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on March 15, 2004
This review is directed mainly at those of you who are not widely experienced with modern (one can hardly use the word `adult' without erotica coming to mind) comics, because I do not know many comics aficionados who are not familiar with the Sandman saga - the Citizen Kane of comics, or the Sgt. Pepper, or the War and Peace - and have not read, at the very least, this first installment in the series.
So - you haven't read comics in a long time, have you? Sure, you read it when you were a kid, like everyone else, but then you outgrew them. You went on to read real books with no pictures. But suddenly a couple of people tell you that there have been some interesting things going on in comics in the last twenty years, and you should check it out. You decide to give the ol' funnybooks a chance.
In that case, this book right here is one of the half-dozen masterworks you should start with to get a general idea of what comics are capable of, at least in the English speaking regions of the world (there are some fascinating things going on in Japan and France that I won't even begin to discuss). The Sandman, the ENTIRE Sandman saga, altogether ten books long - collected from magazine-form comics that were published regularly throughout most of the 90s - is one of the truly glorious, shining, perfect creations of, I'll say it, adult comics. That Preludes & Nocturnes, the first story-arch in the series, is the only one that can stand rightly by its own right, other than being a convenience for new readers which may make it easier for them to deal with the size of this saga, is a sure sign of the wisdom of the creator, the brilliant Mr. Neil Gaiman. While completely revolutionizing what people though about comics, Neil started doing so in small doses to make it easier to swallow for audiences and editors alike. Thus, he started here with a story that is a classic folk tale, of a dethroned monarch who goes through a series of quests and challenges in order to earn back his rightful place in power. More help is given by cameo appearances of old and popular characters from the DC Comics universe - such as the Martian Manhunter, Green Lantern, the Scarecrow and John Constantine. Such appearances will become quite rare as the series continues, and the story becomes, rather than a folk tale, a mythology as grim as any Greek tragedy - which, doubtlessly, was in the author's mind from the very beginning. However, though the storyline of Preludes & Nocturnes is schematic and the drawings are often bland, Gaiman's already famous storytelling skills are fully developed, and the books is one of the most fantastic stories he had penned.
The hero of the series is, simply, Dream. His identity is a rather philosophical matter, as he is not so much a god of dream, but rather, the embodiment of the very concept of dream itself. At the beginning of the story, Dream is summoned by a human mystic, and caged. Seventy years later, when he escapes from his prison, he finds his kingdom in ruins, and must return to himself the symbolic garments of his reign to rebuild it. Along the way we have the pleasure to meet some of the most fantastic and fascinating characters in any literary creation, and also some characters who, small though their part may be now, will be crucial in the complete creation of the saga, such as Lucifer Morningstar, Cain and Abel, and the three Furies (also known as the Graces, the Fates, or the Kindly Ones). Though much more fascinating as part of the whole, Preludes & Nocturnes by itself is a perfect piece of fantastic storytelling.
However, it is the final magazine issue in this collection, titled `The Sound Of Her Wings', that gives it more worth than the rest of it put together. Sam Keith's surreal, deformed image of Dream and dark, heavy, brooding lines move over to make place for Mike Dringenberg's realistic backgrounds, light-hearted lines and recognizable human faces. Dream's flowing black robes make way for a t-shirt and a black jacket; the dark and towering Sandman is given a whole new perspective. He now seems like a depressed, bored teenager, sulking in the park and feeding the pigeons. He is then granted a visit by none other than his sister - Death, which is the single most brilliant creation in Gaiman's universe. Death is a perky, cheerful, beautiful, wise, mature goth-girl who confronts Dream and show to him his own pettiness. Completely without any action or suspense, it is this story that paved the way for the revolution that the Sandman series began. And this story alone remains one of the handful true perfect masterpieces of the medium. It is this story alone that makes this book a milestone in modern comics - and literature - and essential reading for everyone interested in the medium.
