Saturday, December 12, 2009

Absolute Sandman Volume 2

Absolute Sandman Volume 2
Written by Neil Gaiman
Edited by Karen Berger
1992 Eisner Winner for Best Single Issue or Story
1992, 1993 Eisner Winner for Best Continuing Series
1992, 1993 Eisner Winner for Best Writer
1992 Eisner Winner for Best Editor
1993 Eisner Winner for Best Publication Design for the Season of Mists trade paper back

The first year and a half of Sandman was the weakest of the series. There were some rough spots in the story telling and for a period the art was awful. Of course when you start out at terrific and that's the weakest part then what follows has to be absolutely spectacular. Volume two of the absolute editions contains what I consider to the be the high point of the series: the two best story arcs in the series and some wonderful single issue stories.

The first story arc in this volume is Season of Mists in which Dream realizes that condemning women who reject him to hell for all eternity is a bit of a jerk move and so sets out to release one of his former lovers from the abyss. Once there he becomes entangled in the most insidious scheme that the devil has ever created and finds himself the center of attention for the supernatural powers.

The other story arc is A Game of You in which a character who had been caught at the edges of an earlier story finds that the dreams that she lost are seeking her out in the real world. She is drawn into the dreamworld by them to overthrow a tyrant and her friends follow her in.

I can't decide which of these two stories are better. Season of Mists is the big fantasy novel filled with spectacular high concept ideas which Gaiman never allows to get in the way of the storytelling. A Game of You is the character arc where the live of residents of a Manhattan apartment building are detailed and then thrown into chaos. It's more personal than schemes of gods and demons. But then Seasons of Mist is a key portion of the narrative that carries the entire series while A Game of You is an interesting side show.

Also in this volume are the majority of the stories that were collected in Fables and Reflections and this is an instance where the original collections failed badly. Fables and Reflections contained all the single issue stories that there wasn't room for in other books. The problem with this is that they were not consecutive; they fell between story arcs and for most of them their placement was significant. They introduced concepts that would be touched on the following arc and revealed information at a gentle pace in their original form. Piling them all into one volume broke the pacing of the series and having them all restored to the original positions is a nice benefit.

The art, mainly provided by Kelly Jones and Shawn McManus, is for the most part up to the high standards set through the series. Unfortunately the last chapter of Season of Mists reverts to the scratchy, barely visible art that dominated The Doll's House. In earlier printings of the story it was so bad that some the text was unreadable but that has been corrected with Absolute Sandman.

Just because I think this is the high point of the series doesn't mean it's completely downhill from here. It just happens to be the portion that I think of as the best; the moment when everything came together perfectly. Season of Mists has been what I've used to hook people on Sandman in the past because it's straightforward and gives a feeling for the best of the series and A Game of You is a change of pace while still being just as good. There's still more great stuff to come, though.