Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes by Gaiman, Neil, 1993

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Though I am no longer as interested in comics as I was when I was a boy, I have to say that Neil Gaiman had my complete and undivided attention from the very first issue of his Sandman series. I no longer remember the name of that particular comic, but it was the one where Death and Dream are sitting in a pub in sixteenth century England when they overhear a patron boasting that he would be happy if he never died. Death gives him his wish that evening and puts the touch to him so that nothing will ever kill him, save for suicide. The man agreed with Dream to meet every century at the pub, so they get together and the man describes his long and storied life.

The comic The Sandman ran for about 75 issues before ending, and in that several year run Gaiman became one of the most recognized and awarded comic book creators in the history of the sub-genre. The Sandman was so popular that it made the New York Times best seller list several times (a feat only managed by two other comics so far) and even won a World Fantasy Award (issue number 19, A Midsummer Night's Dream). That fact so scandalized the jury of that body that they immediately "fixed" the criteria so that never again could a "lowly" or "lesser" art form claim that prize. But rest assured, if graphic novel or comic book ever warranted a major genre award, The Sandman is it. It is the story of a member of an extended family of immortals, all of whom control some inchoate phenomena in our world. The titular Sandman is actually Dream, and he controls the world's dreaming. Like I mentioned above, Death is his sister, and she serves humanity as the Grim Reaper. The family is immortal, and they have great powers in our reality. Gaiman's tale relies very heavily on mysticism and tropes from the occult, but he also created a new, but slightly derivative, mythology. Dream and his like are members of a pantheon of immortals that Gaiman put together from Scandinavian, Greek, Christian, Jewish and British mythology. Each of the immortals reigns over a kingdom in a separate reality. They can open gates and travel to Earth anytime that they want, and they frequently do. Dream has the power to travel through our reality by availing himself of modes of transportation in the dreams of human beings, or he can open gates and move instantly. His job is to regulate dream in our minds.

Preludes and Nocturnes collects issues 1-8 of the series. It begins with a coven of occultists who in 1906 desire to capture Death herself, so as to gain immortality. They cast their spells, but capture her brother, Dream. They do not know who they have captured, and for eighty years they imprison Dream in a crystal prison, and take from his badges of office and objects of power, including his bag of sand, a helm and a gem. Each one of these objects contains an aspect of Dream made into physical form. Without these objects Dream has some power, but he is merely an immortal. With them he is near omnipotent as well. The eight issue arc tells of Dream's quest to regain his objects: The sandbag from a junkie; the helm from a demon in Hell; the gem from a power-mad human from the DC universe called Doctor Destiny, or "Dee" for short. Dee has found the gem while Dream was incarcerated, and used it to control the minds of those around him. Since finding it Dee has stopped dreaming, and in fact stopped sleeping, and has gone stark raving mad.

For sure, The Sandman is not a comic for juveniles; it contains elements of sexuality, violence, Satanism, torture, murder, and much more. It is not overwhelming prurient or bloody, but it is not tame. This particular graphic novel also has some of the usual DC characters in it, and I personally found that to take away from impact, as I generally consider super-hero comics to be bland, uninspired and boring. That is just me though; perhaps other readers appreciated those touches. Sandman as a whole is one of the best comic series ever written, and that is probably because its creator is a speculative literature genius. Gaiman has gone on to even greater things than this, but this is by no means amateurish or hackish at all. Preludes and Nocturnes though is not the best in the series, but it is a solid entry. Three out of five stars.

Copyright 2008, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 3 star(s)


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