DC's Vertigo line was launched with the intention of
bringing a line of titles to grown-ups who still wanted to read comics. The
books were a departure from the spandex world of Batman and Superman, instead
exploring magic, fantasy, and horror. One of the first books in the line, Neil
Gaiman's Sandman, was perhaps completely representative of the line,
exploring all of the above-mentioned areas and more, all the while keeping a
toe in the mainstream DC Universe, allowing long-time comic readers a reference
point for the series.
Sandman was launched in 1988, and nearly immediately
garnered critical praise, followed soon by a fairly large fan base. The seventy-five
issue series focused on the Endless, a group of seven entities that oversees
such realms as Desire, Delirium, Death, Destiny, and most notably, Dream. The
title character is Morpheus, king of the Dream realm (later replaced by Daniel).
It is not a comic book in the classic sense, featuring a villain or earth-threatening
catastrophe that spans an issue or two, but rather a number of short stories
featuring the title character in graphic novel form.
The comics remain among the most groundbreaking in the
history of the industry. While the stories focus on areas other than superheroes,
there is a link to the proper DC Universe, with Batman, the Martian Manhunter,
and others appearing throughout the series. The art is wide and varied, by such
creators as Sam Kieth, Charles Vess, and Dave McKean.
What truly makes the series special, though, is Gaiman's
gift as a storyteller. The series at times reads like one of the Canterbury
Tales, at others like a Shakespearean play, at others like a classic of the
future. Always, though, the characters are compelling, the plots complex, and
the dialogue real and believable. Gaiman drew compliments from people ranging
from Stephen King and Clive Barker to Tori Amos, and the compliments are well
deserved. The impact of the book was such that, even after the end of the series,
the concept carried on, both in one-shot specials and a series called The
While the series has since drawn to a conclusion, with
Gaiman working only occasionally in the comics field (instead working on novels,
movies, and other pursuits), the books have all been collected in trade form,
both hard and soft cover. Each is well worth purchasing, if only for the masterful
writing. The books are for anyone and everyone old enough to grasp the material
(and at times, it is challenging); there is no emphasis on super powers, despotic
villains, or hopeless love triangles, but instead an exploration of modern day
myths and fairy tales -- subjects that the Vertigo line was created for. Or
perhaps it was Sandman itself that inspired the line -- it is, truly,
in a class of no classes.