Graphic Novel Review: The Complete Sandman Vol 1

My friend lent this gigantic tome of a book to me and I savored every moment of it. Sandman, written by Neil Gaiman (with art by Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III, Chris Bachalo, Michael Zulli, Steve Parkhouse, Kelley Jones, Charles Vess and Colleen Doran), creates a lush world full of anthropomorphised, mythical characters with human flaws and humans with supernatural predispositions. We follow Dream, or the Sandman, or Morpheus, depending on who you ask, though his fall and restoration following years of captivity at the hands of occultists. Volume 1 includes issues 1 through 20 and tells a complete story, though I doubt any reader would be content to stop there.

The character development avoids many of the tropes one associates with fantasy (especially in comic form). Dream is a complex, conflicted entity who has existed and will continue to exist throughout time, yet he doesn’t act like one would assume a god would. After having restored his powers, he needs his sister, Death, to help him overcome his depression. Slumped against a NYC fountain, he listlessly feeds pigeons, at a loss as to what to do next. Death, an 80s goth girl, is strong yet sympathetic. More like an angel than a reaper, she helps those who have died come to terms with their departure from the mortal coil.

The story crosses through many times and places. My favorite side plot includes Dream granting a man immortality and then meeting him every hundred years; the experiment starts as one wrought out of boredom and curiosity, but then turns into something more. He speaks with Shakespeare, romances a princess of an ancient society, and consorts with faeries. These side plots are not only lovely, but also allow the story to be told in different styles. One section might feel like a horror story while another, mystery.

Gaiman draws from other characters in DC as well as general mythology. Superheroes and gods coexist in this universe of magical realism. Life continues as it always would, as if these things were quotidian.

There are seven Endless entities: Dream, Death, Desire, Despair, Destiny, Delirium, and Destruction. In this first collection, the mythology of these Endless is lightly touched upon, but the internal affairs of the dysfunctional family are fascinating. Desire, who is both man and woman, proves to be a challenge for Dream; as a being of pure Id, she/he wants to control the Dream world. Meanwhile Destiny, Delirium, and Destruction are only mentioned in passing. Each endless has an extensive mythology attributed to him/her; as a reader, these details make the world more real and immersive.

The art is just gorgeous. Nearly every chapter is done by a different artist, and though the general appearance of each character never changes, the use of shadow, line, and detail varies. This keeps the book visually interesting. Some of the panels could stand alone as works of pop art. The characters, especially the endless, are perfect representations of the aspect they are representing. Dream’s shining eyes and fiery robes, or Desire’s feline limbs and androgynous face improve the overall characterization.

I loved this collection, and would recommend it to anyone who likes mythology, fantasy, or darkwave music. It’s hard to compare this to the other graphic novels I’ve read because it’s a collection of a serial comic, but it is just as artful (or even more so) than the one-off “indie” novels I’ve read.

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