Archive for Neil Gaiman

Stories in the Sand


The Sandman: Overture #1

Neil Gaiman writing Sandman again? With J.H. Williams III on art? Is it any wonder this was something many comics readers were very interested in?

Basically, this is a Sandman prequel — the adventure that Dream was engaged in immediately before the first issue of Sandman in 1989. We get reacquainted with a few of the Sandman supporting cast as they would’ve appeared around 1913 — the Corinthian is looking for victims, Destiny and Death perceive dire omens for Morpheus’ future, Merv Pumpkinhead has had a fateful encounter with Sigmund Freud, and something strange is happening to Dream — something so strange it surprises even him.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Yes, I’m keeping the description deliberately vague. Half the fun of this is enjoying the surprises. But the story catches your interest from the beginning — a dreaming flower? Yes, please, more. — and the characters are true to how we remember them. Even the briefly-met new characters are cool in all the ways that Sandman characters should be.

Williams’ art is, as always, stunningly gorgeous, and his layouts are just so much fun. Quorian’s tale is told through branches, the Corinthian’s through teeth, Destiny’s through pages of his book, George Portcullis’ through a portcullis. And the stunning beauty of the gatefold plot twist — man, it’s something else. If you love the Sandman — and if you love comics, you really are required to love the Sandman — you definitely need to go read this book.


The Raven and the Red Death

Very simply, retellings of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” and “The Masque of the Red Death,” through Richard Corben’s unique and beautiful visual and storytelling style.

Verdict: Thumbs up. I got excited about this as soon as I heard it was coming out, and I was not disappointed. I love Corben’s work, and it’s fantastic that we’re still able to see comics from him on a fairly regular basis.


Itty Bitty Hellboy #3

The gang makes banana walnut pamcakes and then annoys Baba Yaga (who lives in a bucket). They want her to use her magic powers to make everything big. Banana walnut pamcakes, cupcakes, potato chips, shoes, lobsters, you name it. Baba gets sick of it all and sends them all… TO HELL. Everyone really seems to enjoy it, and all the demons are convinced that Hellboy is going to use his big stone hand to destroy the world. Can banana walnut pamcakes save the world from fiery destruction? Meanwhile, Baba and Hecate both fall in love with Roger, so Baba clones him, so both of the girls can get some sweet, sweet homunculus lovin’.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Seriously, I think by now y’all should know how much I love this stuff, right? Baba and her bucket are hilarious, as are Liz and her love of hellfire, the giant pancakes, and the never-unfunny running gag about Roger’s underwear.

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Holiday Gift Bag: The Sandman

It’s always a little tempting to limit my gift recommendations here to books that will appeal to current comics fans. But it’s also good to point out some comics that lots of comics readers already have, but new readers might not — after all, the best way to improve the health of the comics industry is to bring in a few new readers, right? So if you’ve got a new comics reader on your gift list, you might consider introducing them to The Sandman.

Sandman is the comics masterwork of Neil Gaiman. He started it back in 1989, with a revolving stable of artists, plus Dave McKean taking care of, as far as I can recall, every single one of the covers. It started off as a horror series and quickly drifted into fantasy.

Our main character (though he wasn’t present in every issue and was sometimes present only as a minor side character) was the Sandman — also known as Morpheus, the King of Stories, or Dream. He’s a pale, grim, morose, mostly unemotional guy with a very big job — he is, for lack of a better term, the god of story-telling and the ruler of the dreamworld. Many of the stories are set in modern times, but there are many flashbacks to other periods in history and even a few flash-sideways to other, stranger worlds.

Morpheus is part of a small family called the Endless — cosmically powerful, they far surpass your average god, but they’re even more dysfunctional than any mundane family. His siblings include devious Desire, pitiful Despair, loopy Delirium, somber Destiny, the absent Destruction, and sensible, loveable Death. Morpheus meets more than his fair share of guest stars during the series, including William Shakespeare, Emperor Norton, Marco Polo, Augustus Caesar, Cain and Abel, and even a few superheroes.

There are comics out there that are more highly regarded — “Watchmen,” “The Dark Knight Returns,” and others — but this is a series I go back and re-read much more often than those. The richness of the storytelling, the emotional pull of the plotlines, the feverish glow of pure, glorious imagination — all make the Sandman stories something amazing and unique.

