Art by Sam Keith, Mike Dringenberg and Malcolm Jones III
ISBN 978-1-4012-2575-9/ 978-1-4012-3863-6
“I find myself wondering about humanity. Their attitude to my sister’s gift is so strange. Why do they fear the sunless lands? It is as natural to die as it is to be born. But they fear her. Dread her. Feebly they attempt to placate her. They do not love her.”
Preludes and Nocturnes is volume one of ten in the Sandman tradepaper slipcase set released by Vertigo in November 2012. It contains the first eight issues of the Sandman comics, which were originally published between 1988 and 1989. The edition has been recoloured, and includes the original issue covers by Dave McKean. The first seven issues tell the story of Dream (also known as Morpheus), a member of the Endless who is captured by a magician and held prisoner for over seventy years. The artefacts that give him power over sleepers and the Dreamtime are stolen and lost. When he finally escapes from his captors, he must track down his lost artefacts and reclaim control of the Dreamtime. To do so he must travel through the earthly realms and to the gates of Hell itself. The eighth issue is the odd story out in this volume, as it introduces Dream’s sister, Death, the intended victim of the magician’s spell in issue one.
The series gets off to a slow start, as Gaiman explores the implications of imprisoning Dream, which manifests as a strange sleeping sickness. The action begins when Dream’s patience pays off and he is able to escape and begin his quest to find his lost objects of power. He meets a number of DC Universe characters, including John Constantine, The Scarecrow, and members of the Justice League. Overall, these comic book heroes and villains feel out of place in Gaiman’s darker, more mythology based world. The highlight of this initial sequence is issue four, A Hope in Hell, in which Dream must travel to Hell to try and find the demon that now possesses his helm. Here we are first introduced to Lucifer Morningstar, who co-rules Hell with Azazel and Beelzebub. Sam Keith’s dark, oozing Hell has a sickening aspect, but it is also perhaps the only section of the book which is not greatly improved by the recolouring work done for this edition.
The eighth issue, The Sound of Her Wings marks a turning point in both the art and the tone of the story. Mike Dringenberg, the inker for issues 1-5, became the penciller beginning with issue 6. His version of Dream is more solid and present, whereas Sam Keith’s Morpheus always seemed to be on the verge of melting off the page. Gaiman also hits his stride, blending the dark ruminations on mortality with light references to Mary Poppins in his strangely happy-go-lucky version of Death. For new readers, this story is an awkward place to end a volume, as it doesn’t fit with the previous issues, and offers little idea of how the story will proceed. However, for fans of the series, it is the story in which Sandman begins to stand apart from the DC Universe, for the better.
Physically, the tradepaper editions are much less appealing than the Absolute Sandman editions. The glue bindings are much less sturdy, and as is common with box sets, it becomes harder to fit the volumes back into the slipcase after reading. However, the paperbacks are much more reasonably sized and priced than the Absolute Sandman volumes, making them a good value proposition.