's first eight issues of The Sandman
are collected in this volume collectively known as Preludes & Nocturnes
. The stories are a little uneven in tone and quality (a good example being how some of the earlier issues focus more on dark humor while later issues become truly disturbing) making it interesting to read critically all at once. But as a reader I suggest reading each issue as a stand-alone piece for enjoyment rather than seeing it as part of a whole, especially as this is only the first volume of the collected issues which are gathered over the course of ten volumes and numerous one shots, short stories, and spin-offs.
During the '80s, there was a wave of adult comics (such as V for Vendetta
, and The Dark Knight Returns
) that helped to dispel the stigma and the myth that comic books were written for children and could only tell simplistic action tales about men and women in colorful costumes. In terms of content, The Sandman
broke a lot of the established preconceptions and rules of the superhero comic book since the stories featured mature, adult-oriented content and chose to focus on narrative, themes, and atmosphere rather than just on the typical action spectacle that was common in comics aimed at kids and teens. The series featured dark fantasy and horror elements and would make frequent literary allusions which gave it a more sophisticated flavor then previous horror comics.
The artwork in this volume is done primarily by Sam Kieth
, Mike Dringenberg
and Malcolm Jones III
, who help to give the characters and the world they inhabit a slightly sinister, Gothic, mystical and urban grittiness.
In addition, The Sandman
wasn't advertised like typical comics, and the mixed media covers created by Dave McKean
were a reflection of how the series was attempting to transcend the normalcy and redundancy of what comics had become and what they were becoming.
Concerning the stories, they tend to feel a bit short and are rather dialogue and narration heavy, but this is part of what makes them special. They read much like stories within an anthology series with each issue featuring different supporting characters, different themes, and different obstacles for the protagonist, the amorphous Dream. Where these are the first issues you can get a sense that Gaiman, the artists, and the editor hadn't really figured out exactly what kind of a series they were creating and that the foundations were for Sandman
were being laid out while simultaneously the construction of the series' cosmology was being done on top of everything else. As such, a few of the issues gathered here don't quite fit or match the quality of the others.
The story follows the titular character of Dream, the Sandman, one of the Endless, a group of immortal beings who exist both in the mortal realm, but also in a mystical alternate reality from where they guide worldly matters and shape existence itself. Dream is accidentally summoned by a sorcerer's cult who were attempting to conjure up Dream's sister, Death, in order to bind her and preserve their own lives forever. Instead, they capture Dream which results in many people all over the world falling into comas, developing sleep disorders, or experiencing horrible nightmares from which they cannot wake. Decades pass and we see how Dream's imprisonment effects the world around him and how the world changes in his absence.
Then through an act of cunning and by luck, Dream manages to escape his imprisonment and begins a long quest to get revenge and regain his full powers which are held in three items; his dream mask (or helm as he calls it), a pouch of magic sand, and a ruby which contains the essence of his soul. To repossess these items Dream will briefly partner with occult investigator John Constantine, travel to Hell where he will meet the three lords of Hell and their many minions, and meet members of the Justice League and confront one of the more psychotic villains in Arkham Asylum who plans to use Dream's powers to wreak havoc upon the world.
The stories are darker than almost anything that had come before them and featured sexual references to incest, necrophilia, rape, and prostitution, which were things that really hadn't been dealt with in major comic books before. They also touched upon social problems of the day such as AIDS, drug addiction, the rise in crime, suicide, and homophobia. The stories also tackled with issues of morality and mortality in a way that was unique since much of the narrative unfolds from Dream's perspective and Dream himself is, as mentioned earlier, an amorphous character. He is morally ambiguous and immortal, making his view of the world and of people very different from that of characters in other comics. He is at once brilliant and judgmental, but also at times naive and innocent. He is a stranger in a strange land.
All in all, Preludes & Nocturnes
is a remarkable work, not without its flaws, which helped to shape the direction of comics for the next decade and it is the first part of an incredible epic. As a stand-alone work, it manages to be innovative, imaginative, and startling. As part of a greater whole, it is the beginning of one of the most important and memorable series that comic readers have ever known.