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Neil Gaiman – The Absolute Sandman, Volume 1

November 6, 2008

136. The Absolute Sandman, Vol. 1 by Neil Gaiman, Sam Keith, Mike Dringenberg, Chris Bachalo, Michael Zulli, Kelley Jones, Charles Vess, Colleen Doran, Malcolm Jones III, Steve Parkhouse, Daniel Vonzo, Zylonol, Steve Oliff, Todd Klein, John Costanza, Dave McKean (2006 – collection; 1988-1990 – original comics)

The Sandman, Volumes 1-3 omnibus

Length: 612 pages (and too heavy to hold!)

Genre: Graphic Novel, Fantasy, Horror

Started: 23 October 2008
Finished: 30 October 2008

Horror, fantasy,
and dreams mix to create this
classic comic book.

Summary: The first volume of the Absolute Sandman compilations includes the first twenty issues of the Sandman comics, enlarged and re-colored, in a beautiful (if huge and heavy) faux-leather-bound tome, complete with built-in silk ribbon for page-marking. The first twenty issues also correspond to the first three previously-published trade paperbacks: Preludes & Nocturnes, The Doll’s House, and Dream Country. This collection also includes Gaiman’s original proposal for The Sandman characters and stories, some early artwork and character sketches, and the original script and sketches for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, the only comic book to ever win the World Fantasy Award for Best Short Fiction.

In Preludes & Nocturnes, we first meet Dream, one of the Endless, as he is imprisoned by a secret occult society who had been hoping to bind Death. For 70 years he was kept prisoner, while a strange sleeping sickness emerged worldwide, and the Dreaming fell into decay. He finally escapes, but before he can regain his full power, he must track down his possessions that had been stolen from him – his bag of sand, sold to John Constantine; his helm, in the possession of a demon; and his ruby, which is being used by the insanely murderous Doctor Destiny.

In The Doll’s House, while the Sandman works to repair the Dreaming after his long absence, a mortal girl named Rose Walker is off in search of her younger brother, who is being held captive – both physically, by abusive relatives, and mentally, by demons who have sequestered his mind into a twisted pocket of the dreaming. Rose, too, is more than she seems – not only does she have to face a convention of serial killers in real life, but she can’t even escape into her dreams – for she is a Dream Vortex, with the power to destroy the Dreaming permanently.

Dream Country, in contrast, isn’t a single story arc with one or two one-offs added in; rather, it’s a collection of four independent tales showing Dream – and his sister Death – interacting with people, animals, and gods across time.

Review: I’ve been putting off writing this review, because I’m having a hard time deciding exactly how I feel about the Sandman series. To start with, I didn’t realize until I was about halfway through this volume that it was a collection of one-offs as well as several longer story arcs instead of one continuous story, and that every 25 pages or so, I would be thrown into a completely new plot. (Consequently, I spent the first half of this book rather befuddled. Smart, I know, but I’m new to this whole comic books thing.) The stories (and the overarching Story) are sprawling and ambitious, bringing in elements of classical and modern mythology, horror, literature, history, and other bits of the DC universe (Arkham Asylum, for one), while simultaneously inventing much of the characters and the world they move through from whole cloth. On the one hand, this gives Gaiman a huge range of stories to tell; on the other, it means that any individual piece might never be fully explained or integrated.

I’m similarly unsure how I feel about the artwork. It’s incredibly creative and beautiful in its way, especially in the large, re-colored format: sprawling across the page, frequently breaking away from traditional angles and standard panel format. At the same time, it’s “sketchier” than I’m used to, relying on pencil-hashing to convey dimensionality and shading. It’s absolutely a preference thing, but I think I like art with cleaner lines a bit better, although I can’t quite say why. Less smudgy-looking, maybe? In either case, this is not a comic to read right before bed – its horror roots show up quite prominently in the artwork, which does not shy away from the disturbing or gruesome, which this series has in spades. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Whenever anyone talks about the modern age of comic books/graphic novels, The Sandman invariably comes up, and I’m glad to have finally read some of the series. I enjoyed it, and while I’ve been converted into a Reader – I’m definitely going to go find the next volume in the series – I don’t think I’ve yet been converted into a Fan.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Contents:

  • Preludes and Nocturnes
    1. Sleep of the Just
    2. Imperfect Hosts
    3. … Dream a Little Dream of Me
    4. A Hope in Hell
    5. Passengers
    6. 24 Hours
    7. Sound and Fury
    8. The Sound of Her Wings
  • The Doll’s House
    1. Tales in the Sand
    2. The Doll’s House
    3. Moving In
    4. Playing House
    5. Men of Good Fortune
    6. Collectors
    7. Into the Night
    8. Lost Hearts
  • Dream Country
    1. Calliope
    2. A Dream of a Thousand Cats
    3. A Midsummer Night’s Dream
    4. Façade

Other Reviews: The Hidden Side of a Leaf (Preludes & Nocturnes), Nothing of Importance (Preludes & Nocturnes)
Did I miss your review? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

To those of you who know more about the series than I do: my library only has Vol. 1 of the Absolute collections; the rest are in trade paperback form. I know order doesn’t *really* matter, but I’m a little OCD about reading stuff in order, and the LibraryThing series page is kind of a big ol’ mess, so: Which one should I read next?

7 Comments leave one →
  1. November 6, 2008 5:07 pm

    The next one you should read is Sandman Vol 4 Season of Mists which collects the original comic issues 21-28. I think you’ll like it better — I’ve heard many people say it is their favorite part of the series. If nothing else, at least you won’t be afraid of getting crushed under the book! I would imagine that reading the Absolute Sandman as your introduction to the series was a bit overwhelming as that edition is geared more toward the really serious fan.

  2. November 6, 2008 8:31 pm

    Laura – Thanks! (also, hooray for your comment not getting spammed!) It was a little overwhelming, it’s true, but it was what my library had – I’m not sure why they’ve got a patchwork of the the trade paperbacks and the omnibuses; I’m just glad they have them at all.

  3. November 8, 2008 4:56 pm

    I agree with Laura, and I actually think that the order does matter when it comes to Sandman (except for things like Endless Nights, Dream Hunters or the Death Books). The story ark in Seasons of Mist is also one of my favourites. And I think that Sandman got much better as it went along, so hopefully the rest of the series will convert you into Fan :P

  4. November 8, 2008 5:10 pm

    Nymeth – I knew you’d come through with an opinion on this one! Also, it’s good to know that there’s bunches of Sandman books waiting in the library to feed my newly-found graphic novel addiction when I run out of Fables. :)

  5. Darren permalink
    August 5, 2009 4:11 am

    Hey, good review. I didn’t know quite what to make of the series when I started it either – and I agree with your opinion that the second and fourth books are the strongest (more so the second).

    I’m working my way (again) through the four Absolute volumes. I read one and two over the weekend and I’m doing three this week.

    Here are the links to my own reviews:

    Volume I: http://m0vie.wordpress.com/2009/08/03/absolute-sandman-volume-i/
    Volume II: http://m0vie.wordpress.com/2009/08/04/absolute-sandman-volume-ii/

    Thanks,
    Darren

  6. January 4, 2010 12:59 pm

    I didn’t know you’d read this until I was looking for images to put in my review of volume 1. I put a link to your review in mine.

    I was a bit mixed about it too, and “24 Hours” put me off it. I felt better knowing I wasn’t the only one :-)

Trackbacks

  1. The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman « In the Shadow of Mt. TBR

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