The Sandman, Vol. 01: Preludes & Nocturnes (The Sandman #1)

By Neil Gaiman

Rating: 4 stars

It’s been a while since I’ve read the Sandman books, but I’ve just finished The Sandman: Overture and that made me want to reread these again. So much of my memory contains the series as a whole that you forget that the story started off relatively small-scale. The lord of dreams was captured in 1916 and held for 70-odd years before he managed to get free, went about taking revenge and recovering the tools that had been taken from him.

Coming straight out of Sandman Overture the art, while definitely attractive, feels a bit scratchy (although they had much more time for Overture, with a 6-issue series taking two years, rather than a strict monthly schedule like the original series), although Dave McKean’s covers were as gorgeous then as they are now.

I said the story was small scale earlier. That’s not entirely true, as Dream does go to Hell at one point, to recover his stolen helm and we have our first encounter with Lucifer Morningstar, who would go on to star in his own series. At this stage, Gaiman didn’t have his own clear vision for the series, so we see ties to the wider DC universe as John Constantine, the Martian Manhunter and other elements from the wider superhero universe show up. These don’t really recur once the series hits its stride but do serve to remind the reader that the Dream and the Endless are part of a shared universe.

The third-last chapter, 24 Hours, is a difficult one to read. It’s pure horror as customers in a diner are made into puppets to be the plaything of John Dee, who had stolen Dream’s jewel, the last, and most powerful, of his tools. Dream himself doesn’t appear in this chapter until the very end and we’re left seeing people being made to do terrible things to each other as the madman watches. Like I say, it’s a difficult one to read, even if you suspect that he’s not going to win – that’s no consolation for the people who’s lives are destroyed or who are killed before Dee is stopped.

The final chapter introduces us to one of the most popular (with good reason) characters in the Sandman canon: Dream’s older sister, Death. This isn’t the dark-robed scythe-wielder of popular myth but a cute goth girl who always has good advice and is always there for her younger brother. Bizarrely, she always brightens up the page when she appears and her presence and advice make for a great epilogue to this first volume.

Book details

Publisher: Vertigo
Year of publication: 1989

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