These are also very definitely comics for grownups. There’s some nudity, some cussin’, some sex, plenty of violence, and, as they say, adult themes a-plenty. There may be kids out there that can handle this stuff just fine — and at the same time, there may be adults out there who’ll completely freak out about it. I’ll expect y’all to know the difference when you’re handing out these gifts, okay? But I know for a fact that lots and lots of readers think this series is transcendently awesome.

I spent years aware of Sandman, but unwilling to shell out the dough to read ’em. I finally figured, what the hey, I’ll grab the first volume and see how I like it. And I liked it a lot. I think I ended up getting all the rest of the ten volumes after just two or three months. That ended up being pretty expensive, but I’ve never once regretted buying them and reading them.

Like I said, this is available in trade paperbacks in ten different volumes — getting the whole series can get a bit pricey, so you may want to start out with the first collection, “Preludes and Nocturnes.” It’s a great beginning to one of the greatest comic book series ever.

The Sandman by Neil Gaiman. Go pick it up.

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Marvels vs. Miracles


So Marvel announced at the just-completed Comic-Con in San Diego that they’ve acquired the rights to Marvelman — and right now, I don’t think I can bother to be excited.

Part of the problem is that I don’t know that we can trust Marvel to do right by the character or its creators. When you read the convoluted publication history of the character, it becomes clear really quickly that, while the story itself is acclaimed, the history of the comics themselves have been a tawdry and embarrassing mishmash of conflicting legal claims. Marvelman was originally a 1950s British ripoff of DC’s Captain Marvel; when the title was cancelled in the ’60s, no one touched it again ’til the 1980s, when the great British comics anthology “Warrior” resurrected the character — they didn’t have the rights to the character originally, but assumed that no one would care if they used him. The new storyline was written by Alan Moore, who believed that all the necessary permissions were in order.

The series moved to Eclipse Comics, which changed the name of the character to Miracleman because Marvel Comics was threatening to sue (Oh, the irony). After Eclipse went out of business, Todd MacFarlane bought Eclipse’s back catalog — Neil Gaiman, who was, as far as anyone knew, the last person to hold any rights to the character, sued to keep MacFarlane from using the character. Gaiman eventually won the suit, but there was no expectation that the old Eclipse stories, which have always been considered the best, would ever be published.

But now Marvel has the rights to the character… but no one seems to be talking about what rights those are. Is Marvel limited to just writing new adventures about the character? If so, big deal — they can’t reprint Moore’s or Gaiman’s classic Miracleman stories, much less re-tell them, without facing another punishing lawsuit. If they do have the rights to reprint the older stories, that may be good for readers — Eclipse’s “Miracleman” comics are very rare and very expensive — but that may be bad for Moore and Gaiman, unless Marvel is going to do something DC has always avoided — pay the original creators some significant reprint fees.

And on a fanboy level, I wonder if Marvel is going to shoehorn Marvelman into their regular superhero continuity. In only the last few years, they’ve added Superman-level characters like the Sentry and the Blue Marvel — do they really need another nigh-omnipotent demigod running around their universe?

Marvel’s press release is pretty vague about their plans. I’d like to think they’ll pay Moore and Gaiman — and orignal creator Mick Anglo — a tidy sum, if only to stick it in DC’s eye. But will they? I really have no idea — but I don’t hold out a lot of hope. Comic history is filled from its beginnings with comics creators getting screwed out of their money by the publishers, and my pessimistic nature suspects that the same thing will happen this time, too.

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Batman Kicks the Bucket Again


Detective Comics #853

DC Comics sure does love killing their most popular character, don’t they?

It’s the second part of “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?” by Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert. (Part I came out waaaaaay back in February.) In this issue, we continue the strange funeral of Batman, attended by his friends and foes, telling stories — always wildly contradictory — about how the Dark Knight died, while a mysterious woman keeps Batman company. We get stories from the Joker, the Mad Hatter, the Golden Age Batgirl, Robin, Clayface, Harvey Bullock, Ra’s al Ghul, and even Superman. And finally, Batman realizes that he’s not dead… but he is dying. How is the woman accompanying him going to help him? What secrets will she reveal? Is there an escape from the other side of the grave?

