Neil Gaiman, Absolute Sandman -- Volume Two (Vertigo, 2007)

Ahhhh, what a lovely thing to read as the weather gets cold around here. What I am talking about is the perfect Winter Holiday gift for any Neil Gaiman fan, if he or she hasn't already ordered it for themselves. If they have and you didn't get volume one for yourself last year when it came out, go buy both now on Amazon for 30% off on each volume! You'll have weeks of superb reading when these volumes arrive at your door.

I first encountered Sandman when I picked up and read the trade paperbacks of the first issues of Sandman a few years back, Gaiman I knew well as a writer -- Stardust, Neverwhere, American Gods, and his various short story collections such as Fragile Things and M is for Magic were all wonderful reads, but I must admit I wasn't at all impressed with the Sandman series when I read but a few of the trade paper editions -- the printing technology of that time sucked royally and it showed on those reproduced pages -- shitty paper, lousy inks, and truly poor colors when printed made for a lousy reading experience for me, as it did when I recently read the first trade volume of John Constantine, but Absolute Sandman -- Volume Two is quite another experience altogether, as was the first volume when I read it just about a year ago!

Just how good is the artwork as compared to when it was released as single issues and in trade paper format? The More Light blog has a look at a panel here. See the difference? Rather impressive, isn't it? As noted in the blog, the difference is the shitty inking job the first time: 'Doran's account in Hanging Out with the Dream King, is that Doran's pencils were inked by George Pratt, who did a rush job in just two days before going on vacation. Doran was understandably furious, but with the publication of this Absolute Sandman volume she finally got the opportunity to ink the issue herself.' This re-inking is indicative of a first class job by everyone, including Neil Gaiman as writer and Dave McKean, who designed the cover, as he did for both of these volumes.

These volumes are very big. Think of them as being like the tomes Lucien the Librarian keeps in The Library of The Dreaming -- more than mere artifacts, they feel and look like a Grimoire would. As Neil said in a Comic-Con interview, 'I have a copy of it on my table, and it's far and away the most beautiful thing that I think I've ever seen. It's absolutely, astonishingly gorgeous. It's hard to explain how gorgeous it is to be holding one. And it's 600 pages long and it's shiny paper and we got to recolor almost all of it. We didn't recolor the two stories at the end because we liked them—there wasn't anything to fix. But we recolored the first 18 issues. I mean it was lovely, it's just this big, remarkable, rather intimidating book.' When all four volumes exist by late 2009, they will easily be the single most impressive project ever done of a series of this nature.

Volume Two reprints issues 21-39 of the Sandman series and has art by Shawn McManus, Kelley Jones, Mike Dringenberg, Bryan Talbot, John Watkiss, Matt Wagner, Stan Woch, Colleen Doran, Duncan Eagleson, John Bolton, Malcolm Jones III, George Pratt, Dick Giordano, P. Craig Russell and Vince Locke (with brand new inks by Colleen Doran on her issue #34), and features re-colored art throughout, a couple of as-yet-unprinted stories by Gaiman, the complete 'Gallery of Dreams' reprinted, and complete script and pencil art for Kelley Jones' issue #23. I'm always impressed by the sheer volume of material that the any Absolute edition has in it -- be it this with Neil's odd look at all of the Sandman statues or, say, the first volume of Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which had an entire second book of scripts!

Have I noted that Neil's writing is spot on here? Just savor this toast to Dreaming as he departs to take on Hell Itself to correct a wrong he did: 'To absent friends, lost loves, old gods, and the season of mists. And may each and every one of us always give the devil his due.' Sandman represents Gaiman at his very peak of writing -- sharp and a sense of humor that's just this side of really weird. And the various illustrators are more than capable at making Gaiman's scripts work as illustrated tales.

The bottom line is it's worth every penny of that full price, let alone the steeply discounted price online, as there are hours upon hours of reading enjoyment here. Go buy it now, settle in to a comfortable chair with a good light, and look forward to many an evening of incredible storytelling.

[Cat Eldridge]