Endless Nights review – Globe and Mail

Nathalie Atkinson reported the following Endless Nights review in the 18 October Globe and Mail:

Morpheus is back, but in graphic novel form instead of in The Matrix. The Sandman: Endless Nights marks Neil Gaiman’s return to the beloved comic book premise that made him an international superstar, and to Morpheus, the brooding dream king who rules mortals’ dreams and who is also known as Lord Shaper, or the Sandman. Here, as for his popular and groundbreaking 75-issue run of The Sandman (which adjourned in 1996), Gaiman writes hyper-literate, detailed scripts for stories illustrated by others. Writing to each artist’s strengths, he infuses elaborately conceived dream landscapes with history, literary allusion, mythology, biblical allegory, pop culture and fantasy. And the style and settings are as varied as the subjects they depict.

The Sandman and his six immortal siblings — Desire, Death, Destiny, Destruction, Delirium and Despair — are collectively known as the Endless; they aren’t so much gods as incarnations of their eponymous concepts, and the seven stories in the collection are devoted to exploring each of these abstract ideas. While Gaiman’s longtime collaborator Dave McKean contributes the cover art and overall design, Gaiman enlists a dream team of international cartoonists and artists for the stories themselves.

The opening story, Death and Venice, features the Sandman’s perky goth-girl sister, Death. (Resembling Winona Ryder in Beetlejuice, Death is notably the undisputed reader favourite of the Endless, particularly of its significant female following.) In a fable that moves from present-day Italy to a 19th century count’s Venetian palazzo and back again, illustrator P. Craig Russell chronicles decadence, fate and the eternal recurrence of the same. Russell is known for his lavish adaptations of Oscar Wilde fairy tales and operas, and there is attention to detail in the opulent period costumes and architecture, and even the modern episodes are suitably baroque.

Next, What I’ve Tasted of Desire is also drawn in approachable traditional European clean-line style, but this time by Milo Manara, the Italian master of musky eroticism, known for his sexy women and X-rated comics. Manara renders a folk tale of desire, passion and revenge set in a medieval Nordic tribe with inky aplomb and lush depictions of the female form (not to mention pouty lips).

Spanish artist Miguelanxo Prado illustrates the wittiest of the pieces, Heart of a Star, a science-fiction romp that explores the Endless’s secret origins through Dream. The story is Gaiman’s sly wink to longtime Sandman readers — a rare glimpse of Delight (before she became Delirium), Dream’s first love, and the first instance of androgynous Desire meddling in her brother’s romantic affairs. Prado imagines stars and other cosmic beings as colourful glowing humanoids with evocative facial expressions. Set at the dawn of the universe, the story assembles the beings at a floating space palace for intergalactic parliamentary meetings on protocol and galactic boundaries. When Dream meets Earth’s awkward Sol, drawn as a teenage sun whose planets are still asleep, the latter wistfully muses aloud that he hopes one day his planets will be able to foster life.

While the first three stories are typical Gaiman fare, his trademark high fantasy then veers into the more interesting realm of the obscure with Fifteen Portraits of Despair, pairing Barron Storey’s experimental artwork with prose poems and fragments in what becomes a gallery of concrete poetry. Bill Sienkiewicz’s work on Delirium in Going Inside conjures a hallucinatory, and strangely poetic, rescue mission with stream-of-consciousness monologues, flying tropical fish and all the internal logic of a Rorschach inkblot. The dark, computer-enhanced collage depicts the chaotic interior landscape of a traumatized young woman, with five mad voices differentiated by Todd Klein’s distinct lettering styles. Two more beautiful stories drawn by Glenn Fabry and Frank Quitely round out the collection, and although the tales are helpfully expository, they are otherwise unremarkable.

Although the art and writing is superior to mainstream comics’ offerings, The Sandman: Endless Nights proves that Gaiman remains an imaginative and accomplished storyteller, but cannot boast the best work of any of its very talented contributors. The stories are satisfying comfort food for the Sandman’s cult following, but perhaps more important, for readers unfamiliar with the graphic novel medium, they are a lavish primer and an accessible introduction to the possibilities of the comics form.