No one has a perfect family. Anyone can think back to family photos, dinners, and petty arguments as a testament to the accuracy of this statement. Even less perfect are the Endless family, whose quarrels can alter the fate mankind. Destiny, Death, Dream, Destruction, Despair, Desire, and Delirium make up the Endless—each a force who rules over its own realm, making sure that things run smoothly. In “The Sandman,” a fantasy comic series written by Neil Gaiman, these forces are brought to life and explored through a series of interweaving tales told from multiple perspectives. The series borrows DC Universe characters such as Etrigan the Demon, as well as historical figures like Marco Polo, and immortal figures like Bast.
In the first volume, Gaiman tells the story of Dream, who has been accidentally captured by humans. This has a negative impact on the mortal world, as it causes a mysterious “sleeping sickness” to advance on the Earth. After many years, Dream escapes but must rebuild his castle and his kingdom. Throughout the story, Dream must learn to accept changes in his family, in himself, and in the way he views the world. However, while Dream is the main character, he is not the focus of all the stories. There are different character arcs where Dream acts along the story’s perimeter. For example, in “A Game of You,” Barbie, who dreams of being a princess, tells the story of the mysterious Cuckoo, who plans on murdering her. Dream only appears at the end, seemingly unrelated to the story for the most part. At the end of the volumes, characters from all the tales appear once more, in a final culmination to bring the series to an emotional close.
Perhaps the most amazing thing that Gaiman has achieved through this series is the engaging way in which he tells his stories. Prose and illustration do not vie for dominance, but enhance each other instead. Gaiman’s engaging writing draws the reader in and achieves (more so than in most comics) the balance between plot and character development. Dream, who seems to be aloof and uncaring to both mortals and most of his family, learns to understand the consequence of change.
The illustrations give the reader a key to the door of Gaiman’s imagination (he dictates what happens in each panel), and they are beautified with the help of talented inker Mike Dringenberg, letterer Todd Klein, and colorer Robbie Busch. Colored speech bubbles for each member of the Endless help to identify who is talking and give a better perspective on their personalities. Delirium, the youngest of the Endless, speaks in multicolored letters and backgrounds that swirl around dreamily, reflecting the way she acts.
Gaiman understands the human psyche so well that he is able to paint realistic characters out of life’s motifs. It is a comic book that inspires and delights; it even makes the reader think, dream, and realize things about Destiny and Death (as both characters and parts of life). In “A Game of You,” Death tells Bernie, a 15,000-year-old mortal, “You get what anybody gets—you get a lifetime.” This is such a simple way of telling the truth, and it makes the reader realize that they too have only one lifetime, and that they should try to use it the best they can. “The Sandman” series is filled with thought-provoking quotes and conversations, which give the reader something to mull over after finishing a volume in one gulp.
Gaiman is a master at provoking a reaction from readers, and “The Sandman” is one of his best works. It is an intelligent, darkly humorous comic that (literally) brings to life its themes and brings fantasy to the table in a far-reaching combination of thoughtful prose, mythology, and his own ideas. Gaiman writes characters that are twisted in imaginative ways so that they enthrall the reader almost instantly. As Destruction says, “I will make the most of what I’ve got. I shall live out my days doing what I have to do, one day at a time. Life, like time, is a journey through darkness.” I think it is safe to say that Gaiman has created a work of art that will be appreciated no matter how life changes.