Welcome to my first comic review of Wyrd & Wonder and what a comic to review.
I wish I’d been there when Sandman had been first published. I wish I was a big comics fan so I could tell you what it was like going from superheroes to this twisted landscape. I’ve seen glimpses; there’s a Something Positive strip in which a character recounts how a father and son with a strained relationship bonded over comics, and an exchange that goes something like this:
Father: That doesn’t look like the Sandman.
Son: That’s because it’s Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.
Father: Well, it looks like he needs one of Fred McIntyre’s haircuts.
But I didn’t live it.
Still, this is my Sandman experience.
Sandman was one of the first comics I read, excluding the Beano and the Dandy as a kid. I never got into superhero stories. I’d have probably never read it if it wasn’t for Neil Gaiman’s reputation as a novelist for which I’m very glad, as it turned into my gateway.
And it’s this particular collection, the very first set of issues, that lived longest in my memory and forged that interest.
I find myself talking a lot about mood and atmosphere these days. Call it the direction of the story; the design slant of all things within it; the values projected; it encompasses all these things. There’s good writing and bad writing, good characterisation and bad characterisation – I believe this firmly, that there is a hint of objectivity to these definitions – but a huge amount of why we see good or bad depends on the mood of something and how receptive that is, how it sets our expectations.
It is impossible to talk about Sandman without talking mood. It broods. It goes through periods of quiet drifting through the places that we think should be there but aren’t before suddenly snapping into action. Sometimes it soothes before bringing in the sharp taste of nightmare; sometimes, the nightmare grows and grows in almost casual fashion until challenged. Decay and possibility are everywhere. I’ve avoided using the term dreamlike so far but – well – unsurprisingly, the story of the personification of Dream has a dreamlike quality.
The glory of Preludes & Nocturnes is burying yourself into that mood, that world, for the first time. It’s a place of modern fairy tales and fantastical horror, where the borders to what we think could be true but hope isn’t are very thin. That’s all over the opening stories, which fit neatly into a narrative of how Morpheus – Dream – came to be imprisoned and lose the artifacts in which his power resided. Some of the challenges are easier than others; all have that brooding, weird quality to them. The most affecting and powerful is that of Doctor Destiny, but my favourite is that of how Dream came to be captured and then escape to begin with; it’s a story that seems to encompass so much of humanity.
I bemoaned not being able to put Sandman in its true historical place in the opening. Well, I can’t, but then neither can anyone reading it for the first time appreciate it the same way either. There’s so much at large today influenced by Gaiman and his Gothic-tinged mythology. I know that I discovered works influenced by Sandman before I discovered Sandman. And you know what? Rereading Preludes & Nocturnes still felt fresh, wowing, and entrancing.
Hopefully you’ll give it a chance and find it so too.