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Seven Dreams

  The Sandman: Endless Nights


Neil Gaiman, Various Artists

Vertigo/DC, 2003

Rating: 4.3



Posted: November 7, 2003

By Kevin Forest Moreau

Neil Gaiman's The Sandman is ranked as one of the most beloved, most critically acclaimed comic series of all time. During its run, the title's unique mix of horror, high fantasy and historical entertainment enchanted thousands. It more or less made DC's Vertigo imprint, it did immeasurable wonders for comics' standing in pop culture, and it set a bar for comic fantasia that even Alan Moore would be hard-pressed to reach. Granted, it's got a few things to answer for, as well -- its spin-off series, The Dreaming, was a largely lackluster affair, and Tori Amos was moved to include a cutesy, insider-y lyric about her good friend Neil in one of her songs.

Well, nothing's perfect. But The Sandman came pretty damn close. DC thought so; it had the unprecedented good sense to honor a gentleman's agreement with Gaiman not to continue the series after he left. And although Gaiman might quibble (few writers -- few good ones, anyway -- are so praiseworthy about their own work), even he acknowledges that it was perhaps the capstone of his career. (Let's face it, bestsellers though they may be, his post-Sandman books haven't exactly re-invented the form. Sort of a cross between Peter David, Clive Barker and Douglas Adams, except without most of the jokes.) So it's imminently understandable that Gaiman would feel disposed, at some point, to revisit past glories.

Which is where The Sandman: Endless Nights comes in. And the good news is that proves a worthwhile addition to the title's legacy. If it doesn't exactly enrich said legacy, it does it no lasting harm, either, and in fact in its best moments it approaches the sense of magic, of unbridled imagination, the series exhibited in its finest hours. Endless Nights is broken up into seven chapters, each one focusing on a member of The Endless, the enigmatic family as old as time whose members are the walking, talking forms of Dream, Despair, Desire, Delirium, Destiny, Destruction and, of course, Death. Each chapter is illustrated by a respected artist, from the Italian illustrator Milo Manara (whose way with a naked woman is displayed to satisfying effect in "What I've Tasted of Desire") to the talented P. Craig Russell and Preacher cover artist Glenn Fabry. Each artist is elegantly matched to his story: Bill Siekiewicz's scratchy surrealism is perfect for the jumbled "Delirium: Going Inside," while Russell brings an appropriate element of whimsy to "Death and Venice."

The artwork is without peer throughout; it's the stories themselves that prove a mixed bag. That's not exactly a slam: such was often the case for The Sandman's single-issue tales, as well. Of the stories that stand out, "Dream: The Heart of a Star" is (appropriately enough) the most memorable: Gaiman's telling of an ancient meeting between walking manifestations of the stars (yes, as in heavenly bodies) matches the childlike sense of wonder his best tales evoked (Miguelanxo Prado's gorgeous rendering doesn't hurt, either). It's his stroke of genius to introduce us to stars that later play roles in the DC Universe, from our own Sol (seen here as an eager youngling prone to getting underfoot) to Rao, the sun of doomed Krypton and even Sto-Oa, whose dalliance with a member of "The Glow" (don't ask) presages the power wielded eons later by the Green Lantern Corps. ("Destruction on the Peninsula," a compelling piece of science fiction/archeological intrigue, is the collection's other high point.)

If the other tales fare less well, to varying degrees, they're far from failures. "What I've Tasted of Desire" and "Death in Venice" could have easily been issues of the regular series -- no small compliment, certainly, but the territory feels a bit too familiar. Whereas the unsettling "Fifteen Portraits of Despair," featuring an artistic collaboration between the perfectly named Barron Storey and longtime Sandman cover artist and Gaiman cohort Dave McKean, is more effective in its striking imagery than in its loosely connected text pieces. And the closing "Destiny: Endless Nights," with artwork by the always impressive Frank Quitely, is as pretty as it is pointless. In all, Endless Nights is a fine companion piece to a peerless comic book series that elevated the possibilities of the medium, and if it leads curious newcomers to introduce themselves to the original source material, so much the better.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: Breaks new ground
 4.0-4.9: First-rate
 3.0-3.9: Solid
 2.0-2.9: Mediocre
 1.1-1.9: Bad
 0.0-1.0: The worst

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