Monday, February 8, 2016

Preludes and Nocturnes

I'm not big on New Year's resolutions, but when I do set one I like to keep the bar nice and low. This year's resolution is to re-read the original run of the Sandman comics. I'm pretty sure I never read every single issue as they came out in the 90s, and I'm also fairly sure that I didn't read it in a strict order at the time.

The Sandman was the first comic series that I at least read semi-religiously; prior to that, I read a comic here and a comic there, but was never really devoted to picking up every issue as they came out. Will Sandman hold up to my amber-colored memories of being engrossed in it? Let's find out.

Aesthetically, I love the way the early sequences in which Morpheus is held captive by Roderick and Alex Burgess adopt the style and look of DC's horror comics from the 70s, and then effectively segues into Morpheus encountering Cain, Abel, Destiny, and the hosts of The Witching Hour

That those cameos are inserted in such an interesting and clever way rubs uncomfortably against the avalanche of cameos that follow. Some of these cameos work well (Doctor Destiny is especially well-appropriated as a villain--his occupation of the diner is easily one of the darker turns in the Sandman series) but others (John Constantine, Etrigan, fucking Martian Manhunter) feels a bit too much like fanservice and inclusions that exist just to let you know that you're in the DC Universe. My memory tells me that as the series progresses it becomes a bit more deft at reinventing DC characters and mixing them with characters of its own inventions, but we'll have to see how that plays out.

One thing I hadn't counted on before starting this re-read was how heavily the specter of AIDS/HIV would loom in the background of the narrative. It's easy to forget it now, but at the time Sandman was coming out the disease was a predominant, era-defining anxiety. I'd hazard to guess that the Death Talks About Life mini-comic taught a lot of people about AIDS awareness and how to put on a condom because that specter was always in the shadows.

Speaking of Death, Preludes & Nocturnes concludes with "The Sound of Her Wings," which was the first bit of Sandman I got hold of. In retrospect, it's a weird place to start: it's a bridge between the just-concluded arc of Morpheus regaining his tools and the next arc about Morpheus chasing down errant dreams. Still, reading it again makes it clear why it inspired me to go back and read what I had missed; "The Sound of Her Wings" was like a revelation that comics could be so much more than how we usually imagine them within the strata of pop culture.