Today’s Super Comics — Sandman #41-49 (1992-93)

Ironically, the most linear Sandman story arc is the one that co-stars Delirium. It’s also my favorite.

Among his many strokes of brilliance in Sandman, writer Neil Gaiman not only created a personification of dreams, but he also gave that character a family in grand mythological fashion. The Endless comprises seven siblings: Destiny, Death, Dream, Destruction, Desire, Despair, and Delirium (formerly Delight). Each has a distinct, vibrant personality, and the interplay between them is always fascinating.

The family dynamic comes into play in “Brief Lives” in issues #41-49, in which Delirium recruits Dream to search for long-lost Destruction. It’s a classic quest plot starring two totally opposite personalities. But a simpler structure doesn’t mean less depth—each issue remains intelligent, thought-provoking, and entertaining.

If you haven’t read Sandman in its entirety yet…why not? Your only excuse is if you’re under 18. In that case, yeah, wait a bit.

Writer: Neil Gaiman

Penciler: Jill Thompson

Inkers: Vince Locke and Dick Giordano

Cover: Dave McKean

Publisher: DC Comics (Vertigo)

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Sandman vol. 7: Brief Lives (TPB)

Appropriate For: ADULTS ONLY

Today’s Super Comics — Death: The High Cost of Living #1-3 (1993)

death_the_high_cost_of_living_vol_1_1Neil Gaiman does Death Takes a Holiday in his distinctive Neil Gaimany way.

Death, or Didi, is an off-kilter teenaged girl who gets to be mortal one day a century. She befriends a depressed young guy with the unfortunate name of Sexton. A very old madwoman seeks Death’s help in finding her heart. And a blind, creepy guy wants Death’s sigil.

And by the end, it’s all remarkably uplifting.

“It always ends. That’s what gives it value.”

Though this is a Sandman spinoff, Death: The High Cost of Living stands entirely on its own. I can’t say for certain, but it might even be more effective without prior knowledge. There’s almost nothing in these three issues that’s blatantly supernatural. The fantasy elements exist entirely on the periphery, which you hardly even realize until after the fact because everything feels so magical. If you read just this story, you might almost believe that Didi is merely a troubled girl who has retreated into the delusion that she’s Death.

An excellent read from the early days of DC’s Vertigo imprint.

Writer: Neil Gaiman

Artists: Chris Bachalo and Mark Buckingham

Cover: Dave McKean

Publisher: DC Comics (Vertigo)

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; Death: The High Cost of Living (TPB)

Appropriate For: ADULTS ONLY

Today’s Super Comic — The Sandman #8 (1989)

sandman-8There are lots of ways for a character to make a great first impression on me. One foolproof way is by referencing Mary Poppins.

And that’s how we meet The Sandman’s personification of death. In Neil Gaiman’s world, Death appears as a lively teenaged girl, and she’s the older sister of the series’ protagonist, Dream. No Grim Reaper clichés here.

Death debuts in #8, which is when the series truly started becoming amazing. Dream has just completed a quest that defined the series’ opening arc, and now he’s feeling adrift and purposeless. So his sister comes along to check on him, and he tags along as she goes about her routine of guiding the newly deceased into the afterlife, reminding Dream of his own responsibilities. Gaimain makes the right call in not showing us Death’s realm; instead, we just see her kindness and tact as she greets diverse people who are all about to embark on the same journey.

It’s an excellent issue that stands on its own while also promising the greatness to come throughout the rest of the series…and the also-excellent Death spinoff miniseries.

Writer: Neil Gaiman

Artist: Mike Dringenberg

Inker: Malcolm Jones III

Publisher: DC Comics (Vertigo)

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in The Sandman vol. 1: Preludes & Nocturnes (TPB)

Appropriate For: ADULTS ONLY

Today’s Super Comic — Green Lantern/Superman: Legend of the Green Flame (2000)

Green_Lantern_Superman_Legend_of_the_Green_FlameNeil Gaiman wrote a Superman and Green Lantern story, and it almost never saw the light of day.

The story behind “Legend of the Green Flame” is almost as interesting as the story itself. Actually, no, that’s not true. The story includes Superman in Hell, Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) driven by the loneliness of losing most of the GL Corps, and the bond shared by two old colleagues and friends. It’s a great short story in that distinctive Neil Gaiman way.

And a continuity snafu killed it for years.

In the late 1980s, DC Comics converted Action Comics to Action Comics Weekly, an anthology book with separate features starring Superman, Green Lantern, the Blackhawks, Phantom Stranger, and others. The company soon realized the book wasn’t working, so editor Mark Waid tapped rising star Neil Gaiman to write a grand finale bringing all the Action Weekly characters into a single book-length tale (with a focus on the two big stars, of course).

And Gaiman did. But he hadn’t reckoned with the continuity monster. This wasn’t long after DC rebooted its continuity in the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths, and not everyone was on the same page regarding what the new canon was. Gaimain’s script hinged on Superman and GL being old friends who knew each other’s secret identities, but DC editors had decided to put the “secret” back in Superman’s identity. Only the Kents, Lana Lang, and Batman were allowed to know. And yes, the script would have lost some heft if Superman and GL were mere casual acquaintances.

So the script was banished to limbo, and upon its rediscovery, DC realized it could just publish the story as an out-of-continuity prestige format book. After all, a great story isn’t worth killing because of a continuity glitch.

So track it down and read it, because it’s Neil Gaiman writing Superman and Green Lantern and doing a superb job of it in limited space.

Writer: Neil Gaiman

Artists: Various

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: no individual issues, it’s just Green Lantern/Superman: Legend of the Green Flame

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Sandman #31 (1991)

Sandman 31Neil Gaiman’s Sandman featured many excellent short stories throughout its run, and those single-issue stories tended to be even more interesting when they featured historical characters…such as the Emperor of the United States in #31.

Yes, a San Francisco man, Joshua Norton, actually did proclaim himself the first U.S. emperor in the 19th century, and people humored him and played along without letting him have any real authority. He’s the perfect subject for a Sandman guest star. Gaiman chose well indeed, and he uses Norton’s story to show how dreams can defeat despair—even dreams that are completely bonkers.

And of course, with this being Sandman, dreams and despair are Dream and Despair, two of the Endless. Their siblings, Delirium and Desire, also try to claim Norton, but Dream’s inspiration gives the troubled man a way to get through life without hurting himself or anyone else. Rather, Norton becomes an eccentric public figure who, however inadvertently, delights the residents and visitors of San Francisco. He may not be contributing to society in quite the way he intends—not even close, really—but he contributes. And the right dream allows him to do that.

An utterly fascinating story that will make you want to do a Google search immediately afterward.

Writer: Neil Gaiman

Penciler: Shawn McManus

Publisher: DC Comics (Vertigo)

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in The Sandman vol. 6: Fables & Reflections (TPB)

Appropriate For: ADULTS ONLY