Title: The Sandman Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes
Author: Written by Neil Gaiman; Art by Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg and Malcom Jones, III; Painted Cover by Dave McKean
Review Number: 1
Genre: Graphic Novel
Stand Alone or Series: First in a ten novel series, titled The Sandman.
Summary: (from NeilGaiman.com)
A wizard attempting to capture Death to bargain for eternal life traps her younger brother Dream instead. Fearful for his safety, the wizard kept him imprisoned in a glass bottle for decades. After his escape, Dream, also known as Morpheus, goes on a quest for his lost objects of power. On the way, Morpheus encounters Lucifer and demons from Hell, the Justice League, and John Constantine, the Hellblazer. This book also includes the story “The Sound of Her Wings” which introduces us to the pragmatic and perky goth girl, Death.
Why did I read the book: My experience with graphic novels has been regrettably limited, and after hearing rave reviews from friends (Ana in particular!) and reading extensive praise for the series online, I decided to take the plunge.
Graphic novels are sadly overlooked and not considered literature by most critics, shrugged off as pubescent cartoons or erotic ‘adult’ fetishes. While this can be true (at least in my limited experience), there are a number of wonderfully complex, bitingly intelligent, metaphorical graphic novels…and The Sandman is certainly one of the elite.
Boy, am I ever glad I finally read this classic work of art and literature.
Published over a series of years in magazine format, they have recently been collected into complete separate volumes, and are also available in an omnibus format. While I haven’t (yet) read any of the following volumes, Preludes and Nocturnes is the one novel that can be read as a standalone as it marks the beginning of the series, and has a conclusive ending (although you would be mad not to want to read the subsequent volumes after devouring this).
The novel is divided up into chapters that seemingly jump around and are unrelated at first glance, but eventually tie together nicely as the story progresses. The tale is simple, and an old one with mythological roots—it is a quest story of a lost hero, stranded from his home, who undertakes a quest to regain his power and his throne. Enslaved by greedy humans who aimed to capture his sister, Death, Dream (or Morpheus) spends years waiting for his inevitable escape, and revenge. Once freed of his prison, Dream is terrifying. More the stuff of nightmares, he is imagined beautifully in bold dark ink and burning red eyes. After exacting revenge on the son of his captor—the man responsible for his imprisonment long dead—Dream begins his search for the three tools he needs to regain his throne: a bag of sand (a reserve of dreamstuff and power), his helm (the symbol of his monarch), and his ruby (the dreamstone which contains a piece of Dream’s soul and source of his power).
The quest for three objects leads Morpheus down three different paths, revealed to him through an encounter with Cain and Abel. Things have fallen apart since Dream has been trapped—people slipping into constant, unwaking slumber, the kingdom falling apart, and strange behavior at every turn. Through consulting the Weird Sisters (the three Fates, from mythology), Dream discovers where to find his lost symbols of power. For the Bag of Sand, he travels to London and enlists the aid of John Constantine. Vanquishing wild dreams and renegade nightmares, Morpheus regains the bag and is strong enough to search for his helm. The helmet is possessed by a Demon in Hell—where Dream travels, and discovers Lucifer Morningstar is now part of a triumvirate that governs the kingdom, along with Beelzebub and Azazel. He must battle the lesser Demon for the return of his helm, which is carried out in stunning fashion, both in the art on the page, and in Mr. Gaiman’s flowing prose. For the last symbol of power, Dream looks to the Justice League for information, and faces a demented Doctor Destiny who has been using the ruby for his own twisted purposes.
The novel is rich in metaphor and allusion, drawing heavily on Greek myths and folklore (as is Mr. Gaiman’s hallmark), which is woven seamlessly into story and art. Dream transitions from an enraged and terrifying thing of power and smoke portrayed through jagged, harsh black lines and deathly pale skin, to a being more tangible and human. By the last chapter of the novel, ironically when he has at long last regained all his power and glory, Dream looks more like a sulking emo kid than an awesome Prince of Shadow. It is this transition, and the ability to make something as abstract as dreams become accessible and personified, that astonishes and awes the reader.
Truly, this novel is wonderful, and should be read by all—not just by fans of graphic novels, but by anyone even remotely interested in literature. My only regret is that it took me so long to find and read this work.
Notable Quotes/Parts: I am torn—my two favorite chapters are “The Sound of Her Wings” and “24 Hours”. Death, Dream’s beautiful big sister, is introduced in “The Sound of Her Wings”. And like all elder siblings, Death chides and scolds Dream for wallowing in self-pity and reminds him to fulfill his responsibilities. Contrary to popular depictions of Death as a morbid, chilling presence, this personification is perky, charming, and sympathetic–and so very cool. In “24 Hours”, Doctor Dee (aka Dr. Destiny) has regained control of Morpheus’ Dreamstone Ruby, and has twisted and corrupted its power to suit his own dark purposes. This chapter is truly horrific, as chaos is unleashed upon the world and in a microcosm in the small diner that Dee has taken hostage. It is deliciously creepy.
Additional Thoughts: I loved the DC crossovers in this volume (although from what I can garner from online reviews, this isn’t a popular reaction). At the very least, if you are familiar with some older DC comics, Preludes and Nocturnes allows you a frame of reference to familiarize yourself with. For my part, I was delighted to see John Constantine, Green Lantern, Scarecrow, the shoutouts to the Justice League of America, and even a setting in Arkham Asylum.
Verdict: Definitely a keeper. BUY IT.
Rating: 9 (Damn Near Perfection)—narrowly missing a perfect 10 because of the slow start to the novel…but as this is the first of the series, things can only get better.
Reading next: Heart-Shaped Box