Nell Gaiman (writer), Bryan Talbot, Craig Russel, Dick Giordano, and Jill Thompson (illustrators), Absolute Sandman -- Volume 3 (Vertigo, 2008)

TARAMIS: What will you have, ma'am?

DELIRIUM: Have you got any little milk chocolate people?
About three inches high? Men and women?
I'd like some of them filled with raspberry cream.

TARAMIS: Very good, ma'am. And to drink?

DELIRIUM: Fresh mango juice, please.

MORPHEUS: An omelette, a light salad, and a glass of white wine for me, Taramis.

Ahhh, what a lovely series Sandman is! And Absolute Sandman, Vol. 3, collecting The Sandman individual issues from number forty to number fifty-six, like the previous volumes, has been extensively retouched and/or recolored with Gaiman's approval. For someone like me who had not read much of The Sandman individual issues, as the early trade paper reprints were almost unreadable due to the piss poor printing job done by Vertigo, this is definitely a treat to be savored!

Now note that I am not reviewing the Sandman series as April Gutierrez, our Book Editor and perhaps our most ardent Gaiman fan here at Green Man, has read the entire series so I asked her for a few words:

At the time I was introduced to Sandman back in college, I had a dim view of comics in general. I was little expecting the lush, layered epic tale that Gaiman had in store for me. Drawing on history, mythology, and the DC universe, Gaiman gave readers a unique, thoughtful and beautifully laid out mythos that spanned many volumes (and wonderful artists!), and elicited a wide range of emotions, not the least of which was wonder. Safe to say that Gaiman and Sandman renewed my interest in comics very nearly single handedly!

Thanks April!

As I said in the reviewing the first volume of Absolute Sandman a couple of years back:

Unlike April, who read the comics back when Gaiman was still producing them, I first encountered Sandman when I picked up and read the trade paperbacks of the first issues of Sandman a few years back, Gaiman I knew well as a writer -- Stardust, Neverwhere, and his various short story collections were all wonderful reads, but I must admit I wasn't at all impressed with the Sandman series when I read the trade paper editions -- the printing technology of that time sucked royally and it showed on those reproduced pages -- shitty paper, lousy inks, and truly poor colors when printed made for a lousy reading experience for me, but Absolute Sandman -- Volume One is quite another experience altogether!

First, let's note that volume three, like the first two volumes, is a really big bugger at 13.5' tall by 8.5' wide, an impressive six hundred and sixteen pages in length, and are an absolutely incredible work of craftsmanship from the ever-so-cool Dave McKean covers to the quality of the color print job inside. All three volumes are among the best produced books that I own. The volumes don't look like they belong in a mundane realty but rather should in the care of Lucien, the chief librarian in The Dreaming. Indeed they are such cool objects that you'd want to own them even if you weren't interested in the contents!

But the craftsmanship is only part of their great appeal -- the stories within are among the best in the series. The quote above is from 'Brief Lives', in which the Sandman's sister Delirium, one of The Endless whose nature changes apparently at random, convinces Morpheus, her older brother, to help her find their long missing sibling, Destruction. But their journey through the Waking World has dramatic repercussions for their family and also for the odd relationship between the Sandman and his son, Orpheus who has been, let's just say, existing in a less than ideal state for thousands of years.

(How this happened is depicted rather nicely -- and quite bloody as well -- in the first appearance in Sandman 13 [collected in the first volume of Absolute Sandman] of Lady Joanna Constantine who is the eighteenth Century ancestor of the similarly named John Constantine. Of course, you know that as you wouldn't reading this review if you hadn't already purchased the other two volumes!)

Brilliant in the same manner as G. Willow Wilson's Cario graphic novel is the spectacular short story 'Ramadan', a tale of a young king of ancient Baghdad and the deal he strikes with The Sandman to grant his city immortality, with spectacular illustrations by P. Craig Russell (Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde, The Jungle Book, and some work in one of my fav series, Fables, specifically March of the Wooden Soldiers). Great story with a smashing political commentary as its coda.

Another long tale here, 'Worlds' End' (collecting The Sandman from 51 to 56) has a 'reality storm' stranding travelers from across the cosmos at the 'Worlds' End Inn'. To pass the time, they exchange fantastic stories of who they are and where they came from. Elves, undertakers from a city-state that is a necropolis, girls disguised as boy sailors, and other stranded travellers while away the time waiting to go home -- or not, in some cases.

There are jaw dropping artistic moments in this Absolute Sandman volume that are simply beyond describing, i.e., the sea serpent and the sailing ship that our gender-hiding sailor is on, as depicted on pages 426 and 427, is mind blowing! I'd also call your attention to the final horrifying page of the aforementioned 'Ramadan', as well as The Sandman as depicted on page 317.

Bottomline is that I know you'll only be buying this if you've purchased the other two volumes. So far, this ranks as the best set of absolute editions that DC/Vertigo has released, even better than the first volume of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Certainly I will buy the next volume and hope that DC/Vertigo follows through with a proposed fifth (!) volume that would include one with Endless Nights and Dream Hunters, and perhaps the Sandman Midnight Theatre story and other goodies. COOL!

[Cat Eldridge]