And, oh, I said half dozen masterworks, right? So, to complete the list, let's say: Alan Moore's `Watchmen', Art Spiegelman's `Maus', Scott McCloud's `Understanding Comics', Frank Miller's `The Dark Knight Returns' and Kurt Busiek's `Marvels'. Or, to make it a top ten, let's add Peter Kuper's `The System', Garth Ennis's `Preacher', Grant Morrison's `Arkham Asylum', and anything by Robert Crumb. Enjoy!
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on June 7, 2004
... at least not if you're only getting started in comics. I say this because the Sandman series is among the finest comics you will ever find.
In fact, "comic" is too small a word. So is "graphic novel," which is most often used by adults who are trying not to feel silly about reading comics. Sandman is one of those rare comics that transcend the medium. This is no mere comic book.
This is fiction, with artwork. This is visual storytelling, a modern descendent of humanity's earliest art forms. Don't let the "comic book" label fool you. This is a full-fledged book.
The entire 10 volume Sandman series centers around Morpheus, the Dream King. One of The Endless, he is one of seven eternal beings who are the embodiments of abstracts. Dream's older sister Death makes an appearance in the final chapter in this volume.
Other reviewers have criticized this volume for not being very representative of the series on the whole, and that is true. But this volume is a supremely important one becuase it lays the groundwork for everything that follows.
Not only that, it's very entertaining in it's own right. Chapters like A Hope In Hell, The Sound of Her Wings, or 24 Hours are extraordinary examples of comics at their best. Any one of those stories makes this volume worth owning, but you get all three of them, plus five more chapters as well.
If you already read comics, then by all means buy this book (and the other nine volumes, too). But if you're just getting started in comics, you should seriously think about starting somewhere else.
Because once you've read Sandman, you're going to be spending a lot of time in a mostly fruitless search for more books that are as good as this series.
Seriously. It's that good. 10 out of 10
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on June 18, 2002
I love this series and am slowly acquiring all the books in it. It's fairly expensive, but, if you like the Sandman series, it's a lot cheaper than buying each individual comic. This book isn't the best in the series, but it's still very good. It's not like most comic books. There's no superhero intent on defeating an evil supervillain for the good of mankind. A group of magicians want to capture Death but instead capture Dream. He stays caged for decades, and, when he finally escapes, he has to find his tools (a bag of sand, his helm, and his Dreamstone).
This first book relies too much on guest appearances made by DC characters, but Gaiman does manage to move beyond that by the eighth issue, "The Sound of Her Wings". I really enjoyed that issue, which has the first appearance of Death. She's the reason I started reading the Sandman series. I'd read The High Cost of Living, and I loved the idea that Death could be a perky goth girl who you could really get to like. Mike Dringenberg, who does the pencils for the eighth issue, does an excellent version of Sandman and Death. I don't really like Sam Keith's version of Sandman that much, but his depictions of horrific things, like Hell, are wonderful. I also liked "Dream a Little Dream of Me", in which Dream has to find his bag of sand and is getting help from John Constantine, and "24 Hours", in which Doctor Destiny has Dream's Dreamstone and is driving the world mad. I consider both of those issues to be top horror. It's definitely worth it to get this book.
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on July 8, 1999
Preludes and Nocturnes is easily the weakest of the individual Sandman novels... but still better than most of the funny-books out there. The first chapter is a self-contained story dealing with Morpheus' seventy-year imprisonment by an amateur English magician, and his escape. The rest of the novel deals with his adventures re-claiming his three tools: his sand pouch, his ruby, and his helmet. The second chapter is set-up for the rest of the story, featuring DC Comics' horror mainstays Cain & Abel. The third story is one of the best in this book, guest-starring Hellblazer's John Constantine, whose ex-girlfriend is in possession of the bag of sand. Part four is one of my all-time favorite Sandman stories: "A Hope in Hell", where Morpheus goes to the pit, running into Lucifer Morningstar (one of the best characters in the series), and challenging a demon to regain his helmet. Parts five through seven involve a super-villain named Dr. Destiny (not to be confused with the real Destiny, Dream's brother) escaping from a madhouse, going on a murderous rampage in one of the most horrific stories I've ever read in a comic. Part six "24 Hours," especially so, where Dr. Destiny slowly drives the customers in an overnight diner mad, eventually killing each other. But chances are, if you're buying this, and you've heard of Neil Gaiman's Sandman before, it's for part eight, "The Sound of Her Wings", the introduction of the most famous (and nicest) member of the regular cast, Dream's big sister Death. She shows up to take her depressed brother with her for a hard day's work of taking people to the next life, quoting Mary Poppins all the while. This is a fine story, a nice promise of the kind of story that there are to look forward to later on.
