I found my first Sandman comic in a quarter bin. Now, I know that the quarter bin is usually the domain of my cohort, but for the purposes of this column, and subsequent columns in this series, I need to establish my foundation. I didn’t start with Sandman #1, though I admit that would have been a great place to start. No, I started with Sandman #57, the first issue of the “The Kindly Ones.” I had recently pulled a few issues of Bone out of the quarter bin at the local antique shop that sold some comics, and I was digging through the rest of the books trying to find more, when I came across this issue. The cover told me nothing about the comic itself, but I had heard enough about the book to be intrigued. I also knew who Neil Gaiman was from Good Omens, a book that my friend told me I had to read, but I hadn’t actually read yet. For a quarter, I thought, why not? I ended up buying the four or so issues that were hidden within the bin, all random issues from “The Kindly Ones”, and devouring them that night. I was blown away by the universe Gaiman had built, and I knew that what I was reading, even four or five years after it was published, was something special. Looking back, I can say that that moment was the genesis of my love for the works of Neil Gaiman, something that continues to this day.
Jump ahead a year or two. Rhys and I had this system where we would share comics. We would each buy different books on our monthly pull list and swap titles that we thought the other would be interested in. If we were considering adding a title to our pull list, we would ask the other if he intended to, so that we wouldn’t end up doubling up on issues, unless we really, really, really wanted our own copies. We would do the same with any graphic novels or trade paperbacks we purchased, a system which eventually led to my reintroduction to Sandman. At one point, after Rhys has traveled with his family to Cheyenne, Wyoming, he returned with a copy of the “Preludes and Nocturnes”, the first collection of Sandman comics. I, of course, snatched up the opportunity to borrow the book, and if I wasn’t hooked before, it wasn’t long before I was hopelessly addicted to the story and all it presented.
Which leads me to this week and this week’s column, the first in what I hope will be a series of terrific columns focusing on one of my favorite comic books series ever. But, first, a little more backstory. I don’t sleep very well at night. I’m an anxious person by nature, and it’s hard to turn that off. My mind is just too active with all of the different things I need to do throughout the day, and when it comes time for me to slow down and drift off, I become fixated on my life outside my bed. And it ends up taking me forever to start shutting that stuff down.
One of the ways I’ve found to solve this problem is to focus my mind on something else. While my mind may remain active, if I can narrow down its activity to a single point, it is much easier to drive that course to slumber. Lately, I’ve been re-reading “Preludes and Nocturnes”. I’ve had it on my phone for a few years now, ever since DC released the digital version on the Amazon store. When I bought a Kindle Fire, it was one of the first purchases I made to try out comics on a tablet, and now, re-reading it years later, I’m still blown away by the fact that I can hold an entire graphic novel in the palm of my hand. Crotchety-old-man-isms aside, though, I’m amazed to find that I enjoy this comic as much as I do, despite the fact that I’ve read it a million times before.
It’s hard to explain exactly what it is that appeals to me, and I know that smarter people than I have probably written dissertations on the series, but there’s something about it that just grabs me and refuses to let go. The first issue starts out simply enough. A secret society of wizards is attempting to capture Death, but instead, they capture her brother, Morpheus, the King of Dreams. He spends over seventy years in captivity, until a slight oversight sets him free. He enacts revenge on his captor and returns to his domain, the Dreaming, broken, exhausted, and nearly dead. This entire story is told through the words of Gaiman set against the beautiful backdrops of penciler Sam Keith’s simple, yet complex, imagery. The artistry of the panels can sometimes make the action hard to follow, but even that is a rare situation. Most of the time, the comic is engrossing on multiple levels. From the dialogue to the plot to the artwork to the colors, the entire book just works. As the story progresses into the second issue, and we’re introduced to Cain and Abel, two of the inhabitants of the Dreaming, and through these interactions, Gaiman begins to develop the mythos of the story that engrossed me so much as a teenager and continues to do so now.
What I’m loving more than anything with this read-through, though, is how important DC Continuity was to Gaiman, when he developed the story. Wesley Dodd, the original Sandman from 1939, had long since fallen into obscurity. With this new Sandman series, though, Gaiman weaved Dodd into the mythos, creating something entirely unique at the same time. Suddenly, all of those old Sandman stories weren’t just classic, silly Golden Age stories about a guy in a business suit and a gas mask, he was the charge of Morpheus, the King of Dreams, affecting what little he could of the world from his glass prison. Later Sandman stories featuring Dodd, both in this Sandman series, and other mini-series set in the 1930s would continue to cement this symbiotic relationship between the two, creating something altogether unique and interesting.
It’s something that neither of the two big companies would likely do in the current industry, and I think that’s a shame. Then again, I’m not entirely sure that anyone could do it quite as well as Gaiman did in this series. Maybe it’s good they don’t try. Though, to be fair, James Robinson did an amazing job of that in his Starman revival, which to this day remains my favorite example of retroactive continuity done right. But, again, modern comics have no place for anything like this, and that makes me a little sad. I know that the industry is geared toward casting the widest net possible for potential fans, and I’m okay with that.
I can understand and appreciate that sentiment. It just makes me a little sad.
Not a lot happens in the first two issues of Sandman in the grand scheme of things. We’re introduced to characters, and Gaiman starts building his worlds, and ultimately we’re hooked, and engrossed, and we want to read more. Thankfully, there is more. Gaiman wrote 75 issues of this series, and these first two issues merely scratch the surface. I have read on, and I know the truth: there is so much more to come. And, personally, I am so excited to revisit it.