Verdict: Thumbs up. A strange, fun, bittersweet story, perfectly designed for Gaiman’s strengths as a storyteller. And Kubert was a great match for this story — his artistic style makes the whole thing look modern, gritty, and classic all at the same time, where a popular, more glossy artist would’ve killed the mood. If you didn’t get a chance to read the first part of this story, you might wait to see if DC is going to put out a collected paperback of this story, to go with the paperbacks of Alan Moore’s “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?”


Astro City: The Dark Age, Book Three #1

Charles Williams, former cop, and Royal Williams, current hoodlum, are on the trail of the man who killed their parents many years ago during a superhero battle. But now it’s 1982, in the midst of the darkest period of Astro City’s history. No one trusts superheroes, and the superheroes don’t care much about the people of the city either. We get to see the debut of the new Cleopatra as she helps defeat a villain called the Hellsignor, then we follow Royal, undercover as a henchman at a training camp for the evil Pyramid organization. He’s able to avoid the indoctrination treatments as he tries to track down his parents’ killer. But will he be able to continue his investigation when the authorities raid the camp — and when he learns that Pyramid suspects his treachery?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s been a long time since the last issue of this one, but I’d forgotten how much I liked the Williams brothers. The Pyramid stuff is a nice glimpse into the world of the Hydra/Cobra-style organizations. As always, Kurt Busiek brings a great story and excellent dialogue, and Brent Anderson provides the excellent artwork we’ve come to expect from him.

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Epic Win


Well, the big comics-related news today is that Heath Ledger won a well-deserved Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor last night for his role in “The Dark Knight” as the Joker. What does this mean for the comics biz? Probably not a durned thing. It’s cool that comic-based performance won the award, but DC has already tried to piggyback on “The Dark Knight” and it’s gone nowhere. As it is, I’m glad Ledger received the Oscar, and it’s too bad we lost such an unbelievable actor so soon.

As for the other Oscars… I dunno. An unusually small number of surprises this year. No dark horse winners — the winners that everyone expected — “Slumdog Millionaire,” Heath Ledger, “Wall-E,” “Man on Wire” — all took home their awards. (Isn’t it weird that the actors from “Slumdog” didn’t get any acting nominations?)

I am relieved that “Benjamin Button” didn’t take Best Picture. I didn’t see that one, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen trailers that bad for a high-profile movie before, and I don’t know anyone who thought it was worth a bucket of warm spit.

Although I also gotta say — I really wish they’d quit giving the Makeup and Special Effects Oscars to movies like “Benjamin Button.” I enjoy those awards more when they go to horror and sci-fi movies, the way God intended.

Any other interesting things out there? Let’s review the linkdump file…

* The Archie McPhee catalog has the world’s freakiest, coolest stuff.

* A bunch of fascinating, beautiful photographs of deserted, abandoned, and ruined places.

* Neil Gaiman’s Hugo-winning Lovecraft/Sherlock Holmes story “A Study in Emerald” — collected in convenient and entertaining PDF format.

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Bad Spirits

Wondering why the recent film version of “The Spirit” did so bad? You might look into Neil Gaiman’s Law of Superhero Films:

Had a conversation with Paul Levitz the other day about Gaiman’s Law of Superhero Movies*, which is: the closer the film is to the look and feel of what people like about the comic, the more successful it is (which is something that Warners tends singularly to miss, and Marvel tends singularly to get right) and the conversation went over to Watchmen, which had Paul explaining to me that the film is obsessive about how close it is to the comic, and me going “But they’ve changed the costumes. What about Nite Owl?” It’ll be interesting to see whether it works or not…

As Neil points out, this very neatly explains why people didn’t like Frank Miller’s film of “The Spirit,” despite liking the films of Frank Miller’s “Sin City” and “300.” The “Sin City” and “300” films looked just like Miller’s comics, but the “Spirit” film looked nothing like Will Eisner’s original “Spirit” comics.

You can apply this to other comic-based movies, too. Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” movie closely replicated the feel of Lee and Ditko’s classic Spidey comics. Jon Favreau’s “Iron Man” got the vital essence of Tony Stark on celluloid. Tim Burton’s “Batman” movies succeeded because they got the look and feel of the popular parts of the Batman mythos on the screen, while Joel Schumacher’s “Batman” movies failed because they just got the unpopular “Batman” TV show on the screen.

Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight” would seem to be exceptions to the rule — both films always felt like comics revisions more than comics tributes, but they work perfectly all the same.

Oh, and speaking of “The Spirit”: Rather than watching that movie, maybe you should get acquainted with some “Spirit” comics by Will Eisner and Darwyn Cooke instead…?

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The King of Dreams

These days, you hear a lot about non-comics writers who start writing comics. Novelist Brad Meltzer is writing “Justice League of America,” novelist Jodi Picoult is writing “Wonder Woman,” director Kevin Smith wrote “Daredevil” and “Green Arrow,” writers/producers J. Michael Straczynski and Joss Whedon have written a ton of different comics. But there’s only one comics writer who’s managed to cross from comics to mainstream fiction, and manage to hit big: Neil Gaiman.

Gaiman is a Brit who now lives in Minnesota. He started out as a journalist, reviewer, and author (I owned one of his books, a companion guide to Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” for years before I realized that the guy who wrote it was actually famous). He was friends with Alan Moore, who introduced him to comics. After taking over Moore’s “Miracleman,” Gaiman’s work got more and more attention, eventually leading to experimental/artistic efforts for DC Comics with his frequent collaborator, artist Dave McKean.

Let’s take a look at some of Gaiman’s best works.


First and foremost, you can’t talk about Gaiman without talking about “Sandman.” This epic series, which got its start back in ’88, focuses on Morpheus, sometimes called the Sandman, sometimes the King of Stories, sometimes Dream. For lack of a better word, he’s the god of dreams and story-telling. He’s a tall, pale, gaunt guy with an unruly mop of black hair and a preference for black clothing.

The series starts as he is imprisoned for almost a century by a magic spell and finally earns his freedom in the modern world. The first batch of stories are horror stories, told in almost pitch-perfect “Tales from the Crypt” style, but they eventually evolve into modern/urban fantasy. The stories range throughout history — though the bulk of the series is set in the modern-day, there are tons of flashbacks about Morpheus in Ancient Greece, the French Revolution, Victorian England, etc., etc., etc. Dream meets a few superheroes, plus William Shakespeare (in a story that won the World Fantasy Award), Emperor Norton, Marco Polo, Augustus Caesar, and others. We also meet Dream’s family, the cosmically powerful and cosmically dysfunctional Endless, including devious Desire, pitiful Despair, loopy Delirium, and sensible Death.

I can’t recommend this series highly enough. It’s one of the best runs of comics ever, with the best ongoing storyline ever, with the coolest characters ever. DC keeps the entire series in a set of ten reprints. Yes, it’s expensive, but man alive, I’ve never once regretted spending all that dough on the series. It was fun to read and is still fun to re-read. Start with the first collection in the series, “Preludes and Nocturnes.”

Marvel 1602

Gaiman’s first major work for Marvel Comics plays into his love of history. It’s basically Marvel’s characters transplanted to Elizabethan England. Dr. Strange is Queen Elizabeth’s court magician, Nicholas Fury is her spymaster, the X-Men are superpowered outcasts in a school run by a bald guy named Carlos Javier. The world may soon be destroyed by mysterious storms, and Dr. Strange believes the problem may lie with innocent Virginia Dare, the first child born in the American colonies. On top of that, the wicked Count Otto von Doom is plotting against England from his fortress in Latveria, and the Inquisition is moving against all of the “witchbreed” who are born with mutant powers.

This is another very enjoyable series, very fun, lots of entertaining cameos and easter eggs for fans, plus an outstanding story, too. You should go pick this one up, too.

Like I said before, Gaiman has had great success as a novelist, writing “Neverwhere,” “Coraline,” “American Gods,” “Anansi Boys,” and others. My two favorite Gaiman novels are “American Gods” (a modern fantasy about American manifestations of weakened mythological gods) and “Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch” (written with Discworld creator Terry Pratchett, it’s a comedy about angels, demons, the Apocalypse, the Four Horsemen, and an awfully nice 11-year-old Antichrist). I insist you go buy these immediately. Go! Run!

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