I’ve recently been delving into my back catalogue of graphic novels to remind myself of why I love comic books. Recent titles have been mired in some form of controversy or another, from censorship over death threats received because of a particularly divisive alternate cover to the, frankly appalling, level that ill-themed social commentary is being forced into Thor. I needed a brief refresher into why comics envelop me so much. Looking through my shelves, there’s a lot to choose from. The gritty harshness of The Walking Dead; the alt-cyber-punk neon world of Transmetropolitan; the biting humour of Chew — there was a lot to choose from. However, one caught my eye more than most. Ten volumes of a graphic novel I hadn’t read for years. One that I read for the first time in my late teens. One that changed me and the way I think about storytelling. This would be The Sandman.
Spanning seventy-five issues, with a six issue prequel being published now, The Sandman is an utter triumph of telling a story spanning myth, legend, lore and love. Centering on the main character, Dream, The Sandman is a tale of seven siblings who personify the core of what spends the most time occupying the human brain. Destiny, Delirium, Despair, Desire, Destruction and Death. It is a tale is about how someone can ultimately change. Not in a massive way, nor even in immediately noticeable ways, but in a ways that can resonate and ripple throughout all they have come into contact with over time. The Sandman is a tale of redemption, from the perspective of a character who doesn’t realise he has anything to redeem himself over.
The genesis of the story takes place in Victorian England, where the occult seams behind society plot to capture the entity Death, meaning they can claim immortality for themselves. However, a mistake, or more likely Destiny, results in them capturing Death’s younger brother Dream. The ramifications of this mistake are felt throughout the next seventy-five issues, with issues time-shifting before and after, echoing what’s about to happen. Going back and reading it now, knowing what’s going to happen, is absolutely mind-blowing. The foreshadowings of the finale are present in the very first issue, with off-hand comments from the most minor of side characters becoming ominous cries of what is to come. Taking place in the DC universe, the story is interwoven with cameos from Clark Kent to John Constantine, with a particularly horrifying appearance from Batman villain Dr. Destiny. In the first volume, there’s an issue entitled 24 Hours which is, without a doubt, one of the most harrowing, disturbing and downright chilling single issues of a comic book I’ve ever read. Shifting tone seamlessly from horror to comedy to drama and back, it’s an utterly phenomenal tale of an utterly dysfunctional family and how you can ultimately never choose the people you love.
Reading the Sandman was without a doubt one of the best decisions I’ve made in recent times. It reminded me of just how great comics can be. Telling a story which veers from the literal depths of hell to Wisconsin, from the utter highs of a perfect night’s dreamless sleep to a conversation with Death over a pint of ale, The Sandman is a sublime example of storytelling. Allow me to offer a quote from the penultimate issue which I hope will resonate with some people. If it does, I implore you to check out this incredible story.
“Have you ever been in love? Horrible isn’t it? It makes you so vulnerable. It opens your chest and it opens up your heart and it means that someone can get inside you and mess you up. You build up all these defenses, you build up a whole suit of armor, so that nothing can hurt you, then one stupid person, no different from any other stupid person, wanders into your stupid life…You give them a piece of you. They didn’t ask for it. They did something dumb one day, like kiss you or smile at you, and then your life isn’t your own anymore. Love takes hostages. It gets inside you. It eats you out and leaves you crying in the darkness, so simple a phrase like ‘maybe we should be just friends’ turns into a glass splinter working its way into your heart. It hurts. Not just in the imagination. Not just in the mind. It’s a soul-hurt, a real gets-inside-you-and-rips-you-apart pain. I hate love.”
Sandman, The Kindly Ones.
You can read The Sandman at Vertigo Comics website, or find them at your local comic book shop.
[Disclaimer: SuperNerdLand has no affiliation or association with Vertigo Comics]