Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, I’m a very excited comics bunny – among the latest arrivals for New Comics Day tomorrow I spotted a large, dark tome: volume two of the Absolute Sandman. Geekgasm alert. Among the twenty-odd issues of the Sandman collected in this huge tome are the A Game of You story arc (which Neil once commented was sort of his favourite, partly because it seemed to be most reader’s least favourite chapter – I’ve come to like that chapter more with re-readings than I did initially) and the superlative Season of Mists.
I recall the Doll’s House (in the first Absolute volume) being the point where I realised that this then-new monthly comic was very different and deeper than I had thought, but it was with Season of Mists I think I fell in love with the series (and cribbing from Keats, never a bad thing in my book). I loved the central conceit of this tale, of Lucifer, tired of reigning in Hell for millions of year, kicking out all the Damned and Demons, locking the gates, handing Dream the key and quitting his post (and thereby setting up a character Mike Carey would take quite a few years later and rework to great acclaim for his own series) and then using this to bring in a pantheon of various deities and supernatural beings from Odin to Bast to Shivering Jemmy of the Shallow Brigade and the Forces of Order (incarnate as a sacred cardboard box) and hovering over them all angels from the Silver City. If it doesn’t make you want to pick up a good book on world folklore to read more about some of those characters then there is something wrong with you.
Reading it the first time round in comics form I found it demanded re-readings (I’m re-reading it still and will be yet again when I buy myself this new volume) – Neil’s now-signature layering of story upon story interleaved with references to poetry, religion and world folklore and myth. Myth in one form or another underpins many of the best stories, regardless of the medium, and here it was a younger Gaiman showed how well he could use myth in a tale. In fact I also found myself going back again and again over the years to re-read it not just for Neil’s ideas and words but for the quite gorgeous, ethereal artwork. This second Absolute volume contains artwork from a plethora of the Great and the Good of our beloved medium – Bryan Talbot, John Bolton, Mike Dringenberg, Matt Wagner, P Craig Russell and Kelley Jones among others – and naturally that beautiful cover artwork from Dave McKean. A roster of art like that is almost worth the price in and of itself and the oversized format and restored art of the Absolute edition means you get to drink it all in as never before. I love it when a book becomes a work of art not just for the carefully crafted words or the achingly beautiful artwork but for the actual physical book itself, and this is a gorgeous tome that you will take pleasure in just from seeing it on your shelves. There’s nothing wrong with that, it isn’t judging a book by its appearance, it’s just taking simple pleasure in something beautifully made. You want it. You know you do. Turn the Key and open that door.