Absolute Sandman Volume 3
Written by Neil Gaiman
1994 Eisner Winner for Best Writer
Art for Sandman #50 by P. Craig Russel
1994 Eisner Winner for Best Penciller/Inker
Edited by Karen Berger
Tied for 1994 Eisner Winner for Best Editor
I started reading the regular issues of Sandman with the Brief Lives arc. I had mostly caught up with the series. That means that this volume is where my issues start to overlap with the book. Which means at this point I've bought these issues at least three times over (four times over for a few of them). Fortunately I doubt that there will be any better edition in the future so the Absolute Edition should last rest of my life.
Again there's two major story arcs and a handful of individual issues in this book. In Brief Lives Dream is convinced by his sister Delirium to hunt for their missing brother who abandoned his office centuries before. They find that their journey is complicated by traps that are harming those around them as they search. The other major arc in this volume is World's End which is not really an arc. It's more of Gaiman's homage to The Canterbury Tales. Traveler are finding themselves delayed by a storm breaking reality and seek shelter in an inn. Though they are all from different worlds they spend their time sharing their tales.
It's strange for me to think of the beginning of this as the half-way mark in Sandman. The plotting always makes me think of these stories as a kind of climax followed by the wrapping up. Brief Lives concludes with the pieces set in place for the end of the story and then World's End is a short breather before the action concludes. Despite covering a year and half worth of issues it feels that very little happens here. You could cut the important bits of Brief Lives down to a few pages (assuming you define important bits as how much they affect the overall story arc).
Which isn't to say that these stories aren't good. It's just that they're more focused on filling in the edges of the world that Gaiman has created and just telling interesting stories about stories. It's in World's End that the theme of Sandman is explicitly spelled out. It was there before and that is the only time it is placed on center stage.
Sandman #50 which was singled out for its own award was a single story in which the ruler of an Arabian Nights style Baghdad bargains with dream so that the city can exist at the height of its glory forever. P. Craig Russel's artwork is magnificent as you might expect as he captures the wonders of the city.
The big change that occurred at this point was Karen Berger using Sandman to spearhead a new imprint. Sandman was part of the wave of comics for mature readers and DC Comics finally decided to gather these books under one banner: Vertigo. That imprint is still going strong and remains a place for similar books such as Fables. Editorially nothing changed for Sandman, the new imprint however made it clear that books like Sandman were something that DC Comics wanted to publish.
This book is mainly a bridge between the strong arcs that formed the heart of the story in the second volume and the conclusion in the fourth. The single issues (which were collected in Fables and Reflections and World's End) aren't a bad introduction to the series. I may have started reading the issues with Brief Lives but I read most of the earlier issues first and it would not make sense without that context. Which makes this book a connection rather than something that I could recommend on its own.