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


If, unlikely as this may be, one were not interested in Sandman short stories and only wanted multi-part Sandman epics about the Endless and the humans they influence, Sandman: The Deluxe Edition Book Three would (so far) be the volume for you. As opposed to Book Two, which was half devoted to one-off stories (ultimately related or not), Book Three is primarily the “Game of You” and “Brief Lives” stories with a smattering of issues (the last of “Fables and Reflections”) in between.

Further, should a random passerby need a primer on Sandman, the major stories here offer a good cross-section. “Game of You” is one of those Sandman stories that — in the style of the earlier “Doll’s House” perhaps — is less about Dream almost to the point of exclusion and more about mortals, maybe a little supernaturally touched, and how they interact with Dream’s realm. “Brief Lives,” however, closer to “Season of Mists,” puts Dream and the Endless front and center (though this time with a big helping of the mortal world).

So from my albeit limited vantage point, this third deluxe collection feels like quintissential Sandman. Also, even as this volume doesn’t quite require the reader to reorient themselves quite as much as the various short stories of the previous one, still Book Three feels like “a lot.” Writer Neil Gaiman is rightfully unhurried here, and so whether it’s an issue set mostly within the four walls of an apartment in “Game of You” or “Brief Lives”' myriad diversions to follow this character or that, there is much packed in to 15-plus issues. That we’re two-thirds of the way to the end (not discounting the various sequel miniseries and etc.) isn’t a surprise at all.

[Review contains spoilers]

As discussed before, the “which is better” question is beside the point, but given two stories in one book, it seems worth considering. In this, I’d have to give it to “Brief Lives,” though I grant that “Lives” probably gets ahead simply by being the last-most story I read. But “Brief Lives” offers Dream, and the ways in which Dream has changed, and the curious triumverate of Dream, Delirium, and Destruction, and the way in which — despite a host of immortals and discussion of the preternatural among us — this is largely a story about family, and mental illness, and the conflicted feelings of duty and responsibility among older and younger siblings.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

Then again, “Game of You” feels more personal to Gaiman, even if “Lives” hits harder for this particular reader. Indeed to an extent “Game” is Gaiman writing an urban fantasy novel rather unreleated to Sandman against a Sandman background. The themes of alienation from one’s family and making a community of one’s friends seem particularly heartfelt, and in not being much of a Sandman story, “Game” slips its genre to become something even more pure.

Having largely missed Sandman the first time around, I was actually there for both of Gaiman’s Death miniseries, and for that, my attention was piqued by “Game” due to knowing what comes later on. There’s a host of things I’m watching for as Sandman continues (the identity of the mysterious woman who leaves Dream at the start of “Lives,” for instance), but also whether “Game” will be the last time (outside Death: The Time of Your Life) that we see the community of women Gaiman has followed here and there so far — from Judy Talbot and Rose Walker to now Barbie and Donna “Foxglove” Cavanagh. I am hopeful that ultimately the connections are not just random — that it was not just “this person knows this person” from “Preludes and Nocturnes” to “Game of You,” but that there’s a larger point to be made before the end.

I continue to be struck by Gaiman’s depiction of Dream as not a particularly nice person, reconciling my other exposures to Dream in a smattering of DC Comics as an enigmatic, benevolent Phantom Stranger-type figure. There are those who’d have written Dream as regular guy who happens to wear the crown, but Gaiman doesn’t shirk from portraying Dream as self-important royalty. Here it is not so lofty as having condemned his former lover Nada to hell; rather it’s basic pettiness, like forbidding his servants to speak the name of his latest ex or silencing a dancing faerie child. Through the perspective of Merv Pumpkinhead, Gaiman underscores the melodrama of Dream’s actions (a knowing send-up, perhaps, of the Goth style Dream and even Gaiman himself typify); as another character points out, Dream seems to have a problem with women in particular, an interesting dichotomy in a series where, outside the title character, the protagonists are largely female.

I know, of course, what’s going to happen to Dream. I don’t know how or why, but I do know what. I’ll be curious for the “why” because what it seems Gaiman is setting up in “Brief Lives” is for Dream to leave his throne or somehow change his responsibilities. What Destruction suggests to his brother here is that there is a life that the Endless can live outside of the life that Dream believes is prescribed for them, and one might think then we’d have a chance to see Dream act that out. Arguably Sandman: The Deluxe Edition Book Three is the end of the second act before the beginning of the third and final; as is not unusual at this point in a story, the shape of what we’re meant to learn is crystalizing but the edges still remain blurry.

On to volume four.

[Includes covers, pinups, “Little Endless” feature, contributors' page, “Ramadan” script and sketches]

Comments ( 2 )

  1. I don't believe it is ever made explicit in the comics, but Gaiman has said that Dream had a romantic fling with Thessaly after "A Game of You" and is mopier than usual at the beginning of "Brief Lives" due to their breakup.

    1. Interesting. Come back for the next Sandman review; I'm going to have a question for you.


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