Neil's style was just coming onto its own here, but his lyrical, poetic style is for the most part intact, as well as his original, and at times terrifying ideas. The superhero stuff really doesn't work all that well. Surely Gaiman could have thought of some more interesting hero than Mister Miracle to aid Sandman in his search, and the cameo by Martian Manhunter, while nicely handled by having him recognize Morpheus as the Martian god of dreams, left that character grossly mischaracterized. On the other hand, I was impressed that so many characters that would be important later on were introduced here, given the feeling that Gaiman was still cutting his chops in this book.
The art style is a bit weak, compared to the other novels in the series. "Preludes" is the one that looks the most "four-color", more like a traditional comic. Sam Keith's (who was absolutely right when he describes his work on Sandman as "Jimi Hendrix playing with the Beatles") work is a little too cartoony, though I must admit, the man draws one mean Hell. Mike Dringenberg's style, on the other hand, works very well with Sandman, despite being a bit too sketchy, and not having enough detail in faces.
In closing, I'd recommend to anyone thinking of purchasing this book to either read it before the others, because it won't seem as diminished as it would after reading some of the other classics later on in the series, or after the others, since there are other books in the series that give the reader much more bang for your buck.
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on August 13, 1999
"Preludes and Nocturnes" is the first and most uneven of the Sandman collections. Neil Gaiman gives himself a large task of having to explain many things about the Sandman, thus justifying the lack of cohesion in the first few issues.
However, I think this is one of the best collections. The first story is a classic gothic horror tale that explains how Dream became mistakenly imprisoned for almost 80 years and how people all over the world began to sleep all the time. At the end, Dream tricks his captors and escapes. The other tales follow Dream's quest to regain his magical items and his kingdom, which is in disarray in his absence. Familiar characters from the DC universe show up here such as John Constantine, Hellblazer, Mr. Miracle and Martian Manhunter from the Justice League, and the old super-villain Doctor Destiny. Neil manages to use John Constantine and Dr. Destiny quite well but isn't sure what to do with the Justice League. Nevertheless, the Sandman's journey is an interesting one particularly his trip to Hell and his encounter with Doctor Destiny in a 24 hour diner that manages to bring out the worst in human nature. The last tale introduces us to Death and is a great tale about life despite being about well, Death. Neil Gaiman laid down the blueprints for the entire Sandman series here. Many of the characters would appear again in later stories and many events mentioned here would later be expanded upon. This is the place to start if you want to get into Sandman.
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on July 13, 2011
I had a hard time getting through this graphic novel. I found the stories to be completely disjointed and character development to be almost nonexistent. I only gave it the second star for the hell scene which is great (and which is only about 20 pages of the book). I only continued on with the series because I had already purchased volumes 2, 3 and 4 for a graphic novel class.

I just started Vol. two last night and am almost done with it. It's fantastic! Volume 1 took me about 6 days to get through as I could only read a small portion of the book before getting bored. Volume two, I don't want to put down. I highly recommend that those unimpressed by Sandman Vol. 1 give the second volume a chance.
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VINE VOICEon June 25, 2001
Gaiman's incredible Sandman series starts with this collection. While trying to capture the personification of Death (a tried and true fantasy convention) a magician captures instead the King of Dreams, who remains his prisoner for seven decades until he (Dream) is finally given an opportunity to escape. Comic book conventions come into play at the beginning with guest appearances by John Constantine and Etrigan as Dream pursues his lost tools of office. But when Dream finally confronts the man,(a minor DC villain,Dr. Destiny)who possesses the last of these tools the series enters a different realm far from the typical comic book. Taking his lead from Alan Moore's work on Swamp Thing, Gaiman creates an atmosphere of real horror as Dr. Destiny warps the lives of a few unlucky diner patrons, driving them to madness before he is finally stopped by Dream. It is in the scenes at the diner Gamain's talent really comes to the forefront and you realize that this is no typical comic book experience. By showing the gradual destruction of these characters Gaiman give the reader a peak at what becomes the theme of the entire series; the power of dreams in our lives.
