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Saturday, February 28, 2015
SANDMAN Vol. 1: PRELUDES & NOCTURNES TPB: Sandman Vol. 1 Writer: Neil Gaiman Artist: Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg
With Neil Gaiman revisiting the Sandman universe with his new mini, Sandman: Overture, this seemed like a good time to review his original masterpiece. In the first volume, the Sandman is captured by a rich occultist who endeavors to capture Death and make it do his bidding. Instead, he captures the Sandman whom he imprisons for 70 years. Eventually escaping, he learns that the symbols of his office have since been turned into powerful relics used by the mystical community. On a search for the symbols of his station from which he draws power, the Sandman must deal with Constantine, go through Hell itself, and stop a deranged inmate of Arkham who suddenly has power and the sick mind to put it to use.
Neil Gaiman likely needs no introduction if you’re familiar with Sandman. It’s his best known work and one of the few graphic novels ever to make the New York Times Bestseller List. Sam Kieth is both a writer and illustrator and is best known as the creator of the Maxx.
Drawing on everything from folklore, theology, mythology and fairy tales to populate his story, Gaiman masterfully writes about these larger than life characters while making them feel almost human. Confined for decades by someone who is terrified by death, Sandman feels he is resurrected after escaping and retrieving his symbols only to find his realm has decayed in his absence. In the final issue of the trade, Sandman reveals to his sister Death that he feels adrift now that his revenge has been taken and isn’t sure what to do with himself.
The art (Kieth for the first five, Dringenberg for the final three) is fantastic throughout. The character models including that of its titular character are all offbeat and stylized but not to the point of obscuring detail. Shadows and lighting are used to similar effect but the eighth issue occurs in broad daylight showing that the art is always in service of the story and not the other way around. The Dreamscape backgrounds are similarly breathtaking.
I’ve heard the first volume is not very representative of the whole series so I’ll avoid attempting to paint the entire series with a broad brush based on only this trade. But in closing, after talking with my fellow podcasters, many had never read this series. For something started in 1989, that’s forgivable given many of our ages. But whether you’re rereading this two decades after it closed or reading it for the first time, I highly recommend picking it up before the second issue of Overture comes out in February.