Top 10 original issues of Neil Gaiman's Sandman

Categories: Comics

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The Sandman is about stories. Some are woven together throughout the series, while others stand alone. In his early years writing comics, Gaiman tapped into a realm that was simultaneously all too real and just out of reach. Vacillating between the Dreaming, the "real world," and plenty of other realms, Gaiman mastered the art of making even the most fantastic of stories so positively human.

Twenty-five years after penning The Sandman, Gaiman has returned to the Dreaming with a prologue to the series, Overture. To celebrate, and to catch ourselves up again, we've scoured the 10 original volumes for some must-read stories.

It should be noted that though we're partial to the amazing story arc in Season of Mists (like pretty much every other Sandman fan out there), when we looked back through the issues, the stand-alone genius of so many of Dream Country's stories suddenly became all too apparent. Thus, there might be a disproportionate number of those issues on this list, so sorry. (But we're not really sorry, as they're worth the read both on their own and as part of the greater Sandman series.)

We also feel compelled to say that you should really just start at issue one and keep on reading until you're finished. However, if you need to catch up the absolute best of the best from The Sandman, we've collected our favorites for you to check out.

See also:
The dark night returns for Neil Gaiman [Cover Story]
The Sandman costume guide

10. The Kindly Ones Part 4 #60
This one probably doesn't rank high on everyone's lists, but we're gunning for it anyways. Part of the long string of storylines throughout The Kindly Ones that Gaiman modeled on Greek tragedy form, you'll run into plenty of old friends in this chapter, and everything just fits. From the moment that the angel Remiel comes to Earth to chat with a surly, sarcastic Lucifer in his nightclub (because, yes, of course that's what he's up to now) to seeing spunky Rose Walker again to every single moment Hippolyta searches for her baby, Daniel, while hovering between the Dreaming and the harsh real world. This is part of the penultimate volume of The Sandman, and loose ends are being found, tied up, and untied again, but it's such sweet sorrow all along the way. And oh yeah, the Corinthian makes his triumphant return.

9. Men of Good Fortune #19
What would you do if you could live forever without the fear of death? Hob Gadling finds out when he strikes a deal with Dream to meet up every 100 years in the same place. Through thick and thin, Hob makes his way back to the tavern century after century, having lived yet another lifetime too many. Despite all the hardship he endures (getting through the plague years, for one), he doesn't seek death. We also find out that it can get lonely being one of the Endless, and sometimes it's nice to have a friend to meet up with once in a while.

8. Season of Mists: Chapter Two #23
Lucifer takes Dream along with him as he prepares to close up the Gates of Hell, emptied of its sufferers and demons. This version of Lucifer, reminiscent of the fallen angel in Paradise Lost, is charismatic and blunt, and enough of a character to launch his own spinoff comic series. As you tour hell with Dream, you see the suffering inherent in such a "godless" place. In the end, Lucifer cuts off his impish wings and hands the key over to Dream, a literally hellish burden on its new keeper who now has to find a new steward for the realm.

7. 24 Hours #6
"Hour 1: The flies walked into the web." And so begins what is easily one of the most terrifying stories in the Sandman series, if not in general. Set in a typical 24-hour diner, this issue chronicles the descent of the patrons into confusion, despair, madness, and ultimately violence. Each of the people in the diner, from the waitress wannabe-writer to the sweet regular worrying about a fight with her girlfriend, have their own stories and lives. And yet, through the power of Morpheus's ruby and an all-too-twisted man's exploits after escaping from Arkham Asylum (yep, the one from Batman), everyone plunges deeper and deeper into their minds and nightmares.

6. A Dream of a Thousand Cats #18
Doesn't it seem like most cats just sleep the day away under a sunny spot in a window? You might look at your napping cat a little differently after reading this story. In a beautiful one-off issue, neighborhood cats flock to the town cemetery to hear a traveling cat's tale of justice and redemption in the Dreaming after her kittens are thrown into a river. "Dreams create the world anew every night," and if enough of you -- cat, human, or creature -- dream hard enough and long enough your dreams might come true.

5. Ramadan #50
Ramadan draws from the rich storytelling tradition of One Thousand and One Arabian Nights, beginning in the lavish city of Baghdad where you can practically smell the spices and the desert dust in the market right off the page. Lettered expertly by P. Craig Russell, this piece is a story within a story, as a young boy listens to a tale from an old man in the contemporary, war-torn city. When the historic ruler of Baghdad loses sleep over how painfully perfect his city is -- for perfection never seems to last, does it? -- he calls upon Morpheus to preserve its wonders. In his own way, Morpheus does, and the memory of what the city once was is all the richer for it.

