Review: Sandman: The Deluxe Edition Book One hardcover (DC Comics)

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Let’s be serious. This is hardly a review of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman any more than this was a series of reviews of Alan Moore’s Saga of the Swamp Thing. I am hardly about to say “that Gaiman fellow sure missed an opportunity bumping off that Cornithian so early” [written about an hour before the news broke], as any criticisms I would have about the seminal series would definitely be reductive, not to mention near 30 years too late. But, reading Sandman: The Deluxe Edition Book One and subsequent editions I am, so discuss them I will, if not necessarily “review” them per se.

It is my great shame to admit I’ve never read Sandman all the way through. Blame the availability of trade paperbacks not being then what it is now, and also that the “Essential Vertigo” reprint series of Sandman issues never made it past #32. I have assuredly read “Preludes & Nocturnes” (generally issues #1–8) a number of times, and “The Doll’s House” (generally issues #9–16) slightly fewer — both collected together in this first deluxe edition — and from there it gets murky. Out of curiosity over “the Sandman meets the Sandman,” I also read the Sandman Midnight Theatre special at publication (a Gaiman/Matt Wagner crossover), included here, so overall this book was familiar to me, but indeed I assure you we’ll eventually get to where it’s not.

My impetus for “why now,” of course, is the forthcoming TV series, same as the “why now” for Y, The Last Man and Sweet Tooth (and let’s hope the fate of the Sandman show is more the latter than the former). I’d as soon as read it all before watching it on TV, the better for the books to shape my impressions of the show and not vice versa. Not to mention, DC Comics’s collections output have slowed to a relative crawl right now (woe be the reader who wants to read Infinite Frontier before the Batman Vol. 4 and Joker books), so now is as good a time as any.

I did actually pick up all the recent 30th anniversary Sandman collections, thinking I’d read the books that way, and in their “traditional” collections schema, “Preludes” and “Doll’s House” and etc., on through to Sandman Overture. But the deluxe editions caught my eye because they’re essentially two or so of the original volumes in one, plus extras (Sandman: Deluxe Edition Book Two, for instance, being “Dream Country,” “Season of Mists,” and part of “Fables and Reflections”), which means — skirting the “rules” of this little project here — more reading between the writing.

Now comes DC’s last final push for Sandman collections ahead of the TV series, just after the deluxe series concludes, with four additional paperback volume to be released about two weeks apart throughout April and May. That seems ambitious on DC’s part, essentially releasing Sandman like a graphic-novel comics series, though it’s not like the printing films aren’t right there. They’ll get these books in people’s hands come hell or high water. Variably contents listed for these paperbacks range from matching the deluxes, just in paperback form, to collecting even more — I’ve seen that first paperback listed with #1–16 and with #1–20, which throws “Dream Country” in there. Which is to say, possibly there might’ve been an even-even more complete set for me to read in a couple months, but at some point you just have to take the plunge.

[Review contains spoilers]

So, impressions of the first 16 issues of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. I am, at the moment, quite taken by the horror of it all, if perhaps because I sense it won’t last. My (loving) outside impression of Sandman as someone awfully familiar with the work for someone who hasn’t read it all is that at some point we get away from the Tales From the Crypt terror, humans being bad to humans with Morpheus refereeing around the edges, to something that involves faeries and other fanciful creatures, maybe a generous helping of Shakespeare. I’m far less enthused about that than I am about Dr. Destiny torturing diner patrons or a “cereal” enthusiasts convention, perhaps because I have a sense it’s going away. Then again, Sandman doesn’t have its cachet for nothing, so I’m sure it’ll turn out fine.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

That said — based on my limited and incomplete knowledge — that first season of the Netflix TV series is going to be way different than the seventh season, for instance. There’s a lot of blood and jump scares in those first issues that are not, I presume, in the latter issues, and so someone who’s a big fantasy fan but turned off by nails through hands might leave the series behind and never know what they’re missing. All speculation, of course. I do hope the TV series gets that far.

I present to myself, for no good reason other than that an answer doesn’t immediately come to mind, the question of which is better of the two books collected here, “Preludes” or “Doll’s House”? “Preludes” is, by a small margin, scarier — the revelation of the wasted form of John Constantine’s former girlfriend Rachel, and of course the legendary “24 Hours” (“Sound of Her Wings” gets all the credit in this book, but “24 Hours” is a horrible masterpiece). “Doll’s House”’s serial killer meeting is ingenious, but the horror there is more implied than shown.

At the same time, “Preludes” is unequivocally Dream’s story, whereas “Doll’s House” is more multi-faceted and experimental — that often Rose Walker leads the action, that the book slips in and out of a parody of early 1900s “Little Nemo” comic strips. I also appreciated how the many threads of “Doll’s House” came together, that Corinthian and Jed and Rose are not all together in the beginning but are slowly drawn together in a whirpoolish manner befitting Rose as “the vortex.” Gaiman says himself in one of the book’s afterwords that he considers the beginning issues more rough; in this way, I’m sure we better see the shape and variety of Sandman in “Doll’s House” than “Preludes.” (Again, it then begs the question of starting a TV show with what does not necessarily best represent the comic, and I’ll be curious to see how the powers that be handle that.)

A final impression of Sandman: The Deluxe Edition Book One. Though I knew this before, it stuck out to me in this reread how Neil Gaiman makes Dream, if not unlikable, then certainly it’s obvious where it is Dream is haughty and unforgiving — his imprisoning of Nada, his willingness to kill Rose, and so on. Rather, we see two sides of Dream, his utter disregard for mortals and yet his deference to his sister Death — that Dream is different in different situations, the hallmark of a well-formed character. Whether Gaiman intends that Dream will eventually have to come off his high horse or not remains to be seen (by me, at least. You might already know).

[Includes original covers, afterwords, original series proposal and sketches]

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3 comments:

  1. Personally I am still angry that DC killed Vertigo and created the rather weak Black Label as a replacement. I refuse to buy the Sandman with black Label. I will track down the vertigo trades. Something I should have done a long time ago.

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  2. Do these Deluxe Editions present the original issues or the recoloured versions? I presume it's the latter, but I've always been curious if they came across differently with the altered art?

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    1. It's a great question but I'm not sure how I'd know. Is there something to look for that distinguishes one version from the other?

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