One of my favorite comic book series and probably one of the most revered is Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman. I’m not the biggest fan of the author, so I think it’s clearly his best work. In the comic book world, the series is also widely influential and is required reading for, I don’t know, everybody! Well, only if you are into ambitious, clever, metaphorical and multilayered stories with elements of mythology and history in it.
What is The Sandman?
Before becoming one of Vertigo’s hit, The Sandman was a DC series created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby and published between 1974 and 1976. When DC offered Gaiman the possibility to write a new series, his only obligation was to keep the name. This is about Dream, one of the seven Endless. He is the all-powerful master of the dreamworld. In simple terms, he is the personification of dreams.
The story began with the capture of Dream (aka Morpheus). During his 70 years of captivity, nobody controlled the dream world and, when Dream won back his liberty, he needed to rebuild his kingdom in order to get back his powers.
I’d like to say more, but it’s quite difficult to describe. Let’s just say that it’s a journey in a metaphorical world that blends mythology and history with thoughtful and complex characters.
Where to start The Sandman?
Not with the ’70s DC series, for sure. After that, there are two options. The first is with The Sandman: Overture, a prequel mini-series published in 2013. Not my recommendation for a good beginning because you need to know The Sandman world to really appreciate this story. The second option is my choice, you start with the first issue. I know, revolutionary stuff here.
Today, the easiest way to read The Sandman is not with the issues, because the publication started in 1989. Since then, Vertigo reissued the TPBs and hardcovers on multiple occasions. There are also other pricy limited editions. Well, I’m using the TPBs for this reading order, just because it’s the easiest way to go.
- Preludes and Nocturnes (issues #1–8) – After his 70 years’ imprisonment and eventual escape, Dream, also known as Morpheus, goes on a quest for his lost objects of power. On his arduous journey Morpheus encounters Lucifer, John Constantine, and an all-powerful madman. Dream made a brief apparition in Hellblazer No. 19 (really optional) before The Sandman #3. Also includes the story ‘The Sound of Her Wings,’ which introduces Death, Dream’s sister.
- The Doll’s House (issues #9–16) – During Morpheus’s incarceration, three dreams escaped the Dreaming and are now loose in the waking world. At the same time, a young woman named Rose Walker is searching for her little brother. As their stories converge, a vortex is discovered that could destroy all dreamers, and the world itself. We met Matthew the Raven in issue #11, but his origins are in Swamp Thing vol. 2 No. 84 (March 1989) in which Dream and Eve allow Matthew Cable to live in the Dreaming, because he died there, resurrecting him as a raven. If you can, read it before this volume.
- Dream Country (issues #17–20) – This volume contains four independent stories. Morpheus serves only as a minor character. Here we meet the mother of Morpheus’s son, find out what cats dream about, and discover the true origin behind Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream.
- Season of Mists (issues #21–28) – Ten thousand years ago, Morpheus condemned a woman who loved him to Hell. Now the other members of his family (The Endless) have convinced him that this was an injustice. Morpheus must return to Hell to make it right, but Lucifer has sworn to destroy him.
The first story with The Dead Boy Detectives can be found in issue #25. After that, the dead friends came back in other series – more to come soon.
The storyline of Lucifer in The Sandman ends here. A few years later, a new continuing series started, picking up the story from that point – the guide is here.
- A Game of You (issues #32–37) – Introduced in The Doll’s House, Barbie now travels to the magical realm that she once inhabited in her dreams, only to find that it is being threatened by the forces of the Cuckoo. This series introduces the character of Thessaly, who will play a key role in Morpheus’ eventual fate.
Dream’s sister, the famous Death appears in some mini-series. The first two, Death: The High Cost of Living and Death: The Time of Your Life, must be read after A Game of You. For the rest, follow the guide.
- Fables and Reflections (issues #29–31, 38–40, 50, Sandman Special #1; and Vertigo Preview No. 1): Contains a collection of short stories set in the past. Dream observes and interacts with an odd assortment of historical and fictional characters throughout time. Can be read independently,
- Brief Lives (issues #41–49) – Tells the tales of Delirium and older brother Dream on a mission to find their missing sibling, as they encounter immortal humans and various deities while trying to locate the prodigal Destruction. But as their adventure draws Dream into a final, tragic confrontation with his son Orpheus, the eternal being learns the true meaning of fate and consequences.
- Worlds’ End (issues #51–56) – Improbably caught in a June blizzard, two wayward compatriots stumble upon a mysterious inn and learn that they are in the middle of a ‘reality storm.’ Now surrounded by a menagerie of people and creatures from different times and realities, the two stranded travelers are entertained by mesmerizing myths of infamous sea creatures, dreaming cities, ancient kings, astonishing funeral rituals and moralistic hangmen.
- The Kindly Ones (issues #57–69 and Vertigo Jam No. 1) – Distraught by the kidnapping and presumed death of her son, and believing Morpheus to be responsible, Lyta Hall calls the ancient wrath of the Furies down upon him.
