Like many people, I love Neil Gaiman. But I’m ashamed to say that until recently I never read any of his comic books. I enjoy comics, but don’t often go out of my way to read them. Right now I’m a little hooked but I’m not sure how well others will fare in my opinion now that I’ve read the Sandman series.
The story of Morpheous, or Dream of the Endless, gives us a world more ancient and fantastic than anything that I have seen before. Several realities are explored, people throughout history and myths appear, and of course there are appearances by several other DC characters, most notably Fury. The ten-volume run lasted from 1989 until 1996. Endless Nights was released in 2003. I’m not sure if it should be addressed as volume 11 or as a separate book, I have seen it listed both ways. Honestly, this series deserves a lot better write up than I can offer, but I will do my best and try to keep it as spoiler-free as possible.
Preludes and Nocturnes: In 1916 England, a powerful magician casts a spell to trap Death in an effort to become immortal. Instead, Roderick Burgess captures and imprisons Death’s brother Dream of the Endless until 1988. Dream refuses to speak with his captures, he just patiently waits for one of them to slip up so that he can escape. When he is captured, people all over the world get what is eventually called ‘sleepy sickness.’ These people spend more and more of their lives asleep, until the point where they never wake. When Dream does finally escape and punish his captures, he is severely weakened and missing his stolen tools. The rest of the volume is devoted to his quest to retrieve these tools: his pouch of sand, his helm, and his ruby. This book has the largest amount of DC characters, including Batman, Martian Manhunter, Scarecrow, and Doctor Destiny, the last of which causes several problems. In the final chapter Death is introduced, one of the most likeable characters of the series.
The Doll’s House: This volume opens with a story from Dream’s past, his relationship with a queen named Nada who is briefly shown in Preludes and Nocturnes. After her story, we are introduced to Desire and Despair, two more of the Endless, both of them plotting against Dream. Their plan involves Rose Walker, the granddaughter of Unity Kincaid, one of the many who was inflicted with sleepy sickness. Rose is searching for her brother Jed and is an unwitting threat to the dream world. Meanwhile Dream is trying to restore his kingdom, which has fallen into disrepair since his imprisonment. In the middle of the main story is another peek into Dream’s past in “Men of Good Fortune,” where we first meet the immortal Hob.
Dream Country: Included here are four short stories that all involve Dream in some way. The first is “Calliope” about the ancient Greek muse who has been imprisoned by a writer, Erasmus Fry, who trades her to another writer, Richard Madoc, who has been struggling to complete a follow-up to his first hit book. Madoc keeps her captive and rapes her repeatedly. Calliope eventually calls on Dream to help her out of her situation. The next story is “Dream of a Thousand Cats” where a Siamese cat gives an inspirational speech to other cats around the world, asking them to pass on her tale in an effort to correct an imbalance. “A Midsummers Night Dream” is about the premiere of the titular play, which was commissioned by Dream in exchange for help with Shakespeare’s skill as a writer. The play is preformed in front of the Faerie, a few of whom are depicted in the play. The final story is “Façade” stars Uriana Blackwell, a lesser-known DC character, who hates her life and “freakish” appearance. Blackwell is visited by Death, who heard her crying, and is offered a solution to her problems if she wants it.
Seasons of Mists: A meeting between the Endless results in Dream becoming convinced that his treatment of his former lover Nada was unjust. He resolves to ask Lucifer to release Nada, but is instead granted the keys to Hell itself after Lucifer decides to retire. This creates chaos, as many demons and gods want Hell for their own and try to convince Dream to give it to them. Each petitioner has something to offer Dream for Hell, one of them even stealing Nada.
A Game of You: The collection centers on Barbie, previously seen in The Doll’s House. Barbie is now divorced from Ken and has not been able to Dream since the events with Rose Walker. As a result the Land from her Dream has been abandoned and is in great peril. Barbie must try to save the Land from the mysterious Cuckoo. The other residents of Barbie’s apartment building try to help her after being attacked by one of the Cuckoo’s agents.
