Archive for Sandman

Death and the Devil


Red Sonja #16

Sonja has died — or almost so — and meets Death herself, who looks a lot like Sonja, actually. Death wants her on her honor guard, but Sonja has never been one to serve anyone, and she’d much rather try her luck at killing Death herself. Meanwhile, back in the real world, the townspeople are tending to Sonja, trying to figure out a way to cure her, when she gets unexpected visitors — the great artisans she’d collected in a previous storyarc: Gribaldi the chef, Aneva the courtesan, Rat the beast-tamer, Osric the swordsman, Plaitius the soothsayer, and Rakaua the dancer. And then more visitors: from the very first storyarc in Gail Simone’s run on this title, Ayla, Nias, and Dark Annisia, resurrected with the aid of an alchemist’s potion. Can Sonja defeat Death? Can Sonja be brought back from the brink of death?

Verdict: Thumbs up. This may be Simone’s final issue on this series — it’s certainly written like a final issue. If it’s not the last one, Simone is leaving herself a big hurdle to top this one. It’s hard to get much more epic than a duel with Death and a reunion with all your friends. Great story, great art — more evidence that this has been a thoroughly glorious fantasy series.


The Sandman: Overture #5

The mad sun has thrown Morpheus into a black hole — where not even he may be able to escape. He gets a brief respite when his mother pulls him out for a chat, but while he wants to save the universe, she only wants to manipulate him into staying with her forever — and when he refuses, she drops him back into the black hole. But then he’s re-rescued by Destiny, who’s frustrated that there’s a ship in the middle of his garden — and it’s clearly been built by Dream, even though Dream has no memory of creating it. And the cat version of Dream has been keeping busy by traveling to the worlds being destroyed by the mad stars and rescuing people.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Not a lot of it makes sense yet — hopefully, that will come in the final issue — but the story is told with a great deal of style with a lot of gorgeous art by J.H. Williams III.


All-New Hawkeye #3

Kate Bishop and Clint Barton are aboard a S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier waiting to find out what the spy agency is going to do with the mutant kids they rescued from A.I.M. Maria Hill strongly hints to them that they should do something to extract the kids from S.H.I.E.L.D.’s care before they’re used as weapons. After a few pages of whuppin’ and a ride out of the helicarrier on a flying car, they get the kids home — but how long will they be allowed to keep mutant super-psychic kids?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Great art and a nice story. A nice storytelling gimmick, too, with the pastel watercolor story of young Clint and Barney’s trip to the circus told along the bottom of each page.

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Campfire Tales


Lumberjanes #9

The Lumberjanes are trying to earn a new merit badge for telling ghost stories, so we get a variety of wacked-out, odd stories, illustrated by luminaries like Faith Erin Hicks, Becca Tobin, Felicia Choo, Carolyn Nowak, and more. Will they all earn their badge? Will they all scare each other silly? Is there something more terrifying waiting and watching them all?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Lots of great stories and lots of great art — and as always, lots of weird, hilarious stuff. Looking forward to the next storyarc of this series.


Sensation Comics #5

Wonder Woman has been sent on a mission to retrieve a couple of Amazons who’ve journeyed into Apokolips. It’s not long before she tangles with the Female Furies and gets rescued by a group of scavengers. But can they help Diana find the missing Amazons? And what were they doing on Apokolips in the first place?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s a good done-in-one story with a fun combination of superheroics and superspy intrigue.


The Sandman: Overture #4

Morpheus is traveling with a small girl named Hope and a version of himself that is a cat. He meets up with his father to see if he’ll help save the universe, but his dad is generally unhelpful. We learn how Dream created this crisis — by refusing to destroy a dream vortex until she’d inadvertantly driven an entire planet insane and then refusing to destroy the sun powering the planet, he’d driven the sun into madness and instilled within it a desire to extinguish everything in existence. And with his allies either distant and aloof or completely deleted from the world, Dream finds himself imprisoned somewhere he cannot escape.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Beautiful art, excellent writing, wonderful tension. I do wish this was being produced on a more regular basis — as it is, it would probably be preferable to just collect this into a single graphic novel, rather than collecting the individual issues.

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Give Me a Sign


Hawkeye #19

After the Bros made another attempt to take over the apartment building in a recent issue, Clint Barton ended up getting temporarily deafened while his brother Barney got a little bit shot. Luckily, Barney isn’t too terribly injured — other than being in a wheelchair, he’s getting released by the hospital. He’s definitely better off emotionally than Clint is — even though he was deafened as a kid and has struggled with occasional hearing problems in the past, Clint just can’t get a handle on anything. Barney tries to talk to him in sign language, but Clint won’t respond. Can Barney get Clint back in the game in time to help himself and everyone in the apartment building?

