Friday Flashback: Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes

Friday Flashback: Sandman

OK, ok, I admit it. Until now, I had never read Sandman. In fact, I’d never read anything in the general Sandman universe, made more pathetic by the fact that my older non-comics-reading sister owns to this day Death: The High Cost of Living, which she bought as it came out all those years ago. Well, as any self-respecting comic fan must do at one point or another, I’ve finally begun my journey into the land of dream, and the first leg was quite a trip.

The Sandman was of course one of the first titles in DC’s Vertigo imprint, though it didn’t become a part of the line until more than halfway through the series at issue #47 (the same month the aforementioned Death #1 shipped), due solely to the fact that until then the line simply didn’t exist. Having begun as a “Suggested for Mature Readers” DC Universe comic, there is far more interaction with the greater DCU in this first volume than readers would expect from any current Vertigo title. This really surprised me in my reading of the first volume, as I’m so used to Vertigo characters, even those who’ve previously been in the DCU, staying in the Vertigo realms.

I digress. The story of course follows the titular character, the Sandman of myth. He’s also known as Morpheus, or simply Dream. The name “Dream” apparently becomes more important later, as his Endless siblings bear “D” names as well (Death, Destiny, and Desire are all mentioned in the very first issue).

This first tale starts with Dream being captured by an amateur sorcerer. The capture is all a mistake, as the sorcerer was attempting to capture Dream’s sister Death to attain eternal life. Dream is immediately stripped of three totems of power, a gas mask, a bag of sand, and a ruby amulet, and held in prison for 70 years. During his imprisonment, his captors attempt to bargain with him- his release for their eternal life and power. During his absence, sleep and dreaming was all out of whack. This captivity is even used as the explanation/origin for Wesley Dodds becoming the super-heroic Sandman of the Justice Society of America. When his original captor Roderick Burgess dies, Alex Burgess takes over as captor, still trying to make the same deal. One day, when Dream feigns death, Alex’s men open the lock and cross the magic binding circle, freeing him.

After a short but vicious revenge, the book becomes a journey of restoration. It turns out those totems of power are actually infused with parts of Dream and his power. They’ve spread through the DCU since they were taken from him, and he has to try to regain control over the dreamworld while getting his items back. The start of his journey introduces us to the Hecateae, the three-in-one witch who gives Dream a general idea of where to look for his missing items.

This brings us to another confession. Prior to this story, I had never actually read any appearances of John Constantine. I’d heard of the character of course, and done my due diligence as a comic fan, learning what I could about him without actually reading his books. So, it was nice to be introduced to the British paranormal investigator/magician. “Something just seems to be trying to tell [him] somebody” as he hears and sees constant references to the Sandman before Morpheus arrives in his life. John had the mystic pouch of sand, but as it turns out, an old girlfriend stole it, and became a dream junkie. At John’s request, Dream was merciful and gave her a peaceful death- she spent so much time in the dreaming that she was bound to die anyway.

Next our hero goes to Hell, wherein some of the creepiest looking demons I’ve ever seen are there to greet him. The demon Etrigan ties us further to the DCU, as he takes Dream on a tour of Hell. Here is the first appearance of the Vertigo Lucifer, along wit the other current kings of Hell. Dream finds out which demon took his helm (the gas mask looking thing), and essentially freestyle battles him. Winning his helm, Dream shows his greatest power, his intelligence, and walks out of Hell.

The Ruby, his final piece, is much more complicated and takes up the rest of this first volume of the trade collections. Doctor Destiny was using it to make dreams real and attack people with it. We see Arkham Asylum, Scarecrow, Granny Goodness, the Justice League International, Martian Manhunter, and Mister Miracle. J’onn actually recognizes Dream as an ancient Martian god; this is a really interesting story point that I’d love to see explored further, but is pretty much left alone. The race is on between Dr. Destiny and Dream, both trying to reclaim the Ruby. Dream gets to it first, but Dr. Destiny has tainted it, and he can’t use the power inside. Dr. D gets it back, and uses it to terrorize a small diner, getting re-acquainted with his toy. Eventually, the two face off in a battle essentially of Dream’s power versus Dream’s power. Dr. D, thinking he will be able to kill Dream by destroying something that holds his power, crushes the Ruby. Upon destruction, it releases the borrowed power back into Dream. He returns Dr. Destiny to Arkham Asylum (again showing incredible mercy), and even gifts all of Arkham with a peaceful night of sleep.

The book is rounded off by a nice brother-sister story as Dream walks with Death and she completes a day’s work. It’s very interesting to see the embodiment of Death portrayed as a kind-hearted, fun-loving cute girl.

This first book has me absolutely hooked. I’ve got the other volumes now, to make short work of, I’m sure. This story being so connected to the DCU definitely made it easier for me to get into; I felt like I already knew a bit of the world this story lived in. The artwork is unique and probably wouldn’t play too well in a new book today, but it works great for this old story and really looks gorgeous, creepy, and peaceful at all the right times. My first step into the land of dream was quite the leap. It definitely makes me wonder what else The Sandman has in store for me in the future.

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