Thursday, August 25, 2005


by Neil Gaiman

So I just finished rereading Neil Gaiman's Sandman comic series last week. With the benefit of knowing the story (and Hy Bender's Sandman Companion book), I picked up on a lot of things that I missed the first time around. Gaiman's even cleverer than I thought, the way he foreshadows and sets up a lot of things before hand. It's even more clever considering he was writing it in monthly installments.

The concept behind the Sandman is not too far afield from that of your standard superhero comics. The title character is a fantastic being with strange powers who travels to exotic locations and battles strange creatures. To be precise, he is an immortal being who has existed almost since the beginning of time, and is responsible for the dreams (and stories and imaginations) of all the mortal creatures of the universe. But Gaiman handles his story completely differently to the usual comic book story. Firstly, the Sandman is almost invincible, he and his family are known as the Endless, and with good reason. While they can be imprisoned, driven mad or blackmailed, destroying one of them is almost unheard of. Because of this the Sandman is almost never in any actual danger, leading to a very non-action oriented story.

Even when the story focuses on characters other than the Sandman, the story remains dialogue driven and in everyway goes against the cliché of comics being written for teenage boys and geeks. One of the reasons this series is so well respected is because it catered to a more mature audience than most of its fellow comic series'. Despite the fantasy trappings, Sandman is at it's heart about a guy who takes his work too seriously and can't sort out his love life, a story that wouldn't be out of place in any other medium or genre.

Having said that Gaiman uses the fantasy genre brilliantly, creating many original and fascinating characters. The most memorable of these are the Endless, each of which (with some exceptions) has a personality completely the opposite of what you'd expect of someone with their function. Most obviously there's the title character, Dream, who is stern, unfriendly and inflexible. His brother Destruction is jovial and good-natured, his sister Despair is surprisingly gentle and soft-hearted, despite her hideous appearance, and the androgynous Desire is in contrast cold-hearted and cruel. And of course there's Death, the sensible, perky goth chick. On the other hand Delirium and Destiny are pretty much exactly how you'd expect, although at various times they do hint at paradoxes within their function. Destiny says “The choice is yours”, offering free will. Delirium at times shows she has a better insight on reality that many of the saner characters.

The artwork is great from beginning to end, although it varies so much in style over the course of the series run that it would be impossible to talk about it in detail in the limited space I have.

Pretty much anything Gaiman writes is gold, but Sandman is his crowning achievement. Well worth a periodic reread.

No comments: