Endless Nights review – Grand Rapids Press

John Serba reported the following Endless Nights review in the October 26 Grand Rapids Press:

It’s a common assertion Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series gave literary credibility to the comic book format. However, Frank Miller (The Dark Knight Returns) and Alan Moore (Swamp Thing) already had accomplished that feat with adult- geared stories that led to the coining of a more distinguished- sounding label: The graphic novel.

Truth is, Gaiman’s Sandman — which concluded its 75-issue run for DC Comics’ progressive Vertigo imprint in 1996 — proved the comic-book format wasn’t confined to the limitations of novels, traditional comics or even film. It was packed with literary and pop- culture references, was driven by narrative left- turns and featured a cast of characters that aren’t gods or immortals, but physical manifestations of ideas, which exist as long as people are around to think about them. They are the Endless: Dream, Death, Desire, Despair, Destiny, Destruction and Delerium.

Having penned several best-selling novels — including Neverwhere and American Gods — Gaiman revisits the Endless in Endless Nights, which consists of seven short stories, one for each of his beloved beings. Longtime Sandman collaborator Dave McKean again provides a cover painting and contributes to the book’s lush design, which incorporates a different artist for every story.

Most compelling is Delerium’s story, Going Inside. It jumbles interior monologues with Bill Sienkiewicz’s surreal collages, pen- and-ink scribblings and bursts of color, creating a visually dense and abstract story about a coma patient and the swirl of dreams that haunt her subconscious. Gaiman’s introduction states it’s one of his best stories, and it’s difficult to disagree; it has the same emotional pull of his previous Dream-Delerium team-up chronology, Brief Lives.

Elsewhere, Fifteen Portraits of Despair finds Gaiman draping prose over, on and around clusters of panels or full-page paintings; What I’ve Tasted of Desire reads like a lusty fairytale; and diehards will relish the inside jokes of Dream-centric story The Heart of a Star. Notably, artist P. Craig Russell, who illustrated the award-winning Sandman story Ramadan, collaborates again with Gaiman for Death in Venice.

Tying the batch of tales together thematically is Destiny’s eight- page Endless Nights, which re-states the blind Endless brother’s duty, ironically, of overseeing the events of past, present and future — it’s Gaiman’s version of a profound little bow on a lovingly assembled package.

Throughout, Gaiman plays with the chronology of the epic Sandman saga, introducing longtime readers to the oft-mentioned original incarnation of Despair; we also experience Delight before her painful transformation into Delerium, and we get to watch Daniel, who inherited Dream’s helm as King of Stories at the original series’ conclusion, in action.

For this reason, Endless Nights is not the ideal introduction to Gaiman’s much-acclaimed batch of warmly oblique stories; it may not stand on its own, but it’s still an exciting, wildly creative exploration of narrative styles.

Even better, Gaiman stays true to the depth, suggestive power and sly humor of the nigh-untouchable Sandman series.

The Endless continue to uphold their duties in subtle ways, and their stories leave indelible impressions on the reader.

Call it a comic book or a graphic novel if you must, but regardless, Endless Nights is, bottom line, great writing and a true work of art.