My first review, the first collection of Sandman comics. Coincidentally, this is also my first graphic novel. I hope you enjoy my review as much as I enjoyed “Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes”.
Title: The Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes
Author: Neil Gaiman
Illustrator(s): Sam Keith, Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III
Original Publication Date: Published 1995, from material originally printed 1988 & 89
Cover Price: $19.95 US, $32.95 CAN
Buy from: Amazon.com or Amazon.ca
Contains Sandman issues 1-8
The world as we know it is far stranger than ever we imagined. Beyond daily life, beyond myth, beyond gods, there are the seven Eternals, the Endless. Aside from the missing Delerium, Desire, Despair, Destiny, Death… and Dream. The Sandman is the Lord of Dreams, not only here on Earth, but throughout the whole of reality – and it is through dreams that all of reality is linked. This first book of Sandman comics deals particularly with a time, during World War II, when Morpheus was caught – imprisoned – by a group of cultists who thought to ensnare Death. The consequences and aftermath of his imprisonment make up not only the majority of this book, but a great deal of the books that come after.
I should make it clear at this point that I have never read a graphic novel before. I’ve read comics, yes. But I’ve never read a comic because of the writing. I picked up the Sandman comics for two reasons – first, I had just finished Neil Gaiman’s American Gods (an excellent book, by the way), and second because I finally found the first two collections in a store. As such, this review will be from a perspective that isn’t used to this format.
The high point…well, there isn’t in fact a high point so much as there are a series of high points. Each time Morpheus gets to a point where he can bring his sovereignty to bear, there is a high point. Had I to choose only one, however, it would be during his visit to hell. Morpheus engages in a deadly game with a demon in order to bring some measure of power back to himself. The game, and its ending in particular, would have to be my choice for “high point”. You really get a sense for what kind of being Morpheus is. Occasionally, he relies on the powers of his position, brute force as it were, but in this case particularly he shows himself a clever and intelligent anthropomorphic personification.
I have to say that the low point was all in the artwork. No offense to the artists – I don’t think that the artwork was ever bad. I was, however, engrossed by the story and it was always the artwork that threw me out of it. Particularly, I was thrown by the scene in which Morpheus clothes himself from dream-stuff for the first time. It just felt like the wrong clothes – he’d been trapped for seventy years and rather than clothe himself in his traditional garb (which is impressive and intimidating, two qualities he was looking for at the time) he drew on a trenchcoat and boots. It just felt out of place.
I’m not 100% certain how original this is. I’m just reading it now, in 2002, and it was first published in 1988 and ’89. Therefore, everything that I’ve read which has been published since then is less original than this, and not the other way around. I can say that I see very easily where many of the ideas in American Gods came from. Also, there are shades of Terry Pratchett present throughout – once again, however, I’m not sure who influenced who. Additionally, they’ve collaborated before (on Good Omens) and it may be that they just are very much in tune. Finally, and this is no fault of Gaiman’s, he was supposed to use characters from other D.C. publications to make this a broadly appealing title. As such, I have to give this a 4 out of 6.
The artwork, as I said, was the thing that threw me out of the comic most. Partially
because of the large number of animators, nothing is consistent. Because of the nature of the stories (set in dreams), things don’t have to be static – in fact, that would probably be a liability. Still, some things are frustrating. Morpheus’ face stays the same for one issue, then changes in the next issue. The one that really got frustrating was Morpheus’ helm. In one issue it looks like a helm as designed by H.R. Geiger, in another it looks like a weird, huge gas mask. In still another it looks like a bizarre elephant head. In the end, I don’t really understand what the heck the helmet is for in the first place. These are all relatively small things, though, and honestly don’t really take away from the stories being told. I give the artwork a 5 out of 6.
The story was impressive. It’s recognizably Gaiman’s writing style, very obviously ideas that he’s fascinated with. If you don’t like Gaiman, that can pull you down. I, personally, love Gaiman’s work, so that’s a plus for me. I get to see another side of things he’s been working with. Each issue does a good job of having a stand alone, cohesive plot, interesting enough that I read the first collection without stopping to put it down between the time I got home from the bookstore and the time I finished it before I ate dinner. I give the story a 5 out of 6.
