Author: Neil Gaiman
The Sandman, vol. 4
My rating: 4 of 5
WARNING: MATURE AUDIENCE
Destiny of the Endless has gathered his siblings together, setting the wheels of fate in motion and sending his brother Dream on a quest to Hell to right an old wrong. But when Morpheus arrives, he finds an empty Hell in which Lucifer declares that he quits and hands Morpheus the key to Hell. And so, the dead return. The demons wander unrestrained. And Dream is left with an unwelcome burden . . . one that many others would gladly relieve him of, whether it would be wise to permit them to or not.
Season of Mists wasn’t my favorite of the Sandman volumes so far (I have an extreme fondness for Dream Country); however, it was certainly intriguing and presented itself as a complete and united tale more than some of the volumes of this graphic novel have. There’s definitely some wonky theology, but it was fascinating to see the juxtaposition of different pantheons and philosophies all vying for Dream’s favor and interacting together in the Dreaming. And Dream’s reactions to all of them most certainly gained him several extra coolness points in my books. It was nice to see some resolution of the Dream/Nada story as well. And ooh, getting to see more development of the Dreaming was very neat; I loved the artistic renderings of that. All in all, Season of Mists was a solid addition to Dream’s story, and it seems to leave us set up for some interesting occurrences in the next volume, which I am looking forward to reading.
On a completely random side note, the creator biographies in this volume are absolute rubbish but well worth reading–utterly random and silly, but very funny.
Covers and Design by Dave McKean/Illustrated by Kelley Jones, Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III, Matt Wagner, Dick Giordano, George Pratt, & P. Craig Russell/Lettered by Todd Klein/Colored by Steve Oliff & Daniel Vozzo
Story by Neil Gaiman/Art by Michael Zulli/Lettering & Adaptation by Todd Klein
My rating: 4.5 of 5
WARNING: Mature Audience/Partial Nudity
Our narrator invites to listen to his tale of a most unusual evening, one he might not have believed himself had he not experienced it himself. A couple of his friends convinced him to come along and help them entertain an out-of-town guest who shall, for purposes of his story, be called Miss Finch–a strange woman to be sure, a biogeologist with an awkward personality and a great desire to see extinct creatures like Smilodon alive in their natural habitat. As fate would have it, the party winds up in a bizarre underground circus of questionable taste, but fate takes a strange turn when they arrive at an exhibit in which one individual is to have their greatest wish granted . . . and Miss Finch is the one chosen individual.
I first read “The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch” in Gaiman’s Fragile Things as a short story, which I found quite outstanding and memorable. This graphic novel adaptation is also quite intriguing, staying close to the spirit of the original short story. It’s this strange blend of magical realism and an almost macabre oddness that gets under the skin somehow. Typical Gaiman, that, I suppose–his stories have a way of being unsettling but brilliant in ways I didn’t even know stories could be. Zulli’s art is just perfect for the story, bringing together that darkness and unsettledness and all the totally out there aspects of the circus in a way that fits and ties everything together. I love the departure from a typical comic-book style; it’s more neutral tones and semi-realistic styles that work really well for this story (and are much more what I prefer in general). I would definitely read more of this artist’s works (and am pleased to see that he appears to have illustrated a few other Gaiman graphic novels!). I think for those who enjoy Gaiman’s work or who are looking for a different but quality graphic novel, The Facts in the Case of the Disappearance of Miss Finch would be a great choice.
Author: Neil Gaiman
The Sandman, vol. 3
My rating: 4.5 of 5
WARNING: MATURE AUDIENCE
A struggling author manages to enslave a muse for his own benefit, inspiring amazing ideas but at what cost? Elsewhere, a stray cat attempts to unite a large enough group of cats to dream the same thing and thus alter reality . . . good luck with that one. Centuries before, Will Shakespeare and his motley band of players perform his Dream for an otherworldly audience. And a woman given transformative powers by the sun-god Ra is cursed to never be truly human again.
I swear, this series just keeps getting better! Dream Country is basically a short-story collection in graphic novel form, featuring four unique stories in which Morpheus is a minor character. All four are strange and unique and kind of wonderful in different ways. Which isn’t to say that they’re all happy and fun; some of them, perhaps even parts of all of them, are dark and pensive. Creative and brilliant, still. My favorite was the one featuring Shakespeare–which incidentally won a World Fantasy Award. The story itself is lovely and strange, and Charles Vess’s artwork is just perfect for it. Actually, Vess’s art is basically ideal for Gaiman’s writing in general, or at least for his fantasy; they mesh ridiculously well. The art for the whole collection is quite nice, although for the last story (the Ra one) I struggled for the first bit to figure out what on earth was actually going on. I think that’s just the story and how strange it is, mostly, though. I would highly recommend Dream Country, both for those who are in the midst of reading The Sandman as a series and for those who are just interested in a collection of independent graphic shorts by Gaiman; I don’t think the previous or future volumes are necessary to enjoy this collection.