4. An Epilogue, Sunday Mourning #73
It's not explicitly stated in the story, but you'll see in Michael Zulli's expertly rendered illustrations that Gaiman based this Ren Fest off of the one in Minnesota. Hob Gadling returns, mourning an old friend while his girlfriend dresses up in old-timey garb. To top it all off, Hob hates Ren Fests. There's no nostalgia in a bunch of people donning fake Cockney accents and selling spinach pies. There's no feces lining the streets, no plague, none of the things he'd actually lived through hundreds of years before. After getting royally drunk, he meets Death in a rundown building on the grounds and comes to terms with exactly how he feels about her, and her brother. It's a touching tribute, and while Hob doesn't think he's any wiser we see he's discovered a bit more insight about life and death than anyone else.

3. The Sound of Her Wings #8
If you look back at different tales about death -- in anthropomorphic form, that is -- more often than not you'll find a tall dude in a black robe with a scythe and some skeletal hands waiting to take you to the afterlife. Here, Gaiman takes Death and gives her a makeover worthy of today's generation. Spunky, perky, and quite in touch with the mortals she ferries over to the "other side," this Death is the coolest, most radical representation to date. This girl actually says, "Peachy keen!" We're pretty sure the traditional Death with a hood and a farm tool never said that. In this story, we see Death interact with Dream one on one, taking him down a few notches and showing off her sweet pop-culture knowledge.

2. The Collectors #4
Here, we're introduced to a host of sinister people with names like Dog Soup, Family Man, and the inimitable Corinthian. A nightmare has escaped from the Dreaming, a monster with mouths where his eyes should be. For the setting, Gaiman takes the idea of a convention and turns it on its head. Sure, this convention is still a safe space for like-minded people to congregate and celebrate what they love most (think Comic-Cons), but the thing they love is murder. And lots of it. Gaiman gets to the crux of the matter, which is that none of these people believe they're truly evil; they're the heroes of their own twisted stories. Eventually, Dream comes along and sorts these reprehensible people out, but not before shattering their dystopian illusions of right and wrong.

1. A Midsummer Night's Dream #19
This is the only comic -- ever -- to win a World Fantasy Award. So, you know it's good. Enter Will Shakespeare and his troupe of actors ready to perform A Midsummer Night's Dream... but for whom? Dream unlocks the portal to Faerie, and the fairy folk stream through onto the rolling green hills of Sussex. Titania, Oberon, Robin Goodfellow, and even a spiny, cantankerous Peaseblossom come to be entertained by the mortal with a golden pen. This story, like most of Gaiman's work, blurs the line between fantasy and reality all while revealing the underlying vulnerability in each and every character -- human or not. Whether you're a fan of Shakespeare, Gaiman, or short stories in general, this is the one Sandman story you absolutely cannot miss.

Honorable Mentions:

Prologue to Season of Mists #21
Here we meet each of the Endless, save for their absent brother. We learn little details about most of the family, including Delirium's transformation from Delight and Despair's snake skin-odored shadow. Gathered around a stark table, we see that their family dynamics aren't so different from our own, with some siblings irking one another and others forming alliances. We understand that human existence is drawn from each of these beings, and that they're drawn from everything we are.

Calliope #17
Writers will be forever be asked this one question: Where do you get your ideas? Here, Gaiman takes a dark turn, opening the story with a one-time successful novelist trading a bezoar for the imprisoned muse Calliope, who has been kept captive and raped (literally and metaphorically) for inspiration for the past 60 years. In the end, Morpheus swoops in to save his former lover, and to give the newly critically acclaimed writer his just deserts.

Death: At Death's Door
Technically this isn't part of the Sandman series, but it's what got me hooked on Gaiman, and I'll be forever grateful to Jill Thompson's whimsical artwork and delightful take on the story. When Lucifer hands the key to the gates of Hell over to Dream, unleashing all the poor souls from within, Death finds herself with more than a handful of problems. From Delirium's delightful stint as party host to Edgar Allen Poe's mondo crush on the original Debby Downer, Despair, there are so many things to get worked up over here -- in the best way possible. Plus, this is the artist that brought us the Little Endless; she knows what she's doing.


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