The Absolute Sandman, Volume One

~written by Neil Gaiman
2007 Eisner Award Winner

Neil Gaiman's award-winning and critically acclaimed Sandman was my introduction to comics which quickly grew to border on an obsession with the genre. I devoured the series, borrowing the trade paperback collection from a good acquaintance, knowing that eventually I wanted to have my own set. When I discovered that DC Comics' Vertigo imprint (which is probably my favorite comic imprint) was publishing an "Absolute edition of the core series, I was glad I hadn't quite got around to purchasing any of Sandman yet.

DC's Absolute editions are gorgeous, hardbound, oversized volumes that come with sturdy and handsome slipcases, supposedly of archival quality. The comics are often recolored or otherwise restored and are usually accompanied by a substantial amount of additional material. The Absolute Sandman, Volume One consists of the first twenty issues of the series, which corresponds to the first three trade collections: Preludes and Nocturens, The Doll's House and Dream Country. The first volume also collects a new introduction and afterword, Gaiman's original proposal for the series, additional artwork, the afterwords from the trade paperbacks, and the full script and sketches for the (in)famous issue #19, "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (which won the World Fantasy Award for Best Short Fiction in 1991, the only comic to ever win the award. Rumor has it that the rules were changed after the win, prohibiting comics from qualifying, though this is denied by the World Fantasy Convention. However, while it does look like comics have been restricted from the Best Short Fiction category, they may still win in the category for Special Award: Professional.)

The primary story arc of the first volume focuses on the capture and eventual escape of Dream of the Endless (aka the Sandman). Both he and the world have changed dramatically due to his imprisonment, and the widespread ramifications are great. Dream must struggle to regain control of his powers and his realm. Through this quest we are introduced to most of the other Endless, his siblings: Destiny, Death (with whom I'm not just a little in love), Desire, and Despair. In addition to the main story line there are several other related but separate side issues that grant further insight into the world that Gaiman has created.

For the most part, the artwork itself doesn't do much for me in this first volume. For me, its really the storytelling that does it. Of course, the illustrations are an integral part of that. Seeing as different artists worked on the different issues, I don't necessarily expect the artwork to be consistent from issue to issue, but I do expect it to be within a single issue, which is unfortunately not always the case. However, I do appreciate the different "feels" and visual interpretation that the various artists bring to the series.

One thing that I absolutely love about Sandman is the fantastic mix of established mythology, legend, history, pseudo-history, popular culture, reality and fantasy with ideas and approaches that are completely new. In these earlier issues it is sometimes painfully obvious that the series is still trying to establish itself and find its niche. But, at the same time, this first Absolute volume also contains what is arguably one of the best single issues of the series ("A Midsummer Night's Dream," illustrated by Charles Vess). The stories range from horror, to fantasy, to just plain strange and are definitely meant for mature readers. Newcomers might want to read the series through before making the investment, but for fans it's a no-brainer--though hefty in size (not to mention price), The Absolute Sandman is, absolutely, the best edition out there.

Issues included: "Sleep of the Just"; "Imperfect Hosts"; "...Dream a Little Dream of Me"; "A Hope in Hell"; "Passengers"; "24 Hours"; "Sound and Fury"; "The Sound of Her Wings"; "Tales in the Sand"; "The Doll's House"; "Moving In"; "Playing House"; "Men of Good Fortune"; "Collectors"; "Into the Night"; "Lost Hearts"; "Calliope"; "A Dream of a Thousand Cats"; "A Midsummer Night's Dream"; "Façade"

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