norton, the self-proclaimed “Emperor of the United States,” into a touching account of the power of dreams to remake our lives and the lives of those around us.  The second story, “Thermidor,” finds the head of Orpheus, the Sandman’s son, in the midst of the French Revolution with Joanna Constantine, ancestress of the John Constantine of Hellblazer fame.  This story is politically simplistic but still compelling.
 
The third story, “The Hunt,” appears at first to be an old man’s folk tale to his granddaughter about a race of werewolves, but turns out to be much more.  The fourth story, “August,” is a marvelous blend of Suetonius and speculation regarding Augustus Caesar.  
 
The stories regarding Marco Polo (“Soft Places”) and Orpheus
(“Orpheus”) are solid, but not as compelling.  Perhaps this is because the juxtapositions of the historical or mythological tale with the Sandman’s universe are less intriguing.  In the case of the story of Orpheus, Gaiman’s account adds little to the well know original.
 
On the other hand, the story of “Ramadan,” originally published as a
special 50th issue, has everything that one expects from a great
Sandman story.  It’s evocation of the world of the 1001 Nights is an
intriguing blend of past and present, of folk and myth with the Sandman’s universe.  This story could easily be included as a coda to the classic originals.
 
The only decidedly silly bit in this compilation is from the Vertigo Preview no. 1, a truly lame but mercifully short bit of preachiness.
 
Gaiman is the master of juxtaposing different mythologies and of bridging traditional story telling with modern realism and psychology. The story moves from classical Rome and mythological Greece to the modern suburbs, from the dreams of 1001 nights to the desolation of modern Baghdad.  He is a great storyteller for any medium, and we are fortunate that he found his way to comics.
 
And the Dave McKean covers are fine art in any context, comic book or otherwise.  The covers alone always make The Sandman a good display piece (“You want to see the comics I read?  Take a look at this.”).  As for the story illustrators, by this time, the finest artists in the business were vying to illustrate Sandman stories.  But, let’s face it, other than the covers, people seldom buy Sandman for the art, though they’ll buy Sandman art for its associations.
 
Perhaps the conclusions of these stories are a bit pat, but they are nearly always moving somehow.  Perhaps with the wisdom of time and disillusionment with the efforts of imitators, Gaiman’s stories may seem, even in this period when he reached his full stride, a bit pretentious, precious and reaching.  But they remain the outstanding effort in the medium, the like of which we have not seen for a while and may not see again soon.
 
MY JUDGEMENT:  Permanent collection.
WHY:  This is the acme of the art form.
IF YOU DIG THIS, CHECK OUT:  Any other Sandman trade paperback.

 

Worlds’ End
TITLE:  The Sandman
SUB-TITLE:  Worlds’ End
PUBLISHER:  DC Comics Vertigo
WHAT IT IS:  A trade paperback compilation of issues 51-56 of The
Sandman,, each of which is mostly a stand alone story.  Reprinted
recently as volume 8 of the Sandman Library.
GENRE:  Fantasy (stories with panmythic goth gods)
WRITTEN BY:  Neil Gaiman.
ILLUSTRATED BY:  Various with covers by Dave McKean.
PAGE COUNT:  168.  Color illustrations and text.
DATE OF PUBLICATION:  Originally published 1994. Reprinted with different cover 1999.

CONTENT:  Reprints issues 51-56 of The Sandman
NOTES/SPECIAL FEATURES:  Introduction by Stephen King.
Also available in hard cover.  Cover by Dave McKean.
REVIEWED BY:  T.M. Doyle
WHAT I THINK:
This collection is more uneven than the similar Fables and Reflections. Still, some of these issues are great short stories for any medium.  They will continue with you long after you’ve forgotten the movie you saw last weekend.
 
The frame story is that a group of travelers from various worlds find
themselves stranded in a “reality storm” at an inn between the worlds. There, they tell each other stories while they wait out the storm.
 
The first story told at the inn is “A Tale of Two Cities,” is about a man who finds himself lost in the dreamlife of a city, not its residents, but the city itself.  Though artistically interesting, the story is flat and not at all as chilling as the author apparently intended it to be.
 
The second story, “Cluracan’s Tale,” is told by a recurring character of the Vertigo universe, Cluracan of Faerie.  Unfortunately, his false modest assessment of his own story is largely true, that his “tale is a dry and unexciting one, chiefly dealing with local politics and city history.”
 
The third story, “Hob’s Leviathan,” had more charm.  Told by a young
sailor name Jim, there are several tales interwoven within it, including the continuing story of the immortal Hob who we first met in “The Doll’s House.”  This artful interweaving is well suited to a tale about what lies hidden beneath surfaces both human and natural.
 
The fourth and most moving story in the compilation, “The Golden Boy,” has an unlikely source.  Gaiman resurrects the old comic book character of Prez Rickard, the youngest president in American history, to tell a parable about an alternative world made better by the efforts of one visionary.  The compilation would be worth purchasing on the merits of that story alone.
 
But wait, there’s more.  A citizen of the a city devoted to funeral rites gives us another Chinese box of stories within his tale, “Cerements,” the fifth story in the compilation.  Some of these stories are simply excellent tales in folk style, while others give us further, foreshadowing glimpses of Endless mythos.  To say these stories are heartwarmingly creepy is not, for them, a contradiction in terms.
 
The most devastating part of this compilation is the finale, with its all to clear foreshadowing of the end of The Sandman series.  Despite
Gaiman’s previous proclamations, fans had been in denial that the end would come, but “Worlds’ End” made it clear that doom was nigh.  That doom seemed to resonate with the implosion of the comic book market from which the industry has not yet recovered.  Comic book readers had plenty of reasons to be gloomy upon finishing “Worlds’ End.”
 
Gaiman is the master of juxtaposing different mythologies and of bridging traditional story telling with modern realism and psychology. The stories move from a modern city to an imagined necropolis, from a ruler of ancient India to the President of the United States.  He is a great storyteller for any medium, and we are fortunate that he found his way to comics.
 
And the Dave McKean covers are fine art in any context, comic book or otherwise.  The covers alone always make The Sandman a good display piece (“You want to see the comics I read?  Take a look at this.”).  As for the story illustrators, by this time, the finest artists in the business were vying to illustrate Sandman stories.  But, let’s face it, other than the covers, people seldom buy Sandman for the art, though they’ll buy Sandman art for its associations.
 
At this late stage in the series, Gaiman had managed to make his endings seem less pat, putting some of the best bits within the stories instead of the end.  Gaiman still appears at times to be attempting to cram ten pounds of erudition into one pound sack..  But stories of The Sandman remain the outstanding effort in the medium, the like of which we have not seen for a while and may not see again soon.
 
MY JUDGEMENT:  Permanent collection.
WHY:  You’ve got to own the entire Sandman, even the uneven bits.
IF YOU DIG THIS, CHECK OUT:  Any other Sandman trade paperback.

Author of AMERICAN CRAFTSMEN