BookBin2016: The Sandman Series

So here it’s been all this time since I last visited the lair, and how do I fix that? With what will undoubtedly be a disappointingly brief review of a series of graphic novels that deserve way more written about them. However, my desire to dive into the depths of this particular ocean are severely tempered by my more pressing desire to encourage you to do your own diving, denizens.

Seriously, if you are a comics fan and you have not experienced Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, then what the hell are you waiting for?

Okay, that was a little harsh considering this is my first time reading the series as well. I’ve wanted to read it for years, but I couldn’t bring myself to commit to buying the whole series (because in my mind, some things are all or nothing; never mind that I could have just bought them novel-by-novel…that’s just not how I roll). Then my local library blew my mind by all of a sudden producing all 10 of the original graphic novels, plus two standalones that came after the original run.

This was a dense amount of reading and artwork to absorb. Gaiman packs an extraordinary wallop into this series, with levels of creative intricacy and beauty that are breathtaking to behold. His worlds are so thorough and so startlingly encompassing that they are one of those rare delights that truly does allow you to disappear for hours into their existence. They also possess intricate layers that require way more than one or two full readings. They are embellished with mythology and history and art and culture and literature and originality and religions and all manner of delights. There is no way to simply sum up The Sandman. How exactly would one summarize Dream the Endless? He extends even beyond the realms and tales captured within each of these pages. These are stories to be pondered and perused through extended sessions. While I’m delighted that I finally got the chance to read the novels, I was deeply disappointed when I had to return the books to the library. I was nowhere near finished with them.

Final Verdict: See? I told you that this would be disappointing. However, my ultimate goal is to provide just enough of a tease to lure you all into Morpheus’s realm. I know I definitely want to save up to purchase the two-volume special editions of the Sandman series that they recently released. This is more than deserving of such a collection.

BookBin2012: Marvel 1602

As anyone who has followed my literary exploits here at the lair already knows, I’m a bit of a Neil Gaiman fan. Even when I don’t particularly like one of his offerings enough to add it to or keep it in my collection, I still am able to find aspects of the story to enjoy and carry with me. And the stories are always intriguing enough that I keep returning to him as one of my favorite modern genre writers.

My latest library discovery belonging to Gaiman is his 2003 graphic novel Marvel 1602. The year is…1602, and strange events are transpiring all throughout the realm of Queen Elizabeth I. Strange meteorological events, the existence of dinosaurs in the New World, disappearing colonists, savages, demented villains…and the premature arrival of some strangely familiar characters.

That’s right: Gaiman transports a large selection of Marvel heroes and villains back in time to Elizabethan England. Part of what I enjoyed most about this novel was trying to deduce who was whom. Some are easy: Sir Nicholas Fury, Dr. Stephen Strange, Peter Parquagh, Sir Richard Reed, Carlos Javier and his “witchbreed” students.

Wait. I always enjoy saying that name out loud a few times. In a bad impression of Mr. Roarke from Fantasy Island. Carlos Javier.

Heh.

Others are a bit more difficult to suss, but they’ll come to you sooner or later. One is actually the key to the early arrival of our favorite Marvel characters into the timeline of Human existence.

Gaiman’s transition of these characters into an earlier historical period is quite well planned and executed. It definitely helps that his tale is supported by a beautiful pencil and coloring collaboration between Andy Kubert and Richard Isanove, with gorgeous “scratchboard” covers by Scott McKowen. The artwork itself has a rather unique appearance. I did a little research and learned that, rather than sending the pencil work first to an inker, Kubert sent his pencil drawings straight to Isanove for digital coloring, creating what is referred to as an “enhanced pencil” technique. It’s a beautiful and unique art style that I enjoyed immensely.

It’s also enjoyable and impressive, how well Gaiman slips his selected Marvel representatives into historical reality, nipping and tucking the timeline or simply splitting it open per his own crazy creative whims. I’m by no means an historical expert, but I’ve studied enough English history and the early history of America to be able to recognize several real events scattered through Gaiman’s story and to be able to laugh at how Gaiman tweaked them for his own purposes.

Because I’m a bit of an all-around nerd, this kind of historical/fictional commingling amused me greatly. Do I think it would be everyone’s cup of tea? Probably not. Hard-core history nerds would probably grind a molar or two flat out of frustration, and hard-core comics fans might find the historical angle more than just a little below their expected “BAM! WHAM! KAPOW! ZING!” enjoyment level.

However, if you find yourself amenable to all variety of nerdery, and especially if you have a bit of a soft spot for Gaiman and/or characters from the Marvel universe, I think this might be an enjoyable exploit.

Final Verdict: I might be tempted to add this to my library at some point, but not today. However, if you do read and enjoy this collection, you might be interested in knowing it spawned three sequels. One was even written by Peter David. Do with that knowledge what you will.

