Brad's Reviews > Preludes & Nocturnes

Preludes & Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman
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's review
Mar 25, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: graphic-novel, horror, fantasy, popular-culture, weird, speculative
Read in March, 2010

Since joining goodreads, I’ve been baffled by the Neil Gaiman love fest. American Gods, Neverwhere, Stardust, The Graveyard Book, they appear to be universally loved, and I’ve been skeptical of this emotion that borders on worship. These books are good and all, and I recognize their general accessibility, but I don’t personally find any of them mind blowing literature. Gaiman’s prose is no match for China Mieville’s or Iain M. Banks’ or Ursula LeGuin’s (and countless others who write speculative fiction), and the way he recasts mythology into contemporary settings is more clever than inspired. The love accorded Gaiman, therefore, feels disproportionate to the quality of his work – at least to me.

Lately, however, I’ve been reminded that I once loved Neil Gaiman, and that reminder was my return to The Sandman Preludes and Nocturnes. Like his other fine work, The Wolves in the Walls, The Sandman series plays to Gaiman’s greatest strength: his ability to conjure beautiful images from artists. But it also elevates many of the things that Gaiman is usually only able to do adequately. His writing, when confined by thought and dialogue bubbles, is inspired (mostly because its goal is to be natural and believable rather than aspiring to literary greatness); his contemporizing of mythology is much more palatable (happening, as it does, in a comic book universe predisposed to gods and heroes); and his naturally cinematic pacing works better in a graphic format. Yes, indeed...graphic novels are Neil Gaiman’s best form.

Sleep of the Just – This may be the greatest first issue of a comic ever written. The capture of Morpheus/Dream/Sandman (or whichever name of his you prefer), the sleeping sickness, his inevitable (and beautifully patient) escape and vengeance guarantees that any fan of fantasy or comic books or fantasy and comic books must continue with the series. Even better, though, Sleep of the Just could have been its own stand-alone issue, and that would have been good enough. There are few single issues of a comic that are so fulfilling. I buy it all, and everything I had to know was given to me. Luckily, Gaiman left me with plenty beyond what I wanted to know. My personal favourite: the introduction of Sandman’s helm. Killer.

Imperfect Hosts – A kick ass follow up episode that includes a taste of Sandman’s powers, the characters that populate his Dreamworld, and the beginning of his search for the three artefacts stolen when Burgess captured him instead of Death. This episode is most notable, however, for the way Gaiman weaves his Sandman into the existing universe of DC. I am not a DC fan. I read Batman and Superman because they are cultural requirements, and what I know of the DC Universe is filtered through the pages of those books, but Sandman was a rare piece that warped and wefted its way into the DC universe without letting itself get bogged down in DC’s usual shabbiness. Imperfect Hosts is where this all begins to happen.

Dream A Little Dream of Me – A weakened and vulnerable Morpheus is busy looking for his sandbag, the first of the three stolen artefacts that can restore him to his former splendour and power. So he tracks down John Constantine, the Hellblazer, who bought the sandbag years before and put it into storage, but the sandbag is gone, stolen by Constantine’s ex-lover, Rachel, a heroin addict who needed money for a fix. She never got it; instead, the sandbag took control of her mind, throwing her into a forever nightmare that included the transformation of her father into a room sized, living, breathing, tortured, mass of flesh. Dream a Little Dream of Me is a horror show that hints at the depths of nightmare Dream will combat in future issues, and it embeds Morpheus more deeply into the DC Universe. It’s a satisfying chapter in Morpheus’ rebirth, and this is where the patient build towards the story’s literary quality begins.

A Hope In Hell – This is the one issue that really doesn’t thrill me too much. Morpheus goes to Hell and meets up with Lucifer, Beelzebub and Azazel – Hell’s triumvirate of Dark Lords – demanding the return of his helm. He ends up dueling Choronzon for his helm in a "reality" battle. Each takes a turn in the shape or form or concept of something or other. Each incarnation is slightly tougher than the opponent’s until the victor’s incarnation can’t be beat. Morpheus defeats Choronzon as "hope," which totally sucks. Hope?! Please. I can see hope as a stage in the battle, perhaps, but as the ultimate incarnation of victory? No way. Hope can be good, but it’s also an emotion that can derail thought and action -- and that makes hope potentially bad and self-defeating. Still, Lucifer was cool and his parting words about Dream give us plenty to look forward to in the series to come: “One day, my brothers...One day I shall destroy him.”

Passengers – A creepy start to the search for Morpheus’ last artefact – the Ruby of Dreams. A decrepit Doctor Destiny is sufficiently mad when he escapes Arkham Asylum, Morpheus runs into J’onn and Scott Free from the JLI, and the Doctor Destiny corrupted Ruby throws Morpheus into a catatonic stupor on the floor of a storage garage in the middle of nowhere, all setting the stage for the most terrifying chapter of Volume One:

24 Hours – Bloody, nasty, marvelous. Dreams in the hand of a corrupted man become corruption, and the whole Earth suffers. This is the best issue of The Sandman in Preludes and Nocturnes, so I'll let it speak for itself. But be warned: this one is not for the faint hearted.

Sound and Fury – This is a satisfying resolution to Dream’s return to power. Sandman shows John Dee mercy, he bestows the Earth with a night of pleasant dreams, and he returns to his Dreamscape to rebuild his kingdom. It’s not quite as powerful as 24 Hours, but it does what it needs to do.

The Sound of Her Wings – Death is a beautiful thing. If there were no other reason to love Neil Gaiman, this realization would be enough because Death really is a beautiful thing -- both in the comic and at the end of our lives

I’m glad I revisited Gaiman's greatest moment. Maybe now I can enjoy his new stuff more and appreciate him as much as so many of my friends do.
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11/10/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-14 of 14) (14 new)

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Whitaker Sandman is the best of his works. I've never been too thrilled with his other stuff. If there is any justice in the world, the entire Sandman series should be regarded as classics.

Brad So far I've only read all of Volume 1 & 2 and bits and pieces of the rest of the series, but I hope to rectify that. From the parts I've seen, though, Whitaker, I think I'll probably agree with your assessment of their classic status.

message 3: by Jen (new)

Jen And his Smoke and Mirrors is amazing too.

Brad I want to read that, Jen. I haven't done so yet.

message 5: by Jen (new)

Jen But (and this is a secret-hush it now)
he blogs too much. It drives me crazy.

message 6: by Amber (new) - added it

Amber Tucker Elizabeth has insisted I read these. Now I see they come very well recommended indeed.

Ronyell Awesome review!!! I really enjoyed this story and I agree that 24 hours was the most disturbing issue in the book!

Brad Thanks, Ronyell.

Ronyell You're welcome!

Pandionhalatius37.6 read stardust. mind=blown

Terry Yes, indeed...graphic novels are Neil Gaiman’s best form.

I totally agree. Gaiman seems like a really nice guy ans he's got some talent, but the total lovefest kinda mystifies me. _Sandman_ is definitely his best work.

Irene Love your review, very detailed and insightful. I'm glad someone shares my love for the issue 24 Hours, everybody seems to hate it :(. I think the best thing about it was that we never know whether the thoughts and emotions the victims felt were actually real or just a dream.

message 13: by Robin (new)

Robin If it makes you feel better, I can hardly get through any of his books but will read The Sandman over and over again.

Usman Khaliq brilliant review.

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