The Sandman Reader XII: Conclusions & Miscellany

One of the most complicated aspects of the entire “Sandman” series was the fact that Morpheus was not necessarily a likable lead character throughout much of the run. He brooded and sulked for justifiable reasons at the beginning of the series but, for the readers who stuck with him, occasionally revealed a softer side. Morpheus was not what one would characterize as a traditional ‘good guy,’ but he also was not a villain. He occupied a moral grey area, serving as a cog in a larger system. He had responsibilities.

When the general arc of Morpheus’s life in modern times was not being explored, Gaiman used the series for asides. ‘Done-in-one issue’ stories allowed him to explore diverse kinds of stories and those stories were often the favorites of fans.

My reading of the series took place at a time when the internet was well established as a tool for community. That tool helped to crowdsource a way to understand Gaiman’s more obscure references. In imagining all the nuggets of referential meaning, Gaiman was either a genius or an insanely hard worker or both.

Besides off-shoots like “Death,” Gaiman has returned to his characters in works created after issue#75. These works included graphic novels and prequels such as “Sandman Overture.” Gaiman’s non-linear approach to the original “Sandman” series proved that he could easily find new ways to explore the characters from that series across different moments in time or even space.

Still, Gaiman left certain mysteries up to readers. Since finishing the original series, he cleverly avoided providing answers to some of the loose ends that he left behind. That said, Gaiman did address a few of those loose ends in follow-up works. Regardless, one could argue that the loose ends that some readers might still debate were not the core point of Gaiman’s work.

The series’ mysteries might never be fully explained, but that was not likely Gaiman’s aim nor the main draw for most readers. Sometimes story elements even felt as though they were veering toward the contradictory. That did not matter, since Morpheus’s character arc around accepting responsibility was what mattered the most.

As I mentioned in the introduction, the “Sandman” series’ original span of 75 issues was when Gaiman made his name as a writer. It was fascinating to watch him develop over eight years, moving from an upstart Alan Moore protégé in 1988 to a master storyteller in his own right by 1996.

Time and again, Gaiman set the reader up to expect bombastic battles or other such epic clashes. Where he stood out to readers was in defying those expectations by making those clashes much more cerebral than physical. In doing so, he developed a protagonist and supporting cast that readers fell in love with. If aspiring writers were to take any lessons from Gaiman about how to better entertain readers, it would be to defy expectations and challenge readers with smart material.


The “Absolute” editions were widely considered the best available editions of Gaiman’s “Sandman” series at the time of this writing. The Absolute line at DC Comics presented some of the company’s most notable series in oversized fashion and the “Sandman” Absolutes were DC Comics’ most beautiful Absolute editions. These volumes were one of the most beautiful collected editions ever of a comic book series.

Besides the appropriately styled faux-leather exterior, the Absolute Editions presented contents of each issue re-worked with modern coloring. Purists may disagree, but this new coloring work was striking and these versions of the pages were used by DC Comics in later reprints of the series.

Also included in these editions were all prior collection introductions, sketches, and a Gaiman script from a notable issue in each run of issues that were being collected. Finally, that bonus material also included heretofore rare or previously unpublished short works that Gaiman produced in addition to the primary series material.

The following samples the key pieces of “Sandman” miscellanea that the Absolute editions reprinted:

Graphitti Designs: “A Longer and Stranger History”

January 1991

Story Artist: Kelley Jones (penciler), Kelley Jones (inker)

A statue of Morpheus was produced by Graphitti Designs in 1991 and Gaiman wrote a letter that appeared on the back of the statue box. That letter detailed the fictitious history of three different statues of Morpheus.

The existence of one statue was first recorded by Ibn Battuta, a Moroccan traveler of renown but it was lost.

A second statue was given to the explorer Odoric of Pordenone by a Buddhist monk. It was made of Jade and was believed to have ended up in the Vatican archives.

The final statue was of the greatest interest. It was first recorded as being in the possession of the Knights Templar in London but vanished in 1307. It then reappeared as having been in King Henry VIII’s catalogues in the 1500s. It showed up again in 1944 when it was found in a temple crypt during the bombings of London. The fictitious dating of the statue put it at having been created in the fifth century A.D. and housed in the British Museum vaults. The statue created by Graphitti Designs was a copy of that statue.

Various Vertigo Comics: “Death Talks about Life”

January 1993

Story Artist: Dave McKean (penciler), Dave McKean (inker)

Three Vertigo Comics issues – “Hellblazer” #62, “Sandman” #46, and “Shade the Changing Man” #32 – shared the AIDS-prevention story “Death Talks about Life,” featuring Death in a lengthy monologue addressing readers. After being oddly dismissive of other sexually transmitted diseases, Death provided a contemporary overview of HIV/AIDS.

An embarrassed John Constantine assisted Death by holding a banana as Death demonstrated putting on a condom. The final notes in the story involved support information and other follow-up resources for readers.

As far as these sorts of public service works go, “Death Talks about Life” was not half bad. Many of the hallmarks of 1990s sex education were touched on and the information was instructive.

Vertigo Preview #1: “The Fear of Falling”

January 1992

Story Artist: Kent Williams (penciler), Kent Williams (inker)

This seven-page “Sandman” story appeared in the “Vertigo Preview” #1 sampler comic. It centered on an Off-Broadway play director named Todd, who was planning to quit his production.

Todd went to sleep the night before executing his plan and his anxiety influenced his dreaming. Dream encountered Todd on top of a mountain and encouraged him to take the risk he feared. Todd was shown the next day returning to his production, ready to move forward.

While not a remarkable story, “The Fear of Falling” did provide an adequate preview of Gaiman’s approach to “Sandman.”

Sandman: Midnight Theatre

September 1995

Story Artist: Teddy Kristiansen (penciler), Teddy Kristiansen (inker)

This lengthy graphic novel was written by Gaiman with Co-writer Matt Wagner. It put a spotlight on the Golden Age Sandman Wesley Dodd with Morpheus also playing a role.

Dodd’s interaction with Morpheus in this graphic novel set the stage for Dodd speaking at Morpheus’s funeral in issue #72. That issue came out a couple of months after this graphic novel appeared on stands.

Vertigo: Winter’s Edge #1: “The Flowers of Romance”

January 1998

Story Artist: John Bolton (penciler), John Bolton (inker)

On sale in November 1997, this issue of the anthology “Vertigo: Winter’s Edge” featured impressive art by John Bolton. It starred a Goat-footed man, created by Desire, who had led a long life as a seducer.

Desire granted the Goat-footed man one last wish before he would die and that wish ended up playing out on a remote English island. A couple came to spend the holiday on the island but on the first night, the female half of the couple was seduced by the Goat-footed man. The couple left the island soon thereafter.

Bolton’s art in the case of this story was lavish, but one had to question how the story was to be perceived. The goat-footed man appeared to use his charming aroma and other tricks to seduce the woman, potentially against her will.

Vertigo: Winter’s Edge #3: “How They Met Themselves”

January 2000

Story Artist: Michael Zulli (penciler), Michael Zulli (inker)

The 1999 issue of the anthology “Vertigo: Winter’s Edge” contained a 9-page story that featured Desire. It was written by Neil Gaiman with art by Michael Zulli.

In the story, a character named Lizzie in 1862 took a dose of laudanum in despair over her husband’s affair. She had a dream or vision that she was in a train car with a sick woman, her husband, and an unpublished poet. Desire then joined them incognito.

Desire sent the group off from a train stop into a wood where they each would see their true love. Lizzie and her husband soon saw what appeared to be mirror images of themselves but while interacting with these doppelgangers, it became clear that Lizzie’s husband only loved himself.

Lizzie never woke up from the dream and her husband found her dead at home. In the dream, Lizzie’s husband claimed that she was his muse and that if she died, he would bury his poems in her grave. A decade later he broke that promise by digging the poems up.

The story was hard to follow but tragic. Even after death, Lizzie was not sure which of the people that she saw in the woods was her true love.

D.S. Christensen
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