This is it, the long awaited return of Neil Gaiman’s legendary Sandman! Although, for me, it isn’t really that long awaited. I wasn’t even born when the first issue of Sandman came out, so it wasn’t until this summer that I finally got around to reading all 10 volumes, plus Endless Nights, Dream Hunters and the Death minis. Needless to say, it deserves it’s reputation as one of the best comics of all time, and I am very excited to have Gaiman return to the world of The Endless, especially because he’s joined by the brilliant artwork of JH Williams III.
This story is a prequel to the original Sandman run, aiming to show just how Morpheus was weak enough to be captured by those sub-Crowley occultists in #1, and whilst we don’t know much about the plot after this first issue, that final 4-page fold-out spread blew my mind, and shows just how epic the scale of the War that so weakened Morpheus was. The issue begins on an Alien planet, with a race of sentient plants that can dream, one of these plants is visited by a form of Dream that also looks like a plant, and they talk, until this Dream is attacked by fire. I’m guessing this is a separate version of Dream to the one we’re familiar with, and his/it’s death is what causes the end of this issue.
We then move across the galaxy to London in 1915, where one of Gaiman’s most terrifying creations, The Corinthian returns. I’m a huge fan of this character, both of the evil original we see here, and also the nicer version that appears in later Sandman stories. The visual of a man with mouths for eyes is just so creepy, and seeing him once again prey on a vulnerable young man was both brilliant and scary.
After this, the story moves again, as both Destiny and Death of the Endless appear, with Destiny watching these events unfold in his book, and Death being rather worried for her younger brother. Once again, it’s just brilliant to see these characters again, and Gaiman steps effortly back into writing everyone really, it’s like he’s never been away. I will say that I did find that his narration in this issue was a bit more flowery and prose-like than ever before, but I suppose he has been writing books without pictures pretty much exclusively since The Eternals, and it can be hard to switch gears. That said, the long narration describing the new, and very cool character of George Portcullis was wonderful, and did feel like a bit of a short-story. George Portcullis is the manager of Dream’s London Office, and he’s there to allow Morpheus to intercept The Corinthian before he can kill, and unmake him. The conversation between Morpheus and Corinthian is very cool, and it explains a lot of back-story that came into play in The Doll’s House story, and sets up just how Corinthian was able to roam free and become a serial killer.
Just as Morpheus is about to unmake Corinthian, he is called away by a powerful, unknown force, but not so powerful that he can’t slow it down and stop off in The Dreaming to arm himself for battle, putting on his weird helmet and all that. This also allows Gaiman for some more cameos, from the likes of Lucien and Merv Pumpkinhead, which were great fun. I’m assuming that the likes of these characters and the other Endless won’t appear again in this series, so a little bit of fan-service to start off is tolerable. It’s just a shame Matthew The Raven wasn’t around at this point.
Morpheus is then whisked off to… a meeting of loads of versions of himself? This is a fantastic 4-page spread as I said, and there are loads of different versions of Dream here, including a Robot, a Tree, a fish, a guy with a moon-shaped head, and more. We also see the Cat-Dream, a version that has appeared before in Sandman. I initially assumed that all the different forms that Dream took were just the same person, changing appearance, but now it looks like they are different entities entirely? I don’t know, but I’m excited to find out. It’s clear from this issue that the story Gaiman has to tell here isn’t a Before Watchmen-esque cash-in, but something new and different and not just a box-ticking exercise like many prequels.
JH Williams III is one of the best artists in comics today, and here, he delivers his best work since Promethea. I feel that Williams’ style suits a story that’s more than just your average superhero stuff, like Batwoman was (and really, the story of Batwoman was below average), and here, Gaiman’s script matches his ambition. On Batwoman, his art was overly elaborate for such a simple story, and made things confusing, but here, it works, basically, I’m the only person online glad that he’s left Batwoman, because that was a waste of his talents, even though Williams himself would obviously disagree. There are some amazing layouts here, like the page that reintroduces The Corinthian being made up of Teeth, or the way the panels are inside Destiny’s book, or the George Portcullis pages being, well, Portcullis-shaped. This made each page look different and exciting, the colours from Dave Stewart are also hugely important, with him using a variety of different styles and techniques throughout. Williams also uses different styles, particularly on the pages with all of the different Dreams. This book is just beautiful to look at, and even if you aren’t familiar with Sandman, it’s worth buying just for Williams and Stewart. That said, I did choose the Dave McKean cover, because it’s not Sandman if Dave McKean isn’t on covers, even a latecomer like me knows that.
So, at the end of the day, this is a fantastic return for Gaiman and Sandman, fans of that series will love it, and I can only imagine how good this must be for people who have been waiting 10 years or more for it, rather than Punchy-come-lately, who’s been waiting 3 months. One of the best comics ever is back, and it’s not missed a beat, a cause for celebration methinks.
Yes, a 10.