The Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes (Review)

Dream battles ensue, houses built of human flesh are entered, and even the Justice League gets a mention. It’s hard to really comprehend how someone could have an imagination so wild and so powerful to dream up a story like this.

Publisher: Vertigo

Writer: Neil Gaiman

Art: Sam Keith, Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III

Colors: Daniel Vozzo

Throughout my life, I have constantly neglected works of literature or film that I had known about for years in favor of whatever is currently catching my attention. I had been a Nail Gaiman fan since reading his incredible novel American Gods, and yet, for some reason or another, The Sandman never took hold of my interest. It is worth noting that in most of these cases where I finally get around to reading or watching such works, I am completely enamored by them. The Sandman is no different. It is incredible. It is nothing short of mindblowing. And here I am, kicking myself for taking so long to get around to reading it.

When I say “it,” I am referring only to the first volume in the series, Preludes and Nocturnes. The scope of this series is relatively large – but after this first volume, I’m going to need to force myself to find the time to read the rest. From the way this series is almost universally beloved, I’d be a fool not to.

Preludes and Nocturnes is very much a quest story. In it, the Sandman (also known as Dream) is caught in a ritual while a group of Aleister Crowley-esque cultists attempt to summon Death in a magic ritual. Dream is stripped of all his powers when he is caught in the early 1900’s and is imprisoned by these people, led by a man named Roderick Burgess. After Burgess dies, in 1988, under his son Alex’s watch, Dream (also known also as Morpheus) escapes. Dream is now forced into a quest of retrieving the three things that will help him to regain his power – his bag of sand, a helmet, and a mystical ruby. It’s pretty far out stuff, man.

Through this journey, Dream will travel to Hell, meet up with John Constantine, and even face off with a somewhat conventional comic book villain. Most of this is extremely surreal and abstract. The tale is very abstract and intense at times – escalating to acts of extreme violence in one case. Dream battles ensue, houses built of human flesh are entered, and even the Justice League gets a mention. It’s hard to really comprehend how someone could have an imagination so wild and so powerful to dream up a story like this. (See what I did? Dream? See?)

It is entirely possible that I am now reading The Sandman at the correct time, and reading it any sooner would have been a mistake. The book is not a conventional comic book; it is a mature and abstract piece of literature, illustrated very carefully in a way that is sure to be either loved or hated depending on the reader’s tastes. The art, admittedly, took a while to grow on me. Now, after its conclusion, I am just short of in love with it. Everything about Preludes and Nocturnes is breathtaking.

In the very beginning, the reader doesn’t know who Dream is; after all, he is imprisoned for the first issue. The key to this volume is natural growth and logical character development – logical, despite the dark fantasy aspect of the whole thing. Dream is on a quest which culminates into a bombastic final confrontation to find all of the keys to his lost strength – and then, there’s even more, which is probably the most startling this about Nocturnes. Many comics have quick epilogues. That’s almost necessary to tell a good story. Here, Gaiman has devoted an entire issue to the epilogue.

After the conclusion of the quest, Dream is confronted with a problem every hero (I use that term loosely) must face eventually. The aftermath. What do you do once your goal has been achieved? Where do you go once your journey is over? Gaiman allows the reader to tag along with Dream as he meets up with his sister Death, finally, and muses on everything that’s happened, along with the nature of dreaming and death as a whole. It is a tender and intellectual piece of literature that is few and far between in the world of comic books. Preludes and Nocturnes is a true work of art, cemented firmly with the final issue of this volume. It is a certifiable must-read.

The version of this TPB that I have reviewed has been fully recolored, published by Vertigo in October 2010. Differences between the new (on the left) and the old (on the right) can be seen below after the Geeked Gods Scoring System. The recoloring has been approved by Gaiman himself.

The Geeked Gods Score: 9.5/10. Phenomenal.

One of the most unique comic books ever created, The Sandman is a must-read. Abstract. Weird. Powerful.

New (left) and old (right), for those interested

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