Covers & Design by Dave McKean/Illustrated by Charles Vess, Malcolm Jones III, Kelley Jones, & Colleen Doran/Lettered by Todd Klein
Author: Neil Gaiman
The Sandman, vol. 2
My rating: 4.5 of 5
WARNING: MATURE AUDIENCE
After his long absence from the Dream world and his imprisonment in the world of the living, Morpheus returns to Dream to survey his lands, taking stock of those members who are missing and beginning his search for them. Little does he know that some of his younger siblings among the Endless are stirring up trouble for him in secret. Meanwhile, in the human world, Rose Walker is united in England for the first time with her grandmother Unity (a victim of the sleeping sickness that came over so many children for a time) and subsequently returns to the United States to search for her long-lost little brother in hopes of uniting the family. She meets a number of interesting individuals during her search, including Morpheus himself, unwitting that she herself is a dream vortex that he must deal with or risk the destruction of Dream entirely.
Well, I have to say that, although I was not particularly impressed with the first Sandman comic, Preludes & Nocturnes, Gaiman thoroughly made up for the issues I found in that book in The Doll’s House. It made me regret having waited so long to press on with the series. Whereas Preludes & Nocturnes never truly felt like Gaiman’s work, never really set properly (barring that lovely last chapter), The Doll’s House feels throughout like one of his books. It has the right flavor, the right perspectives on things, the right spark that I can’t properly describe; I can only say that it works. The entire volume reads like a novel, having a cohesive plot with multiple, interlacing stories. It also traces back to stories told in the first volume, actually giving them more weight and purpose in my mind. I really loved all the dream sequences that were a part of this book and the way in which they played into the plot. Even more so, I appreciated the way in which the author discussed the ideas of destiny and fate and free will; you would think this theme would be exhausted by now, but it’s something so integral to humanity that perhaps it will always be a pertinent topic. I like Rose’s character as well; she’s got spunk but she’s also kind of broken, and it’s interesting to see that developed. The art is very well done, although still in a very comic-book style that I’m still gradually adjusting to. Fair warning that this is definitely geared for an adult audience and there’s some pretty gristly violence (though not nearly as bad as the first volume) and some nudity here. I definitely enjoyed reading The Doll’s House and am now actually quite looking forward to future volumes of The Sandman in spite of the series’ rocky start.
Covers & Design by Dave McKean/Illustrated by Mike Dringenberg & Malcolm Jones III/Colored by Zylonol/Lettered by Todd Klein & John Costanza
Author: Bill Willingham/Illustrators: Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Daniel Vozzo, & James Jean/Letterer: Todd Klein
Fables, vol. 2
Rose Red and her boyfriend Jack have been caught trying to evade repaying a large debt by faking Rose’s death. As part of her punishment, Rose gets dragged along by her sister (and Chief Operating Officer of Fabletown) ,Snow White, to the farm in upstate New York where the less human-like fables live in relative isolation. It’s supposed to be a routine inspection, but from the moment the sisters arrive, things seem to go awry. As a matter of fact, it seems they’ve stumbled right into the middle of an insurrection, no less!
As far as comic-book-style graphic novels go, I think Fables is one of my favorites so far. The idea of pulling classic fairy tale characters into contemporary New York is intriguing, and Willingham’s execution is flawless. Animal Farm continues the story following Legends in Exile nicely–although the story itself isn’t at all what I would have expected. Seriously, if you were to take George Orwell’s Animal Farm and dump a bunch of fairy tale characters in it, you’d have a pretty good idea of what’s going on in this graphic novel. It’s weird, but it works surprisingly well. The story shows sides of Snow White’s character that you wouldn’t normally see, and I think in that regard, it serves to flesh out her character (even though she was already a vivid and complex individual before). This episode of the story was more violent and political than I personally prefer, but it was still quite excellently written–full of complex characters and drawn in quite an attractive style (for a graphic novel). For mature readers who enjoy graphic novels, I think Fables: Animal Farm is both an exciting and a mentally-engaging tale–particularly for the more politically minded.
Author: Bill Willingham/Illustrators: Lan Medina, Steve Leialoha, Sherilyn van Valkenburgh, James Jean, & Alex Maleev/Letterer: Todd Klein
Fables, vol. 1
Once upon a time, the characters inhabiting our favorite fairy tales were driven from their homes by “the Adversary.” Now, these very people reside–practically immortal–in New York, blending in to present-day society and handling their own problems through their own secret government. Snow White is the Director of Operations for this government, directly under King Cole, and she has not had a good day. And it only gets worse when Bigby Wolf, her security officer, drags her off to a crime scene . . . her sister Rose Red’s apartment–blood-splattered and with no sign of Rose in sight!
I think the idea behind the Fables series is fascinating, and Bill Willingham executes it brilliantly in Legends in Exile. What stands out most to me about this story is the characters–they aren’t always what you’d expect from the fairy tales, but they work. More importantly, they have strong, consistent personalities that are carried through everything from their dialogue to the way they’re drawn. Snow White and Bigby in particular are also intricate and individual people–and with Snow in particular, you can see the conflict between who she is and who she sees herself to be, which is fascinating. The focal story of Legends in Exile (besides introducing the overarching themes and characters) is a murder mystery, done in classic style; it’s an effective traditional use of the genre (if you can say it’s traditional when the suspects include fantasy characters) told with a wry humor. The art is quite nice for a graphic novel (I’m still adjusting to the graphic novel style); a lot less stylized and blood-splattered than I’ve seen in some. I would note that this is definitely for mature readers and contains sex, language, and violence. Still, for mature readers who enjoy fantasy or graphic novels, I think Fables: Legends in Exile is a solid, engaging, and unique story that would be a fun read.