Sunday with ‘Sandman’ | Looking back at the earliest issues of the beloved series

Shane Bailey cracks open ‘Sandman: The Deluxe Edition V1,’ journeying back to the late 1980s for a look at the influential series.

Last week I decided to start a massive reread of the Neil Gaiman-written Sandman family of books, starting with the Deluxe Edition v1, and honestly I forgot how great these books are. Over the years I’ve come to take them for granted, but they are really top of the class in terms of subject and craft.

Reading these books again I see how heavily it leans into horror, which I had forgotten. It has that creeping horror feel down, the kind that starts the hairs on the back of your neck to signal that something isn’t quite right, rather than in-your-face shock horror.

It’s hard to remember reading this when it was all new, but I tried to anyway — trying to tie it to its place in time and what was happening around it. Trying to remember what other work was being published around it. I think a lot of people forget that when reading something, but it matters because it adds context.

Reading these stories in the late 1980s and early 1990s hits differently than reading it with a 2021 brain. I was 13 or 14 at the time, too, so a lot of this flew over my head. You can say I missed quite a bit and read most of it at face value. Even though the stories still have a timeless quality, you can choose to look at it in context with everything else that was going on in 1988. The other books it references cement it squarely in the DC Universe ,which a lot of people tend to forget. It wasn’t sequestered out in Vertigo land, as it started before Vertigo existed, but it was along the lines of those early Swamp Thing issues by Alan Moore, which featured guest appearances from other DC characters.

Anyway, it’s hard to pick out a favorite issue, but for me, I think I would have to go with Dream feeding the pigeons and then spending a day with Death.

That’s the first time we experience Death as one of the Endless, and they’re immediately charming and likeable. You look at them and immediately hope death is actually like that — comforting and likeable, understanding and welcoming. In a lot of ways, opposite from the enigmatic and mysterious Dream.

I can’t say enough about Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, and Michael Zulli in this first volume. They all do phenomenal jobs, and you can’t read these without having the imagery implanted in your memories long after you’re done reading. They do a lot of work establishing the look of the book in these issues. It’s interesting how well constructed the series is. These first issues set up so much that pays off later, all while introducing us to the basic themes used in the book, personalities of the Endless, and how the Dreaming and Waking world operates. We see why Morpheus is needed and how the world can go horribly wrong of he isn’t there or if dreams or nightmares are let loose on reality. We also see the Endless’ manipulation of humanity. Desire playing with Dream’s heart and condemning a queen, Dream’s revenge on those who wronged him, how he treats Lyta Hall after her imprisonment, the game with Hobb’s lifespan and Shakespeare.

We also get the Cereal Convention here, which is just a great issue. I forgot about the build up to it, with the introduction of the Corinthian and his phone call, then the check-in with Rose Walker and Gilbert, and finally the issue itself. It’s genuinely creepy and off-putting.

I’m looking forward to the next book already. This should be fun.

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