- The Wake (issues #70–75) – It’s the conclusion of the series, Morpheus made the ultimate decision between change and death. As one journey for the Endless ends another begins for the Lord of Dreams and his family. All the final pieces come together for the final moments of the Sandman.
After the end of the Sandman original run, Vertigo launched a new spin-off called The Dreaming. It was followed by the anthology The Sandman Presents when The Dreaming became more serialized.
- The Sandman: Endless Nights (graphic novel) – It’s an anthology, a collection of stories sets throughout history about Dream and his siblings. Two of them take place after the final events of the main series.
- Overture (mini-series) – a prequel mini-series about the events that occurred before Dream’s incarceration in the first issue of The Sandman. Like I said in the beginning, it’s better to know the world of Dream before reading it, but you still can start with it.
Mini-Series and one-shots in the world of The Sandman
As you may have noticed, the world of Sandman goes beyond the main series. As time goes on, finding all the mini-series, one shots, anthologies and others became harder and harder. If you can find them, here is a guide. You can read them in what order you prefer. Preferably, read them after the main series, event if it’s not an obligation for most.
Then, there’s Sandman Mystery Theatre, a monthly title written by Matt Wagner and Steven T. Seagle featuring the Golden-Age Sandman Wesley Dodds in a film-noir-esque setting. It was published between 1993 and 1999 (70 issues).
- WitchCraft and WitchCraft: La Terreur – Two three-issue mini-series featuring The Three Witches (also The Fates, Introduced in The Sandman #2).
- Destiny: A Chronicle of Deaths Foretold – A three-issue mini-series featuring Destiny of The Endless, his book, and a post-apocalyptic world.
- The Sandman: The Dream Hunters – It’s a novella set in the world of the Sandman written by Neil Gaiman and its adaptation by P. Craig Russell in comic book form. The story deals with a love affair between a Buddhist monk and a fox spirit or kitsune.
- The Sandman: Book of Dreams (novel) – a collection of short stories featuring the world of The Sandman in some way. It contains work from some notable contributors, among them Caitlin R. Kiernan, Tad Williams, Gene Wolfe, Tori Amos and Colin Greenland.
- Sandman Special: The Song of Orpheus – a Sandman Special which retells the Greek Orpheus myth, placing it within the Sandman Universe with Dream as Orpheus’ father.
- Vertigo: Winter’s Edge – a 10-page story named The Flowers of Romance about Desire The Endless. Also contains a short story set in The Dreaming World.
- Vertigo: Winter’s Edge #3 – Another story about Desire story coupled with another short story of The Dreaming.
- Vertigo Visions: Prez – one-shot featuring the old DC Comicbook character Prez inspired by the re-interpretation of the character introduced in issue #54.
- The Little Endless Storybook – a graphic novel about The Endless as toddlers…
- Delirium’s Party: A Little Endless Storybook – a follow-up to The Little Endless Storybook.
- God Save the Queen – a graphic novel about a teenager who gets involved in the conflict between Queen Titania and her predecessor Queen Mab, with characters from the Sandman world.
The Sandman Presents
Like I wrote earlier, after it was decided that The Dreaming would be retooled, The Sandman Presents became the new anthology with stories in the Sandman’s world. Published between 1999 and 2004, the series collects tales of various supporting characters related to the franchise.
- Sandman Presents: Love Street – A runaway named Olli is befriended by a young John Constantine and enters into a world of the occult. At the same time the inhabitants of the Dreaming search for their vanished master.
- Sandman Presents: Merv Pumpkinhead, Agent of D.R.E.A.M. — A renegade dream breaks into Morpheus’ palace and steals some of the dream sand from his pouch. Pumpkin-headed servant Merv volunteers to track the dream down.
- Sandman Presents: Petrefax – The story of the undertaker Petrefax (a character introduced in ‘World’s End’).
- Sandman Presents: The Corinthian – Death in Venice – The story follows the Corinthian as he arrives in Venice. Takes place during Lord Morpheus’ long absence at the beginning of the series.
- Sandman Presents: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Dreams… But Were Afraid to Ask – A collection of short stories answering questions about dreams and The Dreaming.
- Sandman Presents: The Furies – After The Wake, a former victim of The Furies approaches Lyta Hall to help in his revenge.
- Sandman Presents: Thessaliad – A story about Thessaly, the last of the Thessalian witches and former lover of Dream (introduced in A Game of You).
- Sandman Presents: Thessaly – Witch for Hire – Another story with Thessaly, this time she’s pitched against Cupid and a few more monsters.
- Sandman Presents: Bast: Eternity Game – The Egyptian cat goddess Bast, dying and neglected, attempts a great comeback.
Did I make a mistake? Did I forget something? To help me to complete this reading guide, leave a comment!