Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Paying Too Much Attention: The Sandman

Absolute Sandman Vol. 1 Absolute Sandman Volume 2

Boxes were almost definitely designed and created to carry books to my doorstep. In the occurrence that I can't make it to a bookstore to buy the books, or by some terrible twist of fate they don't have what I'm seeking, online is the way to go.

Within two weeks I've had four comics brought directly to me, and the excitement of opening the boxes is a lateral move from Christmas morning, but it also has its roots in visiting the comic shop on new comics day.

Two of the books were by Canadian creator Seth ("George Sprott" and "Clyde Fans"), one was by Jason Lutes ("Berlin: City of Stones"), and these had been added to my "to read" list somewhat recently. The other two were grandfathered into the list, inhabitants since the bullet points were only in my mind. These other two were like my holy grail, although I wasn't actually searching for them, so that's a bad analogy. They are written by Neil Gaiman, though, so the British part of the whole grail analogy can stay.

The first two Absolute Sandman collections were delivered to me, and I've spent the last week or so completely rolled up inside Neil Gaiman's insane world. They are gorgeous; the writing, the art, the binding, just all around top-notch.

The first eighteen issues have been re-colored, and the update was most needed. Before buying these Absolute editions I had the first and second trade-paperbacks, and the coloring stuck out the most. The intense pastels were perfect reminders that the issues were originally printed in the 80s, and although small, this had an affect on the reading experience.

Now with brand new colors the Absolute Sandman is operating at 100%. This means you'll realize Neil Gaiman is one of the best comic book writers around, and you'll probably be sad for a short period of time, knowing that Gaiman doesn't write comics full-time anymore. This sadness will fade, though, because he DOES write novels full-time, so yours isn't a Gaiman-less world.

- • -

I had read almost all of the issues contained within the Absolute Sandman Volume 1 previously, but I had somewhat forgotten about the content of most. Re-reading them, I was reminded how fantastic a book this one is. There is probably a book's worth of praise for "The Sandman," so rather than just toss out a blanket rating or a few adjectives, I'll highlight the three stories within the first Absolute volume that are not only awesome, but are three of the best single issues I've ever read.

Issue number six, "24 Hours," doesn't feature the Sandman until the last page of the story, not strictly speaking at least. The main character of this story is Dr. Destiny, a villain from the sixties who looked like Skeletor/The Taskmaster, and was mostly harmless. Then Neil Gaiman came along, and made him look like a reanimated corpse who's "Materioptikon" - some weird machine that could affect reality - was in fact powered by Morpheus's ruby. It turns out the ruby was imbued with a portion of Morpheus's power, and since Dr. Destiny was a mere human, possessing it severely messed up the dude's head.

After escaping from Arkham Asylum he hitchhikes, picks up his (Morpheus') ruby, and heads to a 24-hour diner filled with customers; it is cover to cover insanity. Dr. Destiny opens up the customers' lives and looks at all the layers of neuroses, emotions, and fears he can find, and exploits them. Over the course of 24 hours he drags them around in his psychic (psycho) wake. There isn't really a lot of hope in this issue, but seeing how someone has been so affected by the ruby of Morpheus is interesting, and how Gaiman shows the emotions of all the different characters is pretty freaking masterful.

"Men of Good Fortune," Sandman number 13 has way less torture, murder, and madness than the sixth issue does, and is essentially the opposite side of the coin represented by issue six.

Set in the 1400s, Morpheus walks into a tavern and overhears a boisterous drinker talking about how death is a fool's game, and he's not going to be a follower, someone who dies because everyone else on the planet does too. In response Morpheus says, Yeah, well how 'bout you meet me back here in a hundred years? So that's what happens.

- • -

It's a lot easier to tell from the early issues of "The Sandman" that Neil Gaiman wasn't sure what he had inside his own head. The DC imprint Vertigo was in its infancy, and the modern version of the publishing house was barely a sketch on a page. The division between Vertigo and the regular DC universe was thin. The character's whose name Neil Gaiman was utilizing makes an appearance, as does Etrigan, the Justice League International, and other characters including Dr. Destiny, who was an old Justice League of America villain.

Regular DC universe characters/references would make small appearances, but mostly "The Sandman" was the impetus behind the division of the companies, putting a much more solid wall between the two.

Where I think the division is most obvious is in issue number eight, "The Sound of Her Wings." Morpheus has just finished retrieving all three of his missing items, his helm, ruby, and pouch of sand, and rather than feeling relieved he is confused. The emotion struck me as so real - the "What now?" moment - that this issue hit me just as hard as the previous two I've mentioned.

Although Morpheus is a member of the Endless, and will exist as long as all other living things, he doubts, he despairs (actually one of his siblings), and Gaiman highlights these emotions again and again. "The Sound of Her Wings" is the first appearance of Morpheus's sister, Death, and she is a sign that he has started to move away from the regular DC universe, and started to build something completely new.

No comments:

Post a Comment