~written by Neil Gaiman
The second volume of The Absolute Sandman brings together issues twenty-one through thirty-nine of Neil Gaiman's famous Sandman comic series (the issues were first reprinted in the trade collections Seasons of Mists, A Game of You and Fables and Reflections) in addition to a wonderful array of extra materials. A new introduction, afterword, and section of contribute biographies are included along with those from the original trade collections. Other extras feature the merchandising and marketing efforts from the September 1991 "Sandman Month," the creation of the first Sandman collectible statue, and the script and pencils from issue twenty-three--the closing of Hell. The reprinting of the artwork collection The Sandman: Gallery of Dreams (more than thirty full-page works with Dream as the inspiration) is absolutely gorgeous and is probably my favorite addition to the volume.
Season of Mists is among my favorite story arcs in the entirety of the original Sandman comics. One of Gaiman's greatest skills lies in adapting and retelling traditional myths, legends, and histories to suit the needs of his story--all while adding his own concepts and creations to the mix. Seasons of Mists, which features many figures from world mythology, allows him all sorts of room to play around in this way. Gaiman's version of Lucifer Morningstar was even compelling enough to earn him his own comic series (Lucifer, written by Mike Carey).
The other major story arc in this volume, A Game of You, has never really been a fan favorite. But, at least according to Gaiman's afterword, it was his "favorite of the Sandman storylines, perhaps because it didn't seem to be anyone else's favorite." I don't find it to be as horrible as many people seem to make it out and am quite fond of some the the characters, particularly Wanda. The volume is filled out by several shorter, one-shot stories that tend to focus on historical figures and events. Although it wasn't technically a part of the Sandman comics, "The Flowers of Romance," featuring Dream's sibling Desire and originally published in the first issue of Vertigo: Winter's Edge, can be found among the extra materials and makes a magnificent addition for the art alone if nothing else.
One of the advantages of DC Comic's Absolute editions is that the pages are physically larger, allowing the artwork and lettering to be seen in more detail. In some instances the coloring is either restored or otherwise reworked to better represent the artist' original intent and vision. Not every issue gets this treatment. Unfortunately, this means that some of the shadowing techniques that work adequately well for the original issues don't carry over as nicely to the larger format. This can actually be rather distracting and I'm somewhat surprised that the affected panels remained untouched. Overall though, the artwork is good and I enjoy the various moods and interpretations that the different artists bring to the series.
The Absolute Sandman is definitely the best edition of Sandman currently available. The second volume more than lives up to the precedent set by the first one. By this point in the comic, the series is really coming into its own. Not as much effort is put into tying the comic to the rest of the DC Universe, which allows it to be more itself (that's not to say the DC connections aren't there--they just aren't as blatant). Fans looking into purchasing the entire series should really consider the magnificent, albeit pricey, Absolute editions--so far, the presentation, production, and extra materials have been worth it.
Issues included: "Seasons of Mists: A Prologue"; "Seasons of Mists: Chapter One"; "Seasons of Mists: Chapter Two"; "Seasons of Mists: Chapter Three"; "Seasons of Mists: Chapter Four"; "Seasons of Mists: Chapter Five"; "Seasons of Mists: Chapter Six"; "Seasons of Mists: Epilogue"; "Distant Mirrors: Thermidor"; "Distant Mirrors: August"; "Distant Mirrors: Three Septembers and a January"; "A Game of You, Chapter One: Slaughter on Fifth Avenue"; "A Game of You, Chapter Two: Lullabies of Broadway"; "A Game of You, Chapter Three: Bad Moon Rising"; "A Game of You, Chapter Four: Beginning to See the Light"; "A Game of You, Chapter Five: Over the Sea to Sky"; "A Game of You, Chapter Six: I Woke Up and One of Us Was Crying"; "Convergence: The Hunt"; "Convergence: Soft Places"