“The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes” by Neil Gaiman
(Today, December 13th, is my husband’s birthday. To celebrate, I’m kicking off a project in his honor – reading the entire Neil Gaiman Sandman series, which he loves and praises highly. There are ten volumes of the series that ran from 1989 to 1997, and 75 issues in all. It’s the only comic to win the World Fantasy award, and one of the only comics ever to wind up on the New York Times Bestseller list.)
“Preludes & Nocturnes” collects the first eight issues of Neil Gaiman’s landmark series into one book.
Beginning in 1916 with a ceremony attempting to capture Death, Sandman kicks off big. The ceremony goes wrong, and instead The Sandman – a strange figure – is brought to earth/reality. From that moment on, people fall into the sleeping sickness, and don’t awaken for decades. Sandman is kept in a glass bubble until 1988, when his original captors are old men. Finally freed, he’s out for revenge on those who kept him locked up all those years. Arriving home, he sees the remains of his crumbled kingdom – which, in his absence, has fallen apart.
He learns from the three graces that he must collect three items to regain his power – a bag of sand, a helmet, and a ruby. To do this, he embarks on three adventures. In his first adventure, he meets up with an Englishman to get back the bag of sand from his junkie girlfriend. In the second adventure, he journeys to hell to get back his Helmet from a duke of Hell and has to defeat the duke in battle or serve in hell for all eternity. The third adventure is a Batman tie-in, as the third adventure (to get back the ruby/dreamstone) involves an escapee from Gotham’s Arkham Asylum (and an appearance by Professor Johnathan Crane – aka, Scarecrow.)
At the end of “Preludes & Noctures” the reader is finally introduced to Sandman’s big sister – Death herself. Sassy and strong, she drifts around the world helping people step over into death. Within a few pages, she’s taken quite a few lives in an easy and sympathetic manner, while at the same time showing her temper at her kid brother’s actions. Clearly, this isn’t a death to fear, but also not one to be messed with. I look forward to much more of her as these stories progress.
The story is strong and captivating, and the characters are all instantly memorable. However, it’s the illustrations that are mind-blowing. The three illustrators of the first eight volumes – Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, and Malcolm Jones III – deliver an amazing piece of art that perfectly tells it’s tale while at the same time being the best damn comic book AND horror movie you’ve ever seen.
It’s fantasy, it’s gothic, it’s Poe, it’s Superman, it’s a million iconic things mashed into one perfect piece of modern art – and it’s stunning.
“Preludes & Nocturnes: a little night music from me to you.” – Neil Gaiman, 1991.