BookBin2011: Eternals

So when you’re lucky enough to find not just one but two graphic novels written by Neil Gaiman at the local library, you take that as a sign. A sign that you’re meant to read both, even though one of them is for a comic book with which you are admittedly completely unfamiliar.

Best way to learn is to dive in, right?

Thus it was when I found Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? nestled on a shelf right next to another Gaiman story entitled Eternals. A quick perusal of the cover jacket let me know that this Marvel title belonged to a story originally begun by Jack Kirby back in 1976. However, additional reading has led me to believe that the origins of the Eternals crosses a bit more time…and another big name comic publisher.

Whatever convolutions of concept and creation existed for these Eternal guardians of humanity, I figured that if they’d been around as long as me, and Marvel felt they were important enough not only to revive but to task a writer as skilled as Neil Gaiman with breathing life back into their story…well, then they must be worth a bit of my time.

Plus, I was pleased to see John Romita, Jr., linked with this project, providing the artistic interpretations for Gaiman’s story. He’s perhaps best known for being the artist behind Kick-Ass. Here, he provides solid old-school comic artistry. Nothing exceptionally fancy, but a solid four-color world for our heroes to plunder and save in true comic form.

I wish I could rave about this novel the way I did about Gaiman’s Batman tales. However, there was something off about this series of comics that never captivated me the way Gaiman’s Dark Knight did. I don’t fault Gaiman for this. Sometimes, I simply don’t like a story or character concept. I think that was the case here. Nothing about the story of the Eternals captured me and made me either care about them or want to continue reading their story.

Really, I found myself simply finishing the book because Hurricane Irene was battering us left, right, and center, and I figured that was as good an excuse as any to read something. Unfortunately, I was about as apathetic about finishing Eternals as I am about writing about it now.

Final Verdict: Back to the library go the Eternals. Perhaps someone else will find their tale a bit more captivating than I did.

BookBin2011: Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?

I’m in the process of reading another book, but I also picked up a small stack of graphic novels during my last trip to the library (I can’t not get books when I’m in a library, denizens…I’m just too weak), and they’ve been taunting me with their colorful goodness ever since.

Especially this particular collection. Anyone who has been following my reading exploits here at the lair knows that I do loves me some Neil Gaiman. Even when I’m less than impressed by one of his offerings, I still find something enjoyable to his skills as a writer.

So finding out that he had penned a two-part comic for Batman in the vein of Alan Moore’s Whatever Happened to the Man of Steel? was quite a delightful discovery. Even though I was less than enamored of Moore’s take on Superman’s fate, I liked the concept of giving an “end” to an unending character.

[Loba Tangent: Does that make sense? If you’re a comic book fan, I suppose it does. Because comic nerds and Trekkies both know: No one ever really dies in these universes. They just come back as blonde Romulans.]

Gaiman, however, has written an amazing two-part tale for the Caped Crusader, a beautiful take on the eternal recurrence of the Batman mythos. It’s so perfectly penned, this fever-induced dream scape in which Batman’s demise is retold in myriad ways from myriad sources, each one subjective and surprisingly sentimental. Alfred’s story is particularly poignant and gives a view of the Caped Crusader that is heart-rending and bittersweet. And the ending? Pitch perfect, IMHO.

This collection is rounded out with three other Gaiman-penned tales, including one that is a delightfully meta take on the comic book character existence being similar to that of actors on set filming scenes for a movie. The interaction between Batman and the Joker is delicious and the rather abstract artwork adds to the surrealism of the story. The final two tales focus on Poison Ivy and the Riddler and are relatively Batman-free minus flashback appearances. Both are yet more exceptional storytelling from Gaiman, presented from his rather unique perspective on the inhabitants of Batman’s beloved Gotham.

The artist for this collection was Andy Kubert, who has worked on major titles for both Marvel and DC, with inking by Scott Williams and coloring by Alex Sinclair. It’s difficult to truly judge Kubert’s artistic style here, because Gaiman asked him to base his drawings on the artistic styles of past Batman artists like Jerry Robinson, Carmine Infantino, Neal Adams, and Batman’s creator Bob Kane. As a mimic of these other styles, Kubert does an admirable job. However, I think that I was less than impressed by the overall impact because I am still reeling from the incomparable beauty of Blacksad.

I know, it’s not fair at all to compare these two graphic novels…but, seriously, denizens? Blacksad is GORGEOUS. Anything that follows it is going to be like being the kid who has to follow the honor roll student who built a working scale replica of the planets’ trajectories around the sun…and all you have is a papier-mâché volcano and some baking soda and vinegar.

Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything.

Final Verdict: Even with my unfair comparison of this collection’s artwork to Blacksad, it’s still a well drawn collection. And Gaiman’s writing carries this book over the end zone for a solid spike and a groovy touchdown dance. Yet another one for the ole wish list.