There is probably no other comic that has done as much for the industry as The Sandman. Sure, comics like Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns and Swamp Thing have all been important and are great comics unto themselves, but none have been as well received by the non-comic world as well. The Sandman has been labeled as the comic that brought women into comic stores. This was not a superhero-in-tights adventure; instead Neil Gaiman wrote an analysis of storytelling as literate and intellectual as any book on the shelf. It showed many readers that comics were not just about superheroes, but that they could be intelligent, relevant and touching. Now, almost twenty years since it was first published, Vertigo Comics is releasing the entire Sandman series in four Absolute editions, the first of which was just released in October.
The Absolute edition gives this series the respect it deserves. Not only is it in a large format, but the cover is gorgeous, resembling an old leather-bound Bible. There are tons of extras including Gaiman’s original proposal, the script for the now famous “Midsummer Night’s Dream” issue and many other wonderful goodies. Best of all, the first eighteen issues have been re-colored and now look even more beautiful than before.
Gaiman took about eight issues or so to find his voice at the beginning of the series, but once he did, one began to see how grand this title would eventually become in terms of its scope and storytelling. The artwork was sometimes rough; this was a common trend at the time in “mature audience” comics, particularly at DC. With the touch-ups to the coloring, however, even the worst bits of artwork in this collection come across much better.
The stories contained within are still some of the best the comic medium has ever produced. Certainly the first few issues are not as fine tuned as the later ones, but they are still wonderful examinations of various forms of fiction, including fantasy and horror. It is with the second story arc, “A Doll’s House”, that Gaiman started showing the potential of the series. Mike Dringenberg’s artwork has never seemed all that great. It appears quite sketchy, and the original coloring made it look that much more sloppy and muddled. With the new coloring however, the artwork is much clearer, making it easier to discern what is going on. While certainly the best is yet to come in terms of both art and story, these are still solid stories and continue to be a joy to read.
The crown jewel in the collection of course, is the World Fantasy Award winning issue, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. In previous trade collection, the script for “Calliope” was included, however, with the Absolute edition, they have decided to go with the “Midsummer Night’s Dream” script, which makes more sense, seeing as this is the issue which brought The Sandman most of its fame. Charles Vess’ artwork is superb, and matches the story completely, one of the reasons why Vess is strongly associated with the visuals in those Sandman stories that deal with the realm of Faerie. Both he and Gaiman will be entering the limelight again when the film version of their illustrated novel, Stardust, hits theaters this summer.
This is certainly the volume of The Sandman to pick up if you have never read any before. Granted, the price is steep, as most Absolute editions are. The advantage however is that you get the equivalent of three trade paperbacks in this one volume, a ton of extras, and the re-colored eighteen issues make it that much more appealing to the eye. In comparison the trade paperbacks might seem dull and poorly drawn to someone more used to the slick art of most mainstream comics.
The first volume in the Absolute edition of The Sandman is a testament to how influential and important this title is. Without it, there would be no Vertigo today, and perhaps none of the titles that have risen to prominence out of that publishing line. The tales may not be the best of the series, but they show its potential, and whet your appetite for the three volumes still to come. So make room on your bookshelf (you will need it), and start lifting some weights (it is quite heavy, and alternative uses for the book include a doorstop and a bludgeoning tool for intruders), and reacquaint yourself with the comic that showed the world how mature and intelligent comics could be. And let’s not forget the fact that it brought girls into comic shops as well.