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The Sandman: Endless Nights By Matt Martin
DC Comics/Vertigo Ė Neil Gaiman (w); Various (a)
If youíve read Gaimanís epic, landmark series, The Sandman, and you meet someone else who has read it as well (and in this industry, or this hobby, thatís not altogether uncommon, by any means), Iíve always found it interesting to ask them which arc of the book is their favorite.
It should be noted that I was interested in Sandman at the time it was serialized, but also in middle school, and sufficiently aware of my own shortcomings enough to realize that I wouldnít appreciate it if I tried to read it. So I didnít read the trades until I got back into comics in 2000. Hence, I tend to think of the story as being broken into ten separate pieces and define them as such (despite the fact that the trades do not collect the individual issues in strictly sequential order).
My personal favorite was, at the time I originally read them, and remains today, Fables and Reflections. Now some people will tell you that The Dollís House was where Gaiman really made a name for himself or that Worldís End is nothing short of brilliant, but for me, itís always been all about Fables and Reflections. Because that was where the genius of Sandman hit me like all those bullets hit Sonny at the tollbooth. I think it was the idea that I held in my hands a collection that was simultaneously part of an ongoing story and yet at the same time nothing more and nothing less than a completely unrelated series of one-off stories, all tied together by the most tenuous of plot threads.
This, to me, was a big deal.
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I mean, sure, Morpheus is less than absent from the stories contained in the trade. But at the same time, heís not really the center of attention (not that heís necessarily front and center all the time in the rest of the series, but you get the idea). The characters that would be bit players in any other series take center stage for a while in stories that, at the time, didnít seem to be all that relevant to the bigger picture (but obviously, the bits with Orpheus are pretty damned important in the end). No, it just seemed like Gaiman had some good short stories to tell and that he worried about telling the story first, then fitting it into the Sandman mythos second.
And thatís pretty much what Endless Nights boils down to as well.
Thereís no longer a big picture for him to paint; heís already painted it. So this also must have been incredibly liberating, as a storyteller, to just sit down and tell whatever kind of story strikes your fancy (though, as Iíve already mentioned, Gaiman was never one to stick to the rules of sequential art). And thatís basically what he does.
There are seven stories, by seven different artists, one for each member of the Endless family. Theyíve all got merit, unsurprisingly. Some are better than others (Iím partial to the first three, myself), naturally, but theyíre all beautifully crafted, both in regards to the prose that narrates them, the dialogue that propels them and the artwork that brings them to life. And the stories are all over the map, as far as plots are concerned. Some are more abstract than others, like Barron Storey's ďFifteen Portraits of Despair,Ē a piece so heartbreaking that I thought about putting the book down to read something with Batman in it, just to lighten my mood. Others are seemingly more whimsical at times, like ďThe Heart of a Star,Ē the story by Miguelanxo Prado that is sprinkled with references to the core DC Universe, a throwback to the early days of the series, prior to the founding of Vertigo.
In the end though, Endless Nights is a hard book to review, because no matter how long I talk about it, Iím not going to be able to capture the ephemeral something that makes it such a work of genius. Itís the kind of book that deserves to be read in one sitting, at night, when things are quiet. And afterwards, you just take a little time to sit on your front porch and mull it over and it just keeps seeming better and better the more you think about it. Itís a book that makes you realize that this is what people are talking about when they say that comic books, our beloved pop cultural bastard child, can be art. And I mean Art with a capital A.
To rephrase, Endless Nights is something that any intelligent comics fan should be ashamed to not having sitting on their bookshelf, itís that good.