Verdict: Thumbs up. A nice storytelling gimmick, with much of the dialogue being communicated through sign language. I do wish they’d given us a translation in the back, but the visual storytelling is more than good enough to make sure we know what’s going on.


The Manhattan Projects #22

All of our regular characters are apparently being taken off the stage away from Earth. Yuri Gagarin has to flee Russia when it turns out that alien hybrids have taken over the Politburo — and then, after receiving an interstellar message from Laika, leaves the planet with Wernher von Braun to find her. Harry Daghlian leaves for the desert and declares himself an Atomic Messiah. The FDR A.I. plans its own takeover of everything. The Einsteins and Richard Feynman leave to explore the multiverse. Is this the end of the Manhattan Projects?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Well, I know the series is going to continue, because there’s another issue on the way next month. But I do wonder what form future issues will take when most of our protagonists aren’t on the stage anymore. Still, fun storytelling, great humor, and a decent dose of drama, too.


The Sandman: Overture #3

A star has gone mad and somehow, this is going to bring about the end of everything — and hundreds of nihilist alien races are rushing to take advantage of the chaos. Meanwhile, Morpheus and, um, Morpheus the Cat encounter the Furies, who are, as usual, terrible people. They get a new traveling companion, a little blue-skinned girl named Hope. Morpheus scares off some foes in a very unexpected way and tells Hope a story about a princess. And everyone pays a visit to the City of Stars.

Verdict: Thumbs up. A lot of stuff happened — enough stuff that you’d normally spread it out across two or three issues. Hope is a nice perspective character, Dream’s princess tale is just what I want from a comic about the King of Stories — and J.H. Williams III’s art continues to be spectacularly beautiful.

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Shifting Sands


The Sandman: Overture #2

Morpheus has discovered the strangest thing he’s ever seen in his entire long existence: scores of variant versions of Dream — aliens, robots, cats, superheroes, rock monsters, fish, giants, monoliths, witches, clowns, gasses, crystals, and more — and a vast, cyclopean Elder Dream that pre-dates all of them — all because another aspect of Dream has somehow died. What caused this? The answer: the universe is ending, and it’s Dream’s fault, because he once allowed a Dream Vortex to live, she destroyed a world, and is now in the process of slowly snuffing out all the stars. Can Morpheus face this task alone?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Wonderful storytelling by Neil Gaiman, beautiful art by J.H. Williams III. An entirely weird story, told with great imagination. My primary quibble is that we’re finding out that it’ll be many more months before we see the next issue of this series, and in fact, the rest of it probably won’t be coming out on any sort of a regular schedule. That’ll make it tough for readers of each individual issue to keep track of where the story has been in the past…


Hawkeye #18

We’re back in L.A. with dead-broke socialite-superhero-private eye Kate Bishop. One of Kate’s few Los Angleles friends, a sad-sack writer who she always meets, for some reason, in the cat food aisle at the grocery store, has decided he’s bailing on the city — and then she and her two gay friends find him beat up in his fancy home, declaring morosely that he’ll never get out of L.A. alive. In fact, he ran afoul of Count Nefaria and Madame Masque and discovered some of their awful secrets. Can Kate save her friend? Can she even save herself?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Grandly goofball noir wrapped around hilarious superhero action.

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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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Friday Night Fights: Christmas Eve of Destruction!

SpaceBooger has called a temporary truce on Friday Night Fights ’til the holidays are over, but that don’t mean we have to stop, right? HECK, NO! In fact, we’d be crazy to let Christmas get away without commemorating it with a little gratuitous violence!

So here’s tonight’s battle: Adventure Comics #82, from January 1943, by none other than Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Our setup: The Golden Age version of the Sandman — after he got rid of his classy trenchcoat, fedora, and gas mask costume in favor of the much-less-stylish spandex costume — and his sidekick Sandy are on the trail of a bunch of gangsters.

The mobsters have a pretty sweet idea — they recruited a broken-down wrestler named Mountain Man Bearde to dress up in a Santa Claus costume at the local department store. Bearde has enjoyed playing Santa and had no idea he was being used by crooks — but now they’ve dragged him back to the store at gunpoint so they can trick the night watchman into opening the doors for him. Sandman and Sandy make their appearance at last, and the fisticuffs get started:

But before the whole thing is over, the dime-store Santa gets his own revenge on the mobsters:

“And I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight, Merry Christmas to all, and to all a GOOD FIGHT!”

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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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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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