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The Sandman: Endless Nights
Neil Gaiman
Titan paperback £10.99

review by Christopher Geary

This latest graphic collection of stories in Gaiman's epic fantasy series delivers a package of seven tales about the Endless, the 'first family' of postmodern genre comics. Death And Venice (artwork by P. Craig Russell) is a comedy-horror story in which a wandering ex-soldier gatecrashes the everlasting and obscenely decadent party of an immortal Venetian Count, who merrily sneers at the powers of entropy and ignominious fate, from within the confines of his mid-19th century palazzo. Like a multilayered Groundhog Day meets The Masque Of The Red Death, with further elements thrown in, this is a grim but moving opening chapter. What I've Tasted Of Desire has art by Milo Manara, and tells of a mediaeval romance in fairy tale mode. A peasant girl chooses magic to fulfil her daydream of marrying the local stud, only to lose him when a blood feud with the people of another village erupts into violence. The plot development is classical in nature and the coda is suitably poignant.

The iconic Dream features in The Heart Of A Star, illustrated by Miguelanxo Prado, probably the most overtly cosmological fable ever to grace The Sandman milieu. It concerns an important high summit meeting for the stellar entities of the universe, where we are introduced to Lord Dream's current girlfriend, the blue-skinned Lady Killalla of the Glow, Dream's guest at this parliament of the cosmos, attended by most if not all of the Endless. "I was invited. I have come. Make of that what you will," says Death. The oddball Delight (before she got sick and became Delirium) hides under a table in embarrassment at her social faux pas. There's also a gawky, wide-eyed, flame-haired youngster named Sol who's in awe of everyone at the big confab, especially Dream and his weird or wonderful siblings. Fifteen Portraits Of Despair, designed by Dave McKean with art by Barron Storey, is a 20-page mix of moody collage and poetic texts, and doesn't quite manage to avoid being pretentious despite fielding some harsh truths along the lines of 'hell is other people'.

Delirium's chapter is titled Going Inside and is illustrated by Bill Sienkiewicz. Unfortunately, I do not like this artist's work. The typical mix of scratchy hurried-looking sketches, blotchy inking and painted sections, often vividly coloured just seems messy and frequently appears unfinished to my untutored eye. Perhaps I have no appreciation for the aesthetic style he's aiming for, but I cannot understand why Sienkiewicz is so widely respected in the comics' industry. Far superior, I think, is On The Peninsula, a weird X-Files-mannered story about two scientists investigating a strange rock formation located "off the coast of Sardinia." Among the human characters we find Destruction on a mission to save the world, accompanied by the quirky Delight in a wickedly amusing cameo. The plotting, with its heroine's apocalyptic visions, seems a tad reminiscent of Ballard at times. The art by Glenn Fabry could be accused of conforming to the standard comicbook conventions of display panels in a linear sequence but this format certainly makes following the storyline a lot easier!

Volume closer Endless Nights features Destiny (remember the blind 'monk' chained to a book?), and has finely crafted abstractive art by Frank Quitely. Of course, Destiny's book (the ultimate tome?), contains all "The things you've forgotten. The things you don't believe... everything that has happened... [and] the movements of atoms and galaxies" - it's all inclusive. Pythagoras, DNA, relativity, eternity. It's all in there. When you've read The Sandman: Endless Nights, you may pause to contemplate the imaginative depths and grandiose complexity of Gaiman's huge, dazzling Sandman saga, and begin to wonder if perhaps the author hasn't been privileged to sneak a peak over Destiny's shoulder, once upon a time, just while the pages were turning.
Sandman, Endless Nights

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