Hiya folks! And welcome to another installment of a series we like to call Comics You Should Have Already Read By Now. Today, we’re going to be taking a look at Neil Gaiman’s signature masterpiece, The Sandman. Guiding us through the surreal world of Morpheus, the King of Dreams, Sandman gives readers a powerful experience that examines the nature of stories and human imagination. It has remained critically acclaimed and in wide circulation for the better part of 2 decades after its conclusion, garnering respect in both comic book and wider literary circles. It will likely be difficult for me to adequately describe what makes it so special, but hell, let’s give it a shot.
I meant what I said about how difficult it is to talk about Sandman, and that difficulty starts first and foremost with trying to peg down what genre we should categorize it into. On the one hand, there are a fair number of horror elements on display, as several issues revolve around the literal stuff of nightmares. That being said, there are also plenty of light hearted moments to be found, with stories ranging the gambit from simple parables to intriguing thrillers. And running through all of these disparate offerings, we have elements of fantasy, mystery, and Shakespearean intrigue. So clearly there is a lot on the table, but no matter which volume you pick, there are two constants which are apparent in every story: they all in some way feature the exploits of Morpheus, and the fact that Sandman is a comic book for adults.
I don’t say this because the book is chock full of gore and erotica or anything like that; rather, Sandman is adults-only because it challenges the reader to actively engage the story, to ponder the scenes on the page, and to ask questions about what stories are and how they shape us.
The main character himself is part of the Endless, a family comprised of the anthropomorphic embodiments of fundamental forces that shape human existence. And this is just the tip of the ice berg for a creative cast of characters comprised of angels, demons, gods, monsters and nightmares, in settings that range from the heart of Chaos to the gardens of Destiny, and everywhere in between.
Undoubtedly, the spectacle of these sights, handled by a variety of artists over the course of the series, are large part of what helps Sandman gain such a firm grasp upon the reader’s imagination.
Our journey takes to the original performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, where Shakespeare and his men put on a show for the court faeries, and we learn that stories don’t have to be real for them to be true.
We see Morpheus converse with the Caliph of Bagdhad as the mortal ruler seeks to immortalize his city by surrendering it to the land of dreams.
We follow Dream to the depths of Hell, as he reminds its denizens that even the most vile creatures in existence should respect the power of dreams.
As you no doubt have noticed, these scenes are remarkably different from one another, and indeed many of Sandman‘s 10 collected volumes contain a wide variety of self-contained stories. Yet woven between these disparate elements, we find unexpected connections between characters and plot seeds that germinate and converge in long-running arches. It is in this way that Gaiman displays his mastery of his craft, delivering a vast range of engaging, intelligently written stand-alone stories while simultaneously playing a long game that pays dividends dozens of issue down the road.
That, perhaps, is the aspect that makes Sandman so special: the intricately crafted nature of it. Sandman is a story that is at times beautiful, at times frightful, and constantly thought-provoking, with Gaiman displaying a level of craft and sophistication throughout.
This is a story about stories themselves, and while it may be difficult to describe, it is not at all difficult to enjoy.