Today’s new guide Patrons of Crushing Krisis is actually three guides (or maybe four, by the time you read this), which seems like overkill for what is essentially a single title with an obvious ten-volume paperback line. But, it’s really so much more than that…
I am fascinated by how Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman (and, in fact, all of the extended Sandman Universe) bridges the gap between comic books and serious literature.
That fascination has lasted for over 25 years – almost as long as Gaiman’s reinvention of the Golden Age character has existed.
Even the most-knowledgable comic fan could be forgiven for not knowing that Morpheus the King of Dreams was merely an iteration on an already-rebooted Golden Age DC hero. The original Sandman, Wesley Dodds, was a minor character who ran for seven years in the Golden Age and then popped back up twenty years later in the Earth 2 Justice Society of America in the Silver Age.
Without Gaiman and Morpheus, Dodds would probably be that one JSA member whose name you could never recall. His Silver Age iteration certainly wouldn’t jog your memory – a Kirby/Simon creation meant to be Mr. Sandman who lasted just six issues and who was later retconned in Wonder Woman to be a professor lost in the world of dreams.
There was no harm in Neil Gaiman revamping such a character to a more adult version early in the Post-Crisis years in 1989. At the time, Gaiman was still a relative unknown, coming off of the slept-on Black Orchid mini-series – a similar act of excavation and reinvention. He was so used to tepid reception to his early work that he expected Sandman to run just eight issues, which is why the first eight form such a satisfying arc despite being a mix of one-shots and continuing stories. He though that would be the whole series!
Instead, The Sandman became the springboard off of which Gaiman launched his multimedia fame in a miraculous three-year run from 1990-93 that saw him release Books of Magic at DC, the novel Good Omens (with Terry Prachett), win a World Fantasy Award in a category where Sandman wasn’t even eligible, essentially give birth to what we know as the modern American graphic novel market with the first two Sandman trade paperbacks, and top it off with the landmark Death: The High Cost of Living (the collection of which would be introduced by his friend and frequent name-checker, Tori Amos).
I was vaguely aware of The Sandman pretty early in my comic collecting. I started before its run was halfway through, and I remember seeing its covers on the shelves. Yet, it always seemed too sombre and complex to me – like an impenetrable Shakespearian soap opera where slow-moving people bite their thumbs at each other for issues at a time.
By the time I caught on to the epic mythology of the series (which it turned out was totally up my alley, both then and now), it was too late. I jumped in with “The Wake,” the final arc of the series. It was interesting, but I wasn’t hooked enough to continue to the follow-up series The Dreaming.
(Instead, I ricocheted over to Gaiman’s novels and got hooked on Neverwhere. Later, I’d become briefly fascinated with Gaiman when I became a Tori Amos fan, but I stuck with novels – having given up my comics collecting to be able to afford the internet.)
While I was away from comics, the extended Sandman Universe continued to evolve. Sandman begat Sandman Mystery Theatre (which focused on Dodds) and transformed into The Dreaming and, later, Lucifer – which ran just as long as Sandman. Books of Magic, a sort of proto-Harry Potter, kept going and going – through its own 75-issue series and into a string of follow-ups that would carry it through 2005.
I’m not sure why all of these Sandman Universe titles and characters fell away in the mid-2000s. Maybe it was Gaiman too busy being a literary rock star to offer his stewardship. Maybe the rest of comics had become grown up enough that Vertigo books didn’t have the hook they once had. Or, maybe characters and concepts in comics are simply cyclical and need some time to rest.
That time has ended in 2018, with Gaiman returning to his signature comics creation to curate a line of four new “Sandman Universe” ongoing titles – The Dreaming, House of Whispers, Lucifer, and Books of Magic.
That announcement inspired me to finally pull down my four Sandman Absolute Editions off the shelf to start reading them (some of which can be seen on my YouTube channel!).
Except, being the completist that I am, I wondered, “Should I get the fifth volume? What’s even in it?” And, if I did buy it, would that obligate me to pick up Absolutes of Overture and Death even though I already owned deluxe editions of them both?
It’s these sorts of questions that got my comic guides kicked off eight years ago. In trying to understand what the fifth Sandman Absolute Edition collected, I started trying to understand how those volumes lined up with the paperbacks and omnibuses.
That lead me to realize that the Sandman Universe wasn’t just the three franchise titles of Sandman, Books of Magic, and Lucifer.
The Dreaming had lasted for 60 issues, and it wasn’t even about the new Dream, as I had always assumed! I had no idea that Sandman Mystery Theatre had run as long as it did or how it interacted with Golden Age stories. Plus, there were over a dozen other Sandman Universe mini-series and one-shots, many named “The Sandman Presents” but plenty of them obscure titles I had never even heard of before.
Oh, and did I know that Destiny of The Endless had actually been the narrator of DC’s 1970s Horror anthologies?!?!
Thus, a copse of new guides sprung up. While I had intentions of creating a Sandman guide earlier this year, I never pictured it being this huge, spanning from 1939 to present day across multiple pages and including a complete guide to several Sandmen plus all seven Endless. Yet, as I worked on it, I kept encountering new questions that no one page on the internet seemed to be able to answer – which is always a sign that I’m on the right track in building a Definitive Guide.
And, hey, if you just want those 10 convenient Sandman paperbacks, I explain those, too!
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DC Guides: Animal Man, Aquaman, Books of Magic, Catwoman, Batman – Index Ongoing Titles, Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, Flash, Justice League, Lucifer, Mister Miracle, Nightwing, Outsiders, Sandman Universe, Suicide Squad, Teen Titans & Young Justice
Marvel Guides: Alpha Flight, Ant-Man & Giant-Man, Champions, Darkhawk, Dazzler, Domino, Falcon, Gwenpool, Legion, Marvel Era: Marvel Legacy, Moon Boy / Moon Girl & Devil Dinosaur, Ms. Marvel: Kamala Khan, Power Pack, Scarlet Witch, Sentry, Silk, Spider-Gwen, Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Venom, Vision