Book: “The Sandman (Vol.1): Preludes and Nocturnes” by Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth (Ill.), Mike Dringenberg (Ill.), and Malcolm Jones III (Ill.)
Publishing Info: Vertigo, 1989
Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.
Book Description: New York Times best-selling author Neil Gaiman’s transcendent series SANDMAN is often hailed as the definitive Vertigo title and one of the finest achievements in graphic storytelling. Gaiman created an unforgettable tale of the forces that exist beyond life and death by weaving ancient mythology, folklore and fairy tales with his own distinct narrative vision.
In PRELUDES & NOCTURNES, an occultist attempting to capture Death to bargain for eternal life traps her younger brother Dream instead. After his 70 year imprisonment and eventual escape, Dream, also known as Morpheus, goes on a quest for his lost objects of power. On his arduous journey Morpheus encounters Lucifer, John Constantine, and an all-powerful madman.
This book also includes the story “The Sound of Her Wings,” which introduces us to the pragmatic and perky goth girl Death.
Review: After re-reading “Transmetropolitan”, I knew that I wanted to re-read another comic series that I have great affection for. I wasn’t sure which one I wanted to tackle, as I have a few that I REALLY love, but then fate interceded and announced that Audible was going to do an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s magnum opus, “Sandman”. “Sandman” is probably up there with “Watchmen”, “The Dark Knight Returns”, and “Maus” when it comes to influential graphic novels and comics. It is absolutely my favorite of Neil Gaiman’s works, and now the time has come to get reacquainted with Dream, Death, and all the other Endless and dream worlds.
When we first meet Morpheus, aka Dream, he’s become a prisoner to those who wanted to try and capture his sister Death for their own devices. “Preludes and Nocturnes” is not only the story of how he escapes, but his quest to gather his three sacred objects: his bag, his helmet, and his ruby. Along the way Morpheus meets familiar faces from the DC Universe, as this is a Vertigo title (RIP you magnificent company) and we’re bound to see other licensed characters. It’s great seeing the likes of Martian Manhunter, Scarecrow, Mr. Miracle, and more, as it gives us a familiar footing to introduce us to a VERY complicated world and mythos that Morpheus is coming from. As of now in the story, Morpheus is rather one track minded, desperate to get his objects back and going to many lengths to do so. His journeys lead him to some very dark places, and the plot and tone is what tells you that this is starting out as dark fantasy that is right in the middle of fantasy and horror. I had forgotten how dark this volume goes until I was in it, and it gave me chills. There are moments of sheer horror, absolutely, but they almost always have a dreamy feel to them, as they should (though I’m excluding all the stuff that happens with John Dee in the diner… You’ll know what I mean when you get to it. It’s just complete nightmare fuel). All the while, Morpheus remains stoic and intimidating, and yet feels ruminative and introspective as well. As of now we don’t know much about him and his backstory, but you still get the feel that he contains multitudes that are just waiting to be explored. It gets you hyped to keep going on.
For me, however, the most effective and greatest tale of this volume, and one of the best of the entire “Sandman” story, is the standalone “The Sound of Her Wings”. It is within this tale that we actually get to meet Dream’s older sister Death, the original target for the capture that Dream got caught up in. It’s a quiet, bittersweet tale of Dream accompanying her as she makes her rounds, releasing mortals from their lives, and seeing the peace for the dead, and the anguish for those left behind. Death is a Top 3 Sandman character for me, and probably most fans, as she is kind, bubbly, and compassionate. She also looks like a fan of the Cure circa 1987, but that just adds to her charm. This is probably the story I remembered best in all of the “Sandman” lore, and reading it again was just as lovely and emotional as it was the first time.
Finally, the artwork is so of it’s time but also very well done. Sam Kieth has been seen on this blog before, probably most notably in the review of the “Alien” comic series. While I didn’t feel that Kieth’s work matched the tone of that endeavor, it is pitch perfect for “Sandman”. The use of shadow and blanched colors is great on it’s own, but it’s the weird little details that are put in to give an extra sense of unreality.
Honestly, if you are a fantasy fan and you haven’t read “Sandman”, I really encourage you to do so. It’s Gaiman’s best work, and “Preludes and Nocturnes” will get you hooked with just a little taste of what is to come.
Rating 9: A dark and dreamy introduction to one of the greatest comic series of all time, “Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes” builds a world that is wholly unique and almost otherworldly.
Find “The Sandman (Vol.1): Preludes and Nocturnes” at your library using Worldcat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!