They say Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore were to comics what the Beatles were to American rock music; once they heard of them, no one could ignore their beat.
Imagine now that such a great band was to come together again, twenty years later. How would the new disc sound? How would it be received? This deluxe edition provides the answer to that: it sounds better than ever. It?s like they never left.
I fell in love with comics reading Sandman. It was a tale that had some superheroes–they met John Constantine in the first issues, Preludes and Nocturnes–but one that would leave all of that behind in the second story arc. The Doll?s House was something absolutely different, and the tales it would tell would go on to hit the comic industry hard.
Part of a group of powerful forces known as the Endless, the lord of Dreams embodies a quality of the Universe. Along with his siblings–Destiny, Destruction, Death, Desire, and Despair–he represents something more than gods and mortals, something ever-changing, something everlasting. It does not matter whether their physical selves change or are destroyed: someone new will come to replace them, and the quality they represent will continue to be.
However, there are things that endanger even the Endless; pride, perhaps, is one of Dream?s great weaknesses. This new story arc follows the events prior to the imprisonment of the Sandman in the human world, and explains why he was “tried beyond endurance” while returning to his Dream World.
It’s a superb tale, and Gaiman’s intention was obviously to cast some of the best moments of the Sandman saga in a new light, adding additional details, layers, and textures to an already complex and wonderful story. Indeed, in this he has succeeded, and the story told connects seamlessly with the one crafted almost twenty years ago.
But let?s talk about the band itself. From the old guard comes Dave MacKean, Todd Klein, and Neil Gaiman; from the new comes the illustrators J.H Williams III and Dave Stewart, both Eisner Award-winners and incredible artists.
If you are familiar with The Three Musketeers, you will know that Dumas wrote a second novel, oddly enough, called Twenty Years Later. In it, D?Artagnan must seek out his old friends and embark on a new adventure. Each of them has his own problems and distinct lifestyle. Athos now has a son, who is himself important to the plot; Porthos wants to be a baron; and Aramis is part of the rebellion known as La Fronde, but is willing to help out an old friend. Together, with Athos’ son and his new companion–which echoes the importance of friendship in young soldiers just starting the adventurous life–they will pursue their mission, learning something about themselves in the process.
This Sandman volume works exactly like that; Gaiman wants to start a new story and thus seeks out his old friends. MacKean wants to take part but has stage fright–the world of illustration has changed amazingly in these twenty years. Todd Klein has moved on from lettering by hand to using and creating fonts of his own. And there’s the new art to think about, an art that must be distinct and fresh but remind you of the essence of the story.
Enter J.H Williams III. Like Athos’ son, he is young, he is willing, and he can draw anything. His partner in adventures, Dave Stewart, has simply created the best digital coloring that technology can produce, and, together, they have created a comic masterpiece.
In the extras offered by this deluxe edition, there are interviews with all the participants. The way they merged together and played on each other’s strengths is remarkable. Todd Klein was able to create transparent balloons so the art would be more appreciated. MacKean made some marvelous cover art that both were both reminiscent of and improved upon his earlier work, and Gaiman recreated his tale as if he’d had never left the comic book business.
J. H Williams’ art is astounding; the plot plays with the notions of Space, Time, and Infinity, and he manages to portray them quite well.
If you enjoyed this Vertigo comic, you will love this deluxe edition. Although, if you want to introduce the story to someone new to the world of Sandman, they can definitely start from here too.
Unlike Dumas’ Twenty Years Later, you don?t need to know the characters in advance to enjoy the plot. It’s a bit like Star Wars: The Force Awakens. If you were there in the beginning, you will enjoy watching the story in sequence. If you are new to it, like our sons and daughters are, you can instead start at this last feature and work your way backwards. The key characters are all there, and you can enjoy the story either way.
Of course, you can also read this Overture and start with the Sandman all over again. I just did…
Featured image by J.H Williams III, Photo courtesy Vertigo Comics