Death And Sleep
The Absolute Editions of Neil Gaiman’s Early Masterworks
A Review by John Andreula
Neil Gaiman is awesome!
He appeared on my radar when I picked up American Gods last year. I’ve read Coraline with my daughter since then. I am also almost finished listening to Anansi Boys on audiobook with my wife.
Regardless of how unfashionably late I am in joining the Neil Gaiman fan-club, I’m attempting to make up for lost time.
The Absolute Sandman and The Absolute Death only reinforced my feelings toward Gaiman’s genius further. They were fantastic compendiums of the science fiction/fantasy author’s early work.
I’ve read both over the past few weeks and wanted to pass on my excitement over the two books.
Many comic book enthusiasts use comics as an escape from their oftentimes mundane or depressing real lives. Stories about Kryptonians, Mutants, or Earth’s Mightiest Heroes serve as diversions from a pandemic, another presidential election cycle, and our collective sensitivities over societal injustices.
Some comic book writers buck the superhero clichés. These antiestablishment types are inspired more by the richness of the human experience. They manage to communicate raw emotions like fear and wonderment, while still blessing their characters with godly powers.
The Sandman and his sister Death are two such examples.
In both The Absolute Sandman and The Absolute Death, Gaiman personifies two architypes of human spirituality and mythology.
Sleep and Death are beings from an eternal family—along with their sister Destiny, and their sometimes sister, sometimes brother, sometimes gender binary sibling, Desire—that predate gods by infinity, known as the Endless. They each have roles to play in the universe.
Sleep—Sandman—is the ruler of the land of dreams. Death, well she’s exactly what she sounds like, but so much more. . .
The Absolute Sandman showcases the first twenty issues of Sandman originally published between 1988 and 1990 on DC’s more mature and graphic Vertigo comic book line. The handsome tome features many arcs of Sleep’s story. It includes cameos from real-world historical figures, religious mythological beings, and characters from the DC universe.
Did you ever wonder how William Shakespeare became one of the greatest playwrights of all time? It’s in the book.
Absolute Sandman also features original concept sketches—some of the early ones look curiously like the late David Bowie. It’s cool to see how the character evolved from Leigh Baulch and Dave McKean’s original mock-ups to the the Sandman that appears in the first issues, as brought to life by Sam Keith and Mike Dringenberg.
The Absolute Death features two issues of Sandman that appeared in the other book, but are crucial to understanding the character embodiment of life’s greatest mystery.
There are several standalone Death tales including two three-part standalone Death stories, The High Cost of Living and The Time of Your Life, all published between 1989 and 2003. Another later issue of Sandman is in the slightly shorter, but equally beautifully designed 12 x 9 inch book as well.
Like The Absolute Sandman, Death features a full issue script and character sketches. There’s even a section included called The Collectible Death, detailing pop advertising material, as well as toys, statues, jewelry and accessories all adorned with the sex, but deadly harbinger of all ends.
Reading The Absolute Sandman and The Absolute Death was an absolute treat.
Sleep and Death were surreal stories. They touched my feelings and imagination in ways not typically accomplished through traditional superhero books.
The characters were tough and duty-bound, but at the same time very human. Their stories were compelling and the artwork only further added to richness of these very bold tellings.
In conclusion, Neil Gaiman knocked it out of the park!
If, like me, you haven’t been introduced to Sandman or his sister yet, run, don’t walk, to your nearest bookstore—or computer if you’re lazy and the bookstore seems too far—and check out The Absolute Sandman and The Absolute Death for yourself.
I promise, your dreams and concepts of the afterlife will never be the same.
John Andreula is a writer and newly discovered Neil Gaiman fan living in Colorado.
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