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on December 17, 2011
I loved these stories in the trade paperback form, and I really looked forward to them on the Kindle Fire. The new Kindle Fire Comics with the pop-out panels are a surprisingly nice way to read comics; and I thought Watchmen in this format was a masterpiece. But I also knew Watchmen had a significant advantage in this regard: the entire series was drawn with an extremely regular panel grid, with only rare deviations. So pop-up rectangular panels suited it well. I expected the format to be more challenging for something with more panel variety -- especially something as downright experimental as Sandman.

So I expected some of the pop-out choices to be difficult. I was ready to tolerate some unusual choices. And for the most part, they handled it well. They did a nice job with challenging panels like wide or tall panels with dialog balloons in many places.

But in a few places, they just plain got it wrong. In some places they got the dialog order wrong, so an response pops out before the statement that prompted it. And in a few cases, they missed a dialog balloon entirely; and the only way I could read it was to switch to page mode. And worst of all, there were a couple of pages where the pop-outs didn't correspond to anything recognizable on the page: not to panels, not to dialog, not to revealing visual details, nothing. Do we really need a pop-out of Morpheus's elbow?

So I knocked off a star for the imperfections. I hope DC takes the time to fix these after the mad rush of releasing 100 Kindle Fire Comics at once.
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on September 24, 2003
And Neil Gaiman is given more praise than is healthy for most human beings.
Sandman Library Volume 1 reproduces the first 8 issues of the Sandman comic book, serialized in a total of 75 monthly issues. In the first seven, the author wrote what basically were horror stories. He found the voice for writing Sandman in issue 8 with the introduction of the Sandman's older sister, Death. This issue is so important (and an absolutely fabulous read) that it is also printed again in Sandman Library Volume 2.
I liken Sandman to Cowboy Bebop because it's a lot of fun if you know what the creator's roots and influences are. Gaiman references the world's literature, mythology, historical figures, and other comic books left and right all throughout the Sandman. Catching these things is fun, but not necessary to enjoying the story.
This isn't the best place to start reading the Sandman if you've never been exposed to it before. I would reccomend "Death: The High Cost of Living" as an introduction. This volume can be skipped in favor of the second and still have very little lost in the way of the main plot for the entire series.
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on February 25, 2004
It's a little sad after reading the Sandman books because you know you will never quite recapture the same feeling of going through such a great story for the first time when you pick them again. And trust me, you will be rereading these.
But the flip side of that is once you have read the series and go back, you see how fully realized Neil Gaiman's vision is. What seems like almost arbitrary bits of exposition are the seeds of future story arcs. "Season of Mists" the fourth book in the series, being just one example.
The main story begins when a necromancer who, intending to capture Death, captures her little brother Dream instead. He and his son keep him locked up for the better part of the 20th century. Once "Sandman" breaks out, he must restore his dream kingdom and reclaim his talismans of power. That takes him to London, Hell and a 24hr diner outside of Gotham.
What I love particularly about this series is that it is esoteric without being pretentious. This is what happens when someone who is remarkably well read is also a comic fan. Gaiman manages to invoke The Old Testament, William Faulkner, old DC Comic mythos, Shakespeare, Bobby Darin, Victorian Literature and Greek Tragedy, makes it relevant to the story, and then makes the concepts comprehensible to a fifteen year old. And that's just in this volume. I say the last because that's how old I was when I started to read these. At the risk of sounding overzealous, it has since challenged me to become as well read as the author.
I've read other reviews arguing that this is not the best one. I disagree only because I know that each volume speaks differently to different people. My humble advice is to start with this one and read them in order the way the author wrote them. I have bought this particular volume three times over the years due to lending it out to friends and not getting it back. Treasure this as well, enjoy and don't lend them out!
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