Neil Gaiman, Neil Gaiman's Midnight Days (Vertigo, 2000)
This trade paperback brings together four solo one-shots by Neil Gaiman and a collaboration with Matt Wagner, "Midnight Days." (which was previously published as a standalone volume). In the volume introduction, Gaiman himself describes these stories as "curiosities and oddments" and they are, in the sense that they're largely unrelated, and here, unmoored from their original context. Nonetheless, they're still delightful gems worth a look-see.
The first three stories revolve around characters from Swamp Thing. The first, "Jack in the Green," features Swamp Thing himself in the time of the black plague. It's a simple, but poignant story, following Swamp Thing as he tends to a human friend who is dying of the plague, and the former's ruminations on life, death and the forces of nature. The script for this story dates to 1985, after Gaiman's first meeting with Alan Moore, but the actual comic didn't get drawn until this collection -- Stephen Bissette does the honors.
The next two stories hail from Swamp Thing Annual. "Brother" revives an old DC character (the titular Brother) and casts him, per Gaiman, as the "final remnant of flower power." Swamp Thing's beloved, a very pregnant Abby, makes an appearance, drawn into the government's attempts to deal with a giant-sized Brother, who's fresh from a long stint in orbit and quite out of control. Two other Swamp Thing characters, Chester Williams and Lizabeth Tremayne, also put in an appearance.
"Shaggy Dog Stories," which pairs Gaiman with Mike Mignola for the first time, wraps up the Swamp Thing stories. This brief comic features Jason Woodrue (the Floronic Man), a villain from early in Moore's stint at Swamp Thing. Here, Woodrue, accompanied by his pet . . . Venus Flytrap, Milton, has come to petition the Erl-Kings for the answer to some questions. Of course, you don't always get what you want, and Woodrue departs the Green sans Milton, or any definitive answers. In the introduction, Gaiman says this story would've been the beginning to "a huge and strange storyline" had he actually taken over Swamp Thing. As it is, it's an amusing standalone.
Next up is issue 27 of Hellblazer, "Hold Me," which Gaiman states in is perhaps his favorite of the short stories he's written And while it may not be the unwritten story he teases us about in the intro to "Jack in the Green" (involving John Constantine and the contents of his fridge), it is marvelous, capturing John's isolation and need to connect -- much like anyone else -- poignantly. Stephen Bissette's art is a great complement to Gaiman's story of a homeless man so desperate for human contact and affection he lingers beyond death.
Closing out the volume is a longer story, "Midnight Days," a tale of two different Sandman Gaiman worked on with Matt Wagner (art by Teddy Kristiansen). The time is 1939 -- Morpheus, Dream -- is still a captive of Roderick and Alex Burgess at Fawney Rigg, as laid out in Gaiman's original Sandman. This leaves Wesley Dodds, the Golden Age Sandman, as the story's primary character. Dodd has come to England ostensibly on the trail of a case, but also to hopefully run into his ex-girlfriend Dian who's working at a charity. Dodd's case, Dian's social life -- and Dream -- cross paths at an exclusive party at Fawney Rigg, where mysterious things are indeed afoot. The tone of "Midnight Days" is (thanks in large part to Kristiansen's art) moody and atmospheric, and Dodds is a mild-mannered, but engaging, character.
One doesn't need to be a Gaiman completist to enjoy "Midnight Days." Fans of Hellblazer and Swamp Thing should also find this collection of "curiosities and oddments" quite delightful.