The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes

Elysium

 

In popular culture, the character of The Sandman is one that is bundled up and delivered along all the different mediums that reference him. Yet for all the songs and stories written that feature the King of Dreams, none are more well-known in the comic and literary circles than Neil Gaiman’s masterpiece, The Sandman. Critically acclaimed and featured on the New York Times Best Seller list, The Sandman remains one of Vertigo’s most famous titles.  This review will focus on the first volume of the series, Preludes and Nocturnes.

 

PUBLISHER:
DC Comics

 

WRITER:
Neil Gaiman

 

PUBLICATION:
January-August 1989

 

ISBN:
ISBN 1-56389-011-9

 

The Sandman was originally billed as a “horror edged fantasy” and although it eventually grew into its own identity with subsequent volumes, the original run of issues that comprise Preludes and Nocturnes maintains that mood. It’s a deeply brooding, melancholic collection of issues that feature spatterings of dark humor and frightening moments. It’s easy enough to get pulled into the story, even if the mood is at first slightly overwhelming.

 

The series starts proper when Dream (The Sandman) is accidentally captured by greedy occultists in an attempt to cheat death.  They trap him in a silver bowl, steal his property, and taunt him for decades. After seventy years of imprisonment, Dream finally breaks free, enacts revenge upon his captors, and embarks upon a quest to set out to set things right again in his world of the Dreaming. You see, Dream has control of the realm of the unconscious, that metaphysical place where souls travel to while in nightly rest, and in his absence things have gone horribly, horribly wrong.  He will need to journey to Hell, combat demons, and partner up with magician John Constantine in order to clean up the mess that has been wrought.

 

There are a few stories in this collection that immediately stand out and deserve attention. The first is, of course, the opening tale, The Sleep of The Just Truly creepy and unsettling, this is the story that sets the tone for the rest of the volume. It’s also indicative of the complexity of the story that Gaiman is weaving. The tales spans seventy years, and it contains a multitude of characters, each one rich with complexity. It jets back and forth between sub-plots, as Gaiman introduces both themes and characters he’ll be revisiting in later issues. The artwork by Sam Keith and Dringerberg is appropriately creepy.

 

Dringerberg is also the artist for the two other strongest stories in the volume, 24 Hours.  24 Hours ups the horror ante with some highly disturbing moments as Dr. Dee (Dr. Destiny from the D.C. universe) uses Dream’s ruby to control the minds of some unfortunate restaurant patrons.  The story also serves as interesting commentary on the moral implications of authorial privilege, as Dee can be seen as a stand in for a writer creating his own universe out of the world surrounding him. However, while the presence of Dr. Destiny does lead to some horrifying  scenes, Gaiman’s attempts to marry the campy DC Universe with his own beautifully melancholic material fall flat.

 

It’s fortunate then, that near the end of the volume, Gaiman finds his footing in The Sound of Her Wings.  Morpheus meets up with his sister, Death, after retrieving his materials, and as she goes along her way, collecting dying souls, she’s able to restore a bit of purpose in his life. Gaiman’s characterization of Death is at odds with expectations, and that’s what makes this story so curiously refreshing. Death’s carefree attitude lends a sort of uplifting charm to this otherwise sad song. Although this isn’t my favorite story in the volume, it is an excellent closer, and ends on a note that leaves us glad that Dream has reclaimed at least some of his purpose in life.

 

In short, Preludes and Nocturnes is a great read, even if it sometimes falls short of its intended goal.  It’s the necessary first step towards the masterpiece of The Sandman series, and it deserves a place on your bookshelf.

 

 

 

 

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