Fables and Reflections: A collection of nine short stories, the first “Fear of Falling” which is extremely short, is about a theater director dealing with the fear of success or failure over his new play. “Three Septembers and a January” is about the emperor of the United States. “Thermidor” features Lady Joanna Constantine trying to help Dream’s son Orpheus escape the French Revolution. “The Hunt” is a fairy tale from the old country that a grandfather tells to his disinterested granddaughter. “August” consists of the memoirs of Lycius, a dwarf who disguises himself as a beggar with Augustus Caesar, while the later plans for the future of the Roman Empire. In “Soft Places” Marco Polo gets stuck in between dream and reality. “Orpheus” is the story of Dream’s son, an interesting take on the myth. “Parliament of Rooks” is about a trip to the Dreaming taken by Daniel Hall, son of Lyta who was first introduced in volume two. Daniel is picked up by Eve and gets to hear tales from her, Cain, and Abel. In the final story “Ramadan” Haroun Al Raschid asks Dream how he can preserve his beautiful city, Baghdad.
Brief Lives: One of the Endless, Destruction, left the family some time ago. Dream is recovering from a recent break-up and is dragged into the search for his brother with Delirium after the rest of the family turns her down. Every person that they turn to for answers ends up dead and eventually Dream has no one else to turn to except his son Orpheus who requests a favor in exchange for his help.
World’s End: Brent and Charlene are traveling to Chicago when they get caught up in a reality storm. They wait out the storm at a mysterious inn, World’s End, where they meet with people from different times and realities and share stories. In “A Tale of Two Cities” a man one day is transported into another version of the city that he lives in. “Cluracan’s Tale” is about the titular fairy’s mission for his queen. “Hob’s Leviathan” is told by a young sailor who describes an encounter with our favorite immortal human. “The Golden Boy” features Prez Rickard, the youngest president of the U.S. and his life spent trying to do the right thing. In “Cerements” an apprentice from Litharge talks about learning his trade, rituals for the dead.
The Kindly Ones: Lyta has been trying to live a nice quiet life but when her son Daniel is kidnapped and she is told that Dream is responsible, she loses all sanity and calls on The Furies for revenge. Dream’s enemies are plotting against him and there is plenty of danger coming for him and the Dreaming. Many characters return and a lot of dangling storylines are resolved with this collection, the largest and most interesting (to me anyway).
The Wake: Now that the Dream we have known is dead, the new aspect of him is trying to adjust to his role during the wake. Characters from the series come to the Dreaming for the wake, some intentionally, others not, to pay their respects. The last three sections of the volume are separate stories as an epilogue. “Sunday Mourning” follows Hob at a renaissance fair with his girlfriend. Hob complains about the inaccuracies and chats with Death about her brother. “Exiles” is similar to “Soft Places” in that it follows a former advisor to the Chinese emperor who becomes lost in the soft places and encounters Dream fresh out of his imprisonment. “The Tempest” is about Dream’s second commission from Shakespeare and the later years of the playwright’s life.
Endless Nights: Written a while after the series completed, this volume has a story for each of the Endless. In “Death and Venice” Death is stuck outside a gate that she cannot open on her own. Meanwhile a group of Venetians from the past has a never-ending party protected from Death. “What I’ve Tasted of Desire” is the story of a woman who asked Desire to help her win the man that she loves over all of his other conquests. “The Heart of a Star” is set far in the past, when Dream was in a relationship with Killalla of the Glow. This story shows the Endless with personalities that are almost the opposite of the ones we have known. “Fifteen Portraits of Despair” are vignettes of people in despair, some more disturbing than others. In “Going Inside” Delirium is lost in her own world. Characters that we have met before and several mentally unbalanced people go on a mission to save her. “On the Peninsula” has Destruction and Delirium becoming involved in an archeological dig where pieces from the future have turned up. The final tale “Endless Nights” shows Destiny wandering in his garden.
This series was simply amazing; I enjoyed all but a few of the short stories. There were a lot of different artists through out the series, which makes sense considering how long it ran. While I enjoyed most of the artwork, it was sometimes a little jarring to go between artists, especially when they had a noticeably different vision for the characters. The writing was superb, but I am a little biased because, again, I am a huge Gaiman fan. There was drama, humor, intrigue, history, and myth, everything that I could ask for in a series. I highly recommend this series to anyone that enjoys Gaiman, good storytelling, or graphic novels with a fantasy theme. So, pretty much to everyone I know should read this.