The characterization was, has been, and will probably continue to be one
of Gaiman’s strong suits. Even the teensy bit characters stick in your mind. And I can tell you, having cheated and read the next few collections as well, that even the teensy bit characters are important and will show up later on. Unless of course they’re a D.C. Character thrown in to “put it in the right universe”. Even then, however, these are pieces of the characters’ lives that fans will want to read. For example, I complain a bit below about the Martian Manhunter being thrown into one of the stories, and what if I didn’t know who he was. Well, the fact is that I’ve picked up a bit about who he is, and knowing that, this little tiny five or six panel scene with him in it was a little glimpse of something about him that was a) true to what I already know about him, and b) still gave you a new perspective on his character. The one bit player that sticks in my mind is an old Jewish fiddler being visited by Death, accompanied by her brother Dream. In two pages of dialog and art, I knew him. Gaiman is that kind of a writer (and the artwork, as I said, is good). I give the characterization full marks with a 6 of 6.
I had strong emotional responses to every issue. I despised some of the
antagonists, I felt pity for others. I felt some of both for the same people. I struggled occasionally with my feelings about Morpheus himself. Is he a “hero”, like a Superman? No. He can’t really be. But he’s not an antihero, like the Punisher either. He wants to do the right thing, but he’s subject to his own emotions and desires. Even as a god, one of the Endless, he’s human. He’s exactly as we imagine him to be, with all the flaws that entails. As such, his quests for vengeance can be chilling – he has far more power to cause harm than any mere mortal. At the same time, he has a capacity for forgiveness and compassion that a true “wrathful god” would be incapable of. I felt a great deal of empathy and compassion for this character myself. He’s a god you can relate to. How…strange. I give the emotional response a 6 of 6 – partially because of the revulsion I felt because of Dr. Destiny.
The flow could have been better, but I have to give them a little bit of the benefit of the doubt. This was written as a serial, a monthly publication that was not necessarily expected to pick up where the last one left off. They’re trapped by their own medium. The only way around it would have been to re-do some of the material, and then I would have been disappointed that I’d been robbed of the same experience as had originally been presented. Sort of a “what do you MEAN they edited E.T.?” feeling. So I give the flow a 5 out of 6 because they did well with what they had to work with, but it’s rough work.
Overall, this is the best graphic novel I had ever read. It was the only graphic novel I had ever read. Because of the quality of the writing and the way the story merged with the artwork I think I’ll be able to say that the Sandman comics will ALWAYS be one of the best graphic novels I’ve read. Very little bothers me about it (the depiction of mankind’s deprivations do kind of get me occasionally), and I’m fascinated by the story. I can already forsee being disappointed when I hit collection 10 and finish up. Go forth and buy it. I give it a 5 out of 6.
In total, Sandman, Preludes and Nocturnes, gets a 36 out of 42.
Additional Notes and Comments
I’m writing this part as I’m re-reading the book. One of the things that strike s me as most interesting about this story is that it’s not really a story about the Sandman himself – it’s really a story about all the lives that he affects. The most annoying thing is the inclusion of D.C. characters that you may or may not be familiar with without excuse. John Constantine’s involvement didn’t make any sense to me. I could tell that he was someone I was supposed to know something about, so I looked him up. Turns out that John Constantine is the Hellblazer. Normal everyday guy, he just happens to be an Adept mage. Knowing that beforehand would have helped. I’m lucky hat I started watching Cartoon Network’s “Justice League” cartoon or I would have been extremely confused by J’onn J’onzz appearance. As it was, I found it interesting and revealed a lot about just how far reaching the Endless really are. Dr. Destiny is still a complete mystery to me. I’m going to have to go back and do some research on him as well. None of this stopped me from loving the stories, and I’ve bought (and read) the first five already. If you liked this review, let me know and I’ll keep writing them.