24 October 2010

Faster than a DC Bullet: The Sandman, Part III: The Absolute Sandman, Volume Three

Comic hardcover, 616 pages
Published 2008 (contents: 1991-2000)

Borrowed from the library
Read September 2010
The Absolute Sandman, Volume Three

Writer: Neil Gaiman
Artists: Jill Thompson, Vince Locke, Bryan Talbot, Mark Buckingham, P. Craig Russell, Michael Zulli, John Watkiss, Dick Giordano, Michael Allred, Shea Anton Pensa, Alec Stevens, Gary Amaro, Kent Williams, Tony Harris, Steve Leialoha
Colorists: Dave Vozzo, Lovern Kindzierski, Sherilyn Van Valkenburgh
Letterer: Todd Klein

As I'd mentioned earlier, I was somewhat lukewarm towards the earlier volumes of The Absolute Sandman. There was certainly an amazing mythology at work, but I found it hard to be interested in Dream as a character; often, I was more invested in the random people who got caught up in his adventures. (Curiously, all of these substitute protagonists seem to usually be women. I wonder if there's anything in that.) But the substory Brief Lives, collected here, changed all that. This story features Dream and his sister Delirium searching for their lost brother Destruction-- and in the process of that, Dream finally has to come to terms with his relationship with his son. It's half a road-trip comedy, half a meditation on knowing when to move on, and half a very dark fairy tale. It's definitely the funniest of the Sandman storylines... but it's also the most touching. I enjoyed every aspect of this one a lot, from Delirium's inane attempts to try to drive a mortal car, to Dream and Destruction's conversation on reuniting, from the first appearance of Merv, the pumpkinheaded janitor of the Dreaming, to the moment where Dream finally goes and sees Orpheus. Most of all, it's great to finally get a sense of Dream as a person. (Inasmuch as an anthropomorphic personification of an abstract universal concept can be one, I suppose.)

What struck me as I was reading it is that The Sandman really is a literary comic book. I mean, there have been plenty of literary graphic novels produced-- non-superhero fare that is done in one sitting. But The Sandman unlike most "highbrow" sequential art pieces, is completely and utterly a comic book: an ongoing, indefinite story. In total, the series comprises some 75 issues, and stories and characters and ideas weave in and out of these issues the same way they might in a Superman or Spider-Man ongoing. Gaiman really utilizes the potential of the comic ongoing to its maximum here, and that is the reason I like The Sandman as much as I do. It might have taken until Brief Lives for me to like The Sandman, but Brief Lives would never have worked without all the preceding issues to lead up to it. Gaiman has utterly mastered one of my favorite aspects of the medium here, and I find that delightful.

A brief word about the other storyline collected in this volume, Worlds' End. This is a collection of one-issue stories set in the world of The Sandman, but unlike many of the other ones, they're connected with a frame narrative. They're also the weakest; most of these did nothing at all for me. Strangely dull for Gaiman.

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