The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes - Neil Gaiman
Published: Single issues, 1988; Collection, 1991
Read: April 2005
Capsule: Neil Gaiman's work as a writer is hailed throughout the comic, goth and post-modern literature communities as some of the best work of the late 20th Century -- issue number 19 won the World Fantasy Award for Best Short Fiction, prompting a rule change to disallow illustrated works from future consideration. These stories about Dream, the ruler of the dream world, weaving characters and ideas from myriad faiths and mythologies, is among the most influential of the past 50 years -- its touch is seen on television, in the movies, and in music around the world.
Graphic Novel: issues 1-8; 233 pages
Published by DC/Vertigo
Morpheus is pissed off. The ruler of the dream world, he has been inadvertantly captured and imprisoned by some basement witchcraft of a hobby cult. Immortal, he outwaits two generations of human captors before escaping and regaining control of his domain. In the meantime, horrible things have taken place in our world; without the ability to dream, some bad shit goes down for nigh on 100 years.
This is how we're introduced to the Sandman, the brainchild of the brilliant Neil Gaiman, who was asked in the mid to late 80s to create a title for DC's new adult-themed imprint Vertigo. He took the obsolete superhero Sandman (a WWII hero dressed in green and gold with a gas mask and sleeping powder) and ramped him up several notches. Instead of a traditional superhero comic, readers were treated to a sophisticated, literate rendition of entities older than ancient mythology. Dream had seen Zeus come and go; he watched Buddha, Mohammed and Ron L Hubbard rise and fall; that Christianity? -- just a phase.
To placate the suits at DC, some mentions of heroes from that universe are present: Arkham Asylum gets a few plugs in the first storyline, which has the Justice League of America's old foe Doctor Destiny in possession of the Sandman's ultra-mystic paraphernalia. The original Sandman even appears for a guest spot as a one-panel illustration of how Morpheus's decades-long absence has inspired mortal copycats.
From these humble beginnings grew a phenomenon that has touched TV (X-Files, Charmed), movies (Matrix, Underworld), and music (Tori Amos, every goth band since 1990). This first collection isn't as polished as the volumes that follow, but after all, it is titled Preludes and Nocturnes. A wonderful read, extremely literate and intellectually as stimulating as any well-planned university lecture on mythology.