Gaiman, Neil: (112) Sandman: Endless Nights

The Sandman: Endless Nights, written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by diverse others, is a collection of tales set in the Sandman universe, one story for each Endless. (Illustrated in the standard comic sense, that is, rather than a prose story with illustrations as The Dream Hunters was.) It’s somewhat of a mixed bag, but no more so than any of the prior Sandman collections. (I read this back in September and am only getting around to writing it up now.)

The first story, “Death and Venice,” is one of the better in the collection. Illustrated by P. Craig Russell, it’s not as jaw-droppingly beautiful as “Ramadan,” but it’s nevertheless highly pleasant to look at, with a central story that’s interesting even though we know what the ending must, inevitably, be. I do find the framing story a touch jarring, but that may be personal taste.

“What I’ve Tasted of Desire,” illustrated by Milo Manara, is okay. The most notable thing about it (besides the prevalence of nudity) is that it’s narrated in first-person retrospective over panels that depict the action in progress. Otherwise it didn’t particularly interest me.

Dream’s story is titled “The Heart of a Star,” and is illustrated by Miguelanxo Prado. In the introduction, Gaiman says, “While it is true that I am someone who prefers mysteries to explanations, I found it pleasurable here to explain a number of things.” I wish he’d stuck to the mysteries; the explanations are more anti-climactic than illuminating, and some of them strike me as implausible (Delight seems awfully Delirium-like, for instance, and my, was that a fast change of heart or what?).

“Fifteen Portraits of Despair” was designed by Dave McKean, with art by Barron Storey. I actually liked this one; several of the portraits stayed with me, as though the hook on Despair’s ring had caught my heart, which was the point. Mileage does seem to vary widely on it.

Maybe I’m weird, but I really liked the Delirium story “Going Inside,” illustrated by Bill Sienkiewicz. I found it charming and clever and sad, all at once. Saying more about it would spoil it.

The Destruction story, “On the Peninsula,” is illustrated by Glenn Fabry and gets an “ehhh.” It doesn’t add much to my understanding of any of the characters, or tell a compelling story—though I suppose to the extent that it’s about a woman who goes seeking Destruction and returns unscathed, it’s unexpected.

The last piece in the collection is about Destiny and is titled “Endless Nights.” Frank Quitely did the art, which is very pretty. You notice I haven’t called it a story, because it isn’t. It’s just telling us about Destiny, and not anything we didn’t know already, either. I have no idea what this is doing here.

Because this is positioned outside the main story arc, I instinctively view it in isolation, to its detriment. However, I don’t think the proportion of good stories is any worse than in other Sandman collections. I can’t recommend that casual readers buy it in hardcover, but I don’t regret buying and reading it.

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  1. The funny thing is that everyone agrees it’s a mixed bag; what we don’t agree about is what’s good and what’s bad about it! Personally, I suspect that one of the best things about it (it’s just such a big beautiful production) is one of the things that’s letting it in for some heavy criticism – the contents don’t live up to the presentation.

    I’m a McKean fan – I don’t always get what he’s doing, but when it works for me, it really does: and rather to my surprise, I loved what he’d done with the Barron Storey pictures, and suspect that Despair is probably the best thing in the book – the most powerful, certainly.

    My other favourite was Dream’s story: slighter, but rather sweet (oh, all right, I admit it, like 1602 it appeals to the fanboy in me).

    The Desire story made a neat point, that Desire is about wanting, not about getting – but it didn’t engage my emotions, or anything else (believe me, I’ve seen Manara I would not read in a public place, and this wasn’t it: a little nudity, a severed head, by Manara’s standards this is getting off lightly). The women were all uniformly beautiful, which means only that I had trouble telling them apart…

    Any trouble telling apart the two young women in Delirium’s story is entirely intentional, so that’s OK: and I did enjoy this one, again partly for the sheer pleasure of how it looked. I thought it was a bit hard on Sienkiewicz that it was published right next to Despair, which rather emphasised its “Barron Storey Lite” aspect –

    – which leads me off into all sorts of speculation about what I would have done differently if I’d been editing the book. Mostly, I’d have swapped round Glenn Fabry and Frank Quitely: imagine Destiny as a set of paintings, and Destruction in Quitely’s rather quirky narrative. It wouldn’t have made either of them a really strong story, but I think it would have gone some way to hide their weakness…

    But I’ve ranted for long enough. Thank you for indulging me (if you have, of course!)

  2. Oh good, I’m not the only person who initially had that confusion in the Delirium story.

    Destiny as a set of paintings might have been better too.

    Thanks for stopping by and ranting!

  3. Interesting. I actually got hooked on Sandman as a result of this book. I’d previously been a Gaiman novel fan, but unsure of graphic novels. Neither the Death, Destruction, Destiny or Dream stories did much for me without knowledge of the series. Prado’s artwork was gorgeous, but Dream’s story was a series of in-jokes. So my first reading of it was of a tepid affair at a boring conference with a lot of unintelligeable dialogue. Unfortunately, I did happen to be on a commuter train when I first flipped to the Desire story. Despair’s story, once I was in a mood to deal with it, I liked for the stories. The artwork didn’t reallly make an impression on me. Delerium’s was far and away my favorite. I loved the way the text and artwork interacted, and both were stunning. The way the portraits (of the girls especially) change based on how they are perceived by themselves and others was just awesome. It made me very disappointed that she didn’t have any stand-alone books like her older sister.

  4. Re: Sandman: Endless Nights: it’s interesting that so few of the stories really grabbed you, but it still hooked you on Sandman. Was the Delirium story so strong? There is a teeny tiny Delirium book, by Jill Thompson, called _The Little Endless Storybook_ (images). It’s very slight and cute.

  5. While the plots of Endless Nights weren’t complex, being one-shot portrait stories, it gave me a sense of the characters much more clearly than volume one of the actual series did. So I guess it gave me the motivation to slog past the production quality and really grotesque situations that happen in the first book. As far asthe Delerium story…I guess I was just really impressed at how the art and the story really worked together to convey things that neither one could have as well on their own. Like I mentioned above…the style in generally McKean-ish, but way the transition between left-brain monochrome lineart to beautifully rendered watercolor as the girl’s mental health improves just seemed so effective.

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