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Sandman #18

by Neil Gaiman, DC Comics. Reviewed by David Carroll

First Appeared in Burnt Toast#5, 1990

To let me sleep tonight
Mr. Sandman
With your sandbag
It's a big bag
Dust my bed tonight, yeah!
Mr Sandman
I'm a big fan
Number one fan
Let me crash tonight.
          Mr. Sandman
          James Reyne

Kai Chul, Sandman, the Lord of Dreams, is immortal.

Not good or evil, or necessarily cruel or necessarily kind, not infallible, and certainly not human. He is extremely powerful, and subject to mood swings that can seriously threaten those around him. He is not the sort of person you would want as an enemy, and you may think twice about him being your friend. Even the form he takes can depend on those who view him. But he has his own motives and values, he has those he loves, and perhaps in the end he simply does the best he can.

By contrast, Neil Gaiman is perfectly normal, though by other reckonings he can seem pretty strange (then again, so can James Reyne, and I don't have anything against either of them). His work includes a Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy companion, a book of dreadful SF quotes, and he has just co-written the serious but excruciatingly funny Good Omens with Terry Pratchett. Comic readers might remember Black Orchid [1], a beautiful and controversial (well, John Laws didn't like it) graphic novel written by Gaiman a couple of years back. Still not content with one or two mediums he is also working on another project for DC, The Book of Magic, which will include short stories and poetry, and he's even planning a movie [2].

In all that he's written, diverse as it is, one noticeable thing stands out, and that is he can write some extremely disturbing stories. There are undercurrents of humour, and hints of other genres as well, but basically the guy writes horror, and he's very good at it. Which brings us to Sandman.

The review issue, #18, published in August, is subtitled A Dream of a Thousand Cats. It has practically nothing to do with any other Sandman comic, being the tale of one cats odyssey to save his race from the tyranny of humanity. By contrast #17 concerned a modern writer who 'buys' his own personal muse, and #19 will be about William Shakespeare. That is the most important aspect of Sandman comics, it is a series of short tales, with the occasional longer story (#10-16 was one story called Doll House) thrown in. The continuing thread among all of the is, of course, the Sandman, and thus Gaiman has given us the best of both worlds, an incredible amount of variety but with the development of a strong and enigmatic central character, background, personal relationships and all (hmmm, that sounds familiar).

As a single issue, #18 is very good, giving us a cat's eye view of the world. Told from the view of a Siamese, who seeks out the Cat of Dreams to try and understand the death of her litter at human hands, and the young kitten who believes the Siamese's message of a possible world under feline rule, Gaiman shows the same skills at characterisation as his does with his humans and immortals. The artwork itself suits the comic beautifully, technically excellent and full of sombre colours. Even better, the artist has obviously found some real cats to sketch because they not only look real, but thoroughly gorgeous, the kitten in particular (and being a cat lover myself, that was worth the admission in itself).

But as a series, Sandman is simply excellent. It's a very introspective kind of horror, not relying on gore or action (though it more then lives up to it's mature reader classification -- at times it can be very, very nasty), but ideas and characterisation.

More then enough reason to pop down to your local comic shop.


[1] No, not that Black Orchid

[2] This info provided by Cold Colours, an interview with Mr. Gaiman in Fear magazine, issue 14. If you haven't seen Fear you should take a look, an excellently produced, and intelligent, monthly look at the horror genre with reviews, interviews, articles and lotsa fiction.


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