The first book of The Sandman series starts with the magical (and mistaken) imprisonment of the Sandman, Lord of the dream realm, also variously known as Dream, Morpheus, Oneiros, Kai’ckul and many other names. The book doesn’t give you a minute to absorb the magnitude of this idea at all but drops you right into a story with dramatic flourishes, spanning over 70 years, multiple realms and various characters from fiction, fantasy & folklore.
The Sandman is captured by a bunch of wizards hoping to trap Death instead. In a quandary over their powerful prisoner, they decide to keep him enchained. The effect of this is felt all over the world with people falling into a ‘sleep sickness’. After Dream manages to escape, he goes in search of his tools – his helmet, a ruby and his pouch of dream sand. Along the way, he encounters the destruction caused to his own realm, the escape of several wayward dream figures. He also meets John Constantine (another DC comics character), duels with a demon in Lucifer’s Hell and battles with a psychotic killer called Doctor Dee, for his ruby.
The artwork is gristly and rough-edged, presumably to convey the acute experiences of Dream in this tale. It also has an odd superhero comic feel to it, which disappears later in the series (except for an occasional resurfacing here and there in a story).
Perhaps because of the powerful narrative and strong characters, you never stop to wonder what it all means till much later, but just go along with Dream’s adventures as you would any other character. But lines like “I am hope” (from ‘A Hope in Hell’) stay with you long after the page has been turned.
If you’re not a comic book or superhero fan, don’t let the nuances of these put you off Sandman. The story rises above these genres and really grows in the later books. This is definitely one of the masterpieces of our generation.