At San Diego Comic Con this year, Vertigo made the surprising announcement that Neil Gaiman will be writing a new Sandman story arc, with Retcon Punch favorite J. H. Williams, III. Even though we don’t currently cover any Vertigo titles, Gaiman’s return to this game-changing, original, and incredibly unique title is definitely worthy of a discussion. What have been the fan reactions? What does DC’s current preponderance of prequels reflect of the current state of the industry? Are you incredibly excited for this dynamic artistic team-up? Retcon Punchers sound off: Welcome to the Chat Cave.
Shelby: I am stupid excited for a new Sandman story. When Patrick first started talking to me about working on this site, my response was, “DC Comics are great, when will we talk about Sandman?” The universe Gaiman created is unlike any other I have ever experienced, except maybe in other Gaiman books. He has a great way of blending multiple cultures’ mythologies; I never would have guessed stories featuring the Muses of the Greeks could exist next to stories of Odin and Thor, and that it would all work. What really intrigues me, though, is the comparison of fan reactions between this prequel (super positive) and the Before Watchman prequels (often negative).
So what is it which drives the major differences in fan opinions? The fact that, for Sandman, the original artist is on board and excited for new stories to tell is huge, and I can understand that. Alan Moore, as we have stated here before, created a very self-contained universe. He told the story he needed to tell, and that was the end of it. Unlike Moore, Gaiman has a story he wants to tell; for him, the Sandman universe was incomplete, and he is apparently excited to complete that story. Fans aren’t dumb, they get that, and that should be reason enough, right? Well, we’re forgetting the fact that fans are sometimes a little dumb, especially when it comes to the pedestal-toppers. Personal tastes aside, I think it’s pretty safe to say Before Watchmen has been mostly successful so far. There are some phenomenal stories being told, and yet there are still a lot of negative fan reactions; I had a friend tell me he wasn’t going to read any Before Watchmen on principle. So, even in light