The Sandman reading order – an essential guide to the Neil Gaiman comics
Our guest contributor Matthew Cookson has put together a Sandman reading order. Read on to find out all you need about Neil Gaiman’s Sandman DC comics!
The Sandman, by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by a host of talented artists, is an innovative comic narrative. It highlights the heights of imagination and creativity that the medium can soar to. The story spans time and space in its tale of Morpheus, the Lord of Dream. The member of the family of the Endless is one of seven eternal figures who help keep balance in the universe.
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A quick overview of The Sandman reading order
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Introducing the Sandman story
At their heart, The Sandman graphic novels are stories about stories. They draw on Greek and Norse mythology, fairy tales, the world’s religions, literature, and the DC comic universe. While at times disturbing, the narrative is always thought-provoking and intriguing.
The DC Comics Sandman series ran for 75 issues from 1988 to 1996 with a number of spin-offs. It was hugely successful, helping change snobbish attitudes towards the literary worth of comics as an art form.
The series of graphic novels have recently been turned into a widely acclaimed Sandman audiobook. A forthcoming Sandman Netflix TV adaptation is also expected in the future. The comics also saw the creation of the version of Lucifer that branched out into his comics and TV show.
There are a host of self-contained stories within the Sandman Neil Gaiman comics. An overall narrative also ties the whole collection together, which follows Morpheus in the 20th century. An occultist imprisons him, he escapes from captivity, reclaims his lost possessions and faces up to the consequences of his past actions.
Due to the success of the Audible audiobook, there is a lot of new interest in The Sandman collection. A box-set of The Sandman volumes is due for release in October 2020.
Here’s a relatively spoiler-free guide for readers wanting to enjoy The Sandman in its original form:
The first volume of the Neil Gaiman Sandman run introduces Dream. An occultist captures Dream while attempting to gain immortality. When Dream finally frees himself, he must reconstruct his realm, the Dreaming. It has fallen into disrepair in his absence. He must also battle the supervillain Doctor Destiny to reclaim a lost totem that gives him power.
In the final issue in this volume, ‘The Sound of Her Wings’ we meet Dream’s sister. Death is personified as a young woman who sympathises with people as she ushers them into her realm at the end of their lives.
She helps give a miserable Dream a new sense of purpose following his decades of imprisonment. The graphic novel collects issues 1 to 8. Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg and Malcolm Jones III provided the illustrations. As with all volumes and issues of The Sandman, Dave McKean created the visually stunning covers.
Following his absence, Dream discovers that four of his creations are missing from the Dreaming. In the meantime a powerful dream vortex has emerged that threatens creation.
The main narrative follows Rose Walker, a young woman who is searching for her lost brother Jed. She finds herself in perilous situations as her quest, inadvertently and unknowingly, strands her in a serial killers’ convention. The two strands of the story come together in a powerful conclusion. This volume introduces two more of the Endless, the scheming Desire and Despair.
Other stories include Dream’s banishment of his love Nada to hell for rejecting him. Another tells the story of Dream’s friendship with Hob Gadling. Hob has refused to die and meets Morpheus on the same day and the same inn once each century. This volume collects issues 9 to 16. It is illustrated by Michael Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III, Chris Bachalo, Michael Zulli and Steve Parkhouse.
This collection holds four intriguing and self-contained stories. In ‘Calliope’, writer’s block wracks an author. He takes possession of one of the Muses, imprisoning and abusing her for his own gain.
In ‘A Dream of a Thousand Cats’, a rebellious feline preaches the truth to her brothers and sisters. Cats once ruled until humans dreamed the world anew. ‘Midsummer’s Night’s Dream’ is the first of the issues that deals with Dream’s contract with William Shakespeare. His band of players perform his new play, written for Morpheus, to an unworldly audience.
This issue won a World Fantasy Award for short fiction. Finally, ‘Façade’ explores the miserable existence of former superhero Element Girl. Her powers have ruined her life. Dream does not appear in this issue, with his sister Death instead the member of the Endless present. This volume collects issues 17 to 20 of The Sandman. Kelley Jones, Charles Vess, Colleen Doran and Malcolm Jones III illustrated the volume.
At an Endless family meeting, Dream is shamed by his siblings including Death. Ridden with guilt, Dream journeys to Hell to attempt to free Nada, who he had consigned there. In a strangely empty realm, he encounters Lucifer. Lucifer reveals that he has abdicated his rule and expelled all demons and tortured spirits.
Lucifer then gives the keys to Hell to Morpheus and leaves. Dream faces the ordeal of meeting with numerous gods and other divinities. They come to the Dreaming to make their case to be granted ownership of Hell. This volume collects issues 21 to 28. Kelley Jones, Mike Dringenberg, Matt Wagner, Malcolm Jones III, P. Craig Russell, Dick Giordano and George Pratt illustrate the storyline.
This storyline reintroduces Barbie, a minor character from A Doll’s House, this time as the main protagonist. Barbie returns to the fantasy world of her childhood, known as the Land. She has to stop the threat to its existence, the Cuckoo.
Her housemates the witch Thessaly, a lesbian couple Hazel and Foxglove, and Wanda, a transgender woman, help Barbie in her quest. These characters highlight the importance of representation and the theme of identity in the overall Sandman story. A Game of You collects Sandman issues 32 to 37. Shawn McManus, Colleen Doran. Bryan Talbot, Dick Giordano, George Pratt and Stan Woch illustrated the collection.
This is another collection of one-issue stories. Though the issues are not published chronologically, the reader can follow the original order themselves. In ‘Three Septembers and a January’, Gaiman tells the history of Joshua Abraham Norton. He was the first and only Emperor of the United States of America.
‘Ramadan’ shows a fantastical vision of a past Baghdad. In ‘The Parliament of Rooks’, we meet Daniel Hall. He is the son of Hippolyta Hall and the now-deceased superhero Sandman Hector Hall. Morpheus claims Daniel as his own as Hippolyta was in the Dreaming while pregnant.
The key story in the collection is ‘The Song of Orpheus’, which retells the tragic tale of the Greek singer. Orpheus also happened to be the son of Morpheus and Calliope.
This volume collects issues 29 to 31, 38 to 40. It also includes The Sandman Special 1, issue 50 and a short story from a DC Vertigo special issue. Stan Woch, Dick Giordano, Bryan Talbot, Shawn McManus, Duncan Eagleson, Vince Locke, John Watkiss, Jill Thompson, P. Craig Russell, Mark Buckingham and Kent Williams illustrated the volume.
Dream’s unstable younger sister Delirium convinces him to search for their brother Destruction. He abandoned his role 300 years previously and has not been heard of since. Dream is morose following a failed love affair and hopes the quest will take his mind from his misery.
The two siblings contact those who knew their brother to try to find out his whereabouts. This leads to tragic consequences. Dream eventually turns to his estranged son, the oracle Orpheus, for help. This act leads directly on to the concluding part of the overall Sandman narrative. Illustrated by Jill Thompson, Vince Locke and Dick Giordano, Brief Lives includes issues 41 to 49.
A number of travellers from different realms take shelter in The Worlds’ End inn. A reality storm, an event which occurs after momentous events, rages outside. To pass the time, the stranded travellers tell each other stories in which Morpheus usually makes an appearance.
This volume of single-issue stories includes the Lovecraftian ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ and ‘Hob’s Leviathan’. Hob Gadling makes a reappearance in a tale told by a girl who disguises herself as a boy to go to sea.
The final issue of the collection, ‘Cerements’, leaves us on a foreboding and fearful note for the next volume. The volume collects issues 51 to 56. It is illustrated by Alec Stevens, Bryan Talbot, John Watkiss, Michael Zulli, Mike Allred, Shea Anton Pensa, Gary Amaro, Mark Buckingham, John Watkiss, Dick Giordano, Vince Locke, Steve Leialoha and Tony Harris.
This volume brings together many of the plot lines from previous stories. After the Norse god Loki kidnaps Daniel Hall, his mother convinces herself that Morpheus has taken her child. She asks the Furies, the three witch sisters of Greek mythology, to destroy Dream in vengeance for this act. Gaiman writes the Kindly Ones as a Greek tragedy in this, the longest story of The Sandman.
The collection spans 13 issues, numbers 57 to 69. The illustration is by Kevin Nowlan, Marc Hempel, Glyn Dillon, Charles Vess, Dean Ormston, Teddy Kristiansen and Richard Case. The collection also contains ‘The Castle’, a Sandman short story from a DC Vertigo Jam comic.
Following the tragic events of The Kindly Ones, gods and dreamers gather for the wake of one of the series’ major characters. They contemplate death, the changes to the Dreaming and the future. An epilogue explores the eternal Hob Gadling’s response to a renaissance fair in 20th century America. It brings back painful memories.
The final issue of The Sandman is ‘The Tempest’, named after the play that Shakespeare wrote to conclude the bargain between himself and Morpheus. Fittingly, it was also Shakespeare’s final play. This volume collects issues 70 to 75 of The Sandman. The illustration is by Michael Zulli, Charles Vess, Bryan Talbot, John Ridgway and Jon J Muth.
Twenty-five years after the first publication of The Sandman, Neil Gaiman wrote this prequel to the original series. It reveals why Morpheus was in such a weakened state and able to be captured in Sandman Volume 1.
In ‘Overture’, the survival of the universe is at threat due to the insanity of a star. This is a result of Dream’s past actions. He must now deal with the consequences and somehow save the universe. Illustrated by John Williams III, this volume collects the six issues of The Sandman: Overture comic.
Written five years after the end of The Sandman series, this takes the form of a Japanese folk tale. It explores the story of a fox who befriends a Buddhist monk. When she discovers a plot against her new friend she asks the King of All Night’s Dreaming for help.
Two different versions of this story exist. The first is the original 1999 prose novella, illustrated by Yoshitaka Amano. The second is the Sandman comic book adaptation, which is both adapted and illustrated by Craig P Russell. Both are equally recommended, depending upon your tastes.
Published in 2003, each chapter in this graphic novel focuses on a different member of the Endless. Each of which is very different artistically and thematically. ‘Death and Venice’ explores a young man’s obsession with Death. In ‘What I Know of Desire’, the capricious Desire grants a young woman a boon. We see ‘Fifteen portraits of Despair’ and are given a tour of Destiny’s garden of many paths in ‘Endless Nights’.
The chapters focussing on Delirium and Destruction are the only two set following the conclusion to The Sandman series. ‘The Heart of a Star’, the chapter on Dream, takes us back to the beginnings of life in the universe. A different artist illustrates each chapter. They are P. Craig Russell, Milo Manara, Miguelanxo Prado, Barron Storey, Bill Sienkiewicz, Glenn Fabry and Frank Quitely.
This Audible original adaptation brings The Sandman to aural life. The first release presents Volumes 1 to 3 of The Sandman. The audiobook is dramatised and directed by Dirk Maggs.
It features a star-studded cast with Neil Gaiman himself as the narrator. James McAvoy stars as Dream, Michael Sheen as Lucifer, Kat Dennings as Death and Riz Ahmed as the Corinthian. This is a rich, faithful adaptation of the Sandman comics. It has been a huge success for Audible and whets the appetite for further releases.
The popularity of The Sandman and the characters within it has led to the related releases. These include ‘Lucifer’ and ‘The Dreaming’. The ones most connected to The Sandman series are those written by Gaiman. Dream’s popular sister Death has two entertaining volumes by Gaiman, The High Cost of Living and The Time of Your Life.
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