The world of comic books was a very different place before the Sandman came into being. Neil Gaiman revolutionized the graphic novel with "The Sandman," an exquisite story filled with shadowy realistic art and strange magical beings. Bringing together the first three volumes, "The Absolute Sandman, Vol. 1" is one of those rare collections that tantalizes you with beauty and chills you to your core, all at the same time.
In "Preludes and Nocturnes," a group of occultists are attempting to summon and trap Death... but instead, they capture Dream and lock him in a glass orb. Decades pass, and countless people are locked in slumber -- unable to dream, unable to wake for long. One day, Dream escapes his prison and reenters the world, but loses the last of his power with his final act of revenge.
His Dreamworld palace has fallen into ruin, and his magical items have been scattered. To regain his power, he must get back his helm, his pouch of sand, and his dreamstone. His journey to regain them will take him across worlds -- to John Constantine and a woman destroyed by dreams, to the depths of Hell at a demonic club, and a ghastly madman who drives various people to depravity and death.
But his problems do not stop there -- in "The Doll's House," Dream discovers a dream vortex. That vortex is Rose Walker, the granddaughter of Unity Kinkaid (who has slept most of her life), who is searching for her imprisoned little brother. And even worse, some of Dream's creatures have escaped, and are wreaking havoc on the waking world.
And in "Dream Country," Gaiman tells us a quartet of haunting stories -- a cat seeking revenge who wanders into the Dream Country, a struggling writer who buys and rapes a muse, an elemental superheroine who longs to die, and Shakespeare performing his classic play "A Midsummer Night's Dream" for the court of Faerie.
The world of "The Sandman" is a strange one -- it lightly interlocks with other graphic novel series, effortlessly slips from one world to another, and exposes both the beauty and ugliness of our own world. "The Absolute Sandman, Vol. 1" is an excellent introduction to Neil Gaiman's strange, expansive world -- as well as his hollow-eyed anti-hero.
And the artwork is sublime -- realistic in style, but often bizarre and a little frightening in theme. And despite the core colors being shadowy greys, whites and blacks, there are splashes of bright colors everywhere. Green fields, blue hallways, psychedelic skies, hallucinations filled with sickly pallid hues.
And Gaiman created one of his most iconic, complex characters in Dream -- his inhumanness is underlined by acts of great cruelty and kindness, and his sad, grim demeanor is more than a little touching. The author also spun up a very nonstereotypical version of Death. No robes, scythes or skeletal faces here. In fact, forget about anything sinister -- this version of Death is a delightfully quirky, perky goth chick.
As for this omnibus edition, it is absolutely gorgeous -- oversized, with gorgeous enhanced colors, strong fabric covers, a sturdy slipcase and some pencil sketches. It's not really one for casual reading, but for collectors.
"The Absolute Sandman, Vol. 1" is a gorgeous rerelease of Neil Gaiman's classic series, but this would be nothing if the material were not so sublime. A delight for comic readers.