Neil Gaiman, Absolute Sandman -- Volume Four (Vertigo, 2006)

When reviewing the first volume in this series, I said:

Forget Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie's Lost Girls graphic novel. Without any doubt at all, the absolutely best graphic novel of 2006 is Neil Gaiman's Absolute Sandman -- Volume One! And it's one of the best literary efforts of the year as well. The Sandman was the most acclaimed comics of the '90s. Now, given that Neil Gaiman has been writing professionally for over twenty years, with a extensive list of well-known novels and comics including Sandman, Neverwhere, Death: The High Cost of Living, The Books of Magic, Good Omens, and American Gods, that statement above is quite a claim by me. His latest novel, Anansi Boys has recently been released to great acclaim, and Fragile Things, his latest collection is quite enjoyable as well, but that Sandman remains his best known and arguably his greatest creative affair to date is quite amazing!

Now that I've read all four volumes to date (yes, Vertigo has confirmed that Absolute Death will be out in Fall of 2009, with a possibility of a sixth volume of Sandman, errrr, out in 2010), I can say that if you're feeling very wealthy, the four hundred dollars full price for the four volumes is well worth investing! Now I say that with a caveat that you will find as I discuss this particular volume.

But this review's just about the fourth volume so let's discuss it as you can read my comments on the design of this series in the review linked above. This volume concludes the absolute editions of The Sandman by collecting single issues 57 to 75. Like the previous three volumes, that means it's a really big volume! However it is my least favorite of the four volumes. Why so? Simple -- This next to final final run of Sandman took an ugly, and frankly boring, turn in terms of the art for what is considered the most important Sandman story . The result separated me from the characters and the story in a manner that made it damn near impossible to slog my way through what should have been a great wrap up of the storyline.

A reviewer on Amazon said:

It is unfortunate the overly cartoon style was incorporated in the final story run of an otherwise fantastic series, but the story to be told is just as powerful as those that came before it. So well written, in fact, you simply look at the so-so art for reference and allow yourself to get lost in the story. Both stories in this volume are truly cool with the longest story, 'The Kindly Ones' (which has the poor artwork) wraps up more plots than you know existed in this long and convoluted story. Read the words, ignore the horrid artwork.

(It is not the final story run.)

But the Really Good Stuff here is 'The Wake' (1996) which is the a collection of issues in this series that featured illustrations by Michael Zulli, Jon J. Muth and Charles Vess, and lettering by Todd Klein, it is a story that works for me in a way in that 'The Kindly Ones' didn't, with both a great story and fantastic artwork.

The storyline is the wake for Morpheus, who died at the end of 'The Kindly Ones'. Myriad characters from the series appear, and talk to each other in rather odd ways. (Batman, and Superman rather strongly complain of the dreams in which they are but actors with their lives being but fictions in the mind of a dreamer, whereas the Martian Manhunter says that he never had those dreams). A series of speakers, ending (of course) with Death, appear to give their point of view on Morpheus' life. Meanwhile, a new Dream, who used to be the child Daniel, whose story was told early in the series, begins his story.

Thought it is considered the final Sandman story, it is not. After this come three unrelated short stories. The first, 'Sunday Mourning', features immortal Robert Gadling and a new girlfriend at a Renaissance Fayre; next up is 'Exiles', a companion to a story from Fables and Reflections,'Soft Places'; and a favorite of mine, the final story of the series and of the collection is 'The Tempest', the companion piece to 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'. The latter is illustrated by Charles Vess and simply is wonderful in a bittersweet chocolate sort of manner so that it forms the perfect coda to Sandman as It forms an epilogue for the series with a mood which is quieter, more reflective than most of what goes before.

I already know that you won't be buying this volume unless you've already got the first three, so this is really, as a review, unneeded. If you haven't bought a single one of the previous volumes, go get the first instead. Though list is a hundred dollars on it, I check using Google suggests sixty dollars will get it a number of places. After reading that volume, you can decide if it's worth getting all of them. I'd say yes -- design wise, they are cool beyond belief' as reading material, they are a little uneven. But what long running series isn't*?

[Cat Eldridge]

*Actually I can think of more than once perfect series including Willigham's Fables and James Robinson's Starman to name but two wonderful series that are perfect!