Saturday, March 24, 2012

GN Review -- The Sandman, v. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes / Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, and Malcolm Jones III

I'd been reading comics for years before finally making time to browse through the collected trades of Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, and in many ways, I'm glad I did.  Simply put, the frustration of having to wait every month for the next issue probably would have driven me crazy.  The fertile imagination of writer Neil Gaiman takes various elements of the DC universe and weaves them together into a mythology that transcends the conventional superhero comic book tropes while at the same time creating its own rich environment.

It's not the kind of thing you want to wait for.

The first volume, Preludes and Nocturnes, introduces the character of Dream, a very old, very powerful god, who is the living embodiment of dreams.  In the year 1916, he is bound and captured by an occult magician who was actually seeking Dream's sister, Death.  Held in captivity for seven decades, Dream finally escapes and must embark on a quest to find and  retrieve his objects of power, which were taken from him and sold by his earthly captors.

His search leads him back to the dreamworld, where the three weird sisters, the witches Hecatae tell him who last possessed his three objects of power.  He goes to England and enlists the help of John Constantine, who accompanies him to an ex-lover's house to retrieve the pouch of sand, which had wreaked horrific tragedy on her life with her addiction to it.  His next, considerably harder quest, takes him to Hell itself, where he must challenge one of its many demons for the return of his helmet.  Finally, he must return to earth, where he must confront the demented and psychopathic Doctor Destiny for the ruby that contains the largest share of his power, who has taken possession of it and uses it to torment and mutilate innocent people and to attempt to destroy Dream.

Neil Gaiman's gift for imaginative storytelling and mythological expansion is well known, and this initial set of stories shows why he's been so successful in just about any medium.  To say the scope of this story is epic, while fitting, doesn't seem to capture the depth of imagination I experienced while reading it.  Gaiman does an excellent job of creating his own mythology, and then connecting it to the existing mythos established by the DC Universe.  I'm not even that well-versed in DC's mythos--there are probably plenty of connections I've missed--but it's abundantly clear to me that there are many relationships he's established between the realm of his narrative and the larger one, however tenuous.

Artistically, there are a number of pencilers and corresponding styles, all of which evoke an otherworldly feel and support the ever-changing tone of the narrative.  Some of the stories are dramatic, some are horrific, and some are wonderfully cheerful.  All of the artwork goes to those places along with the writing, making for looks and setups that establish a diverse array of emotions, settings, and circumstances.

Overall, this is one of my favorite comic series of all time, written by one of my writing gods.  Gaiman isn't perfect, but he's a damn fine storyteller, and Preludes and Nocturnes demonstrates this amply.  The story is epic and otherworldly, the artwork is evocative and intriguing, and the feeling you get after reading this story is that this is one of the classics in modern storytelling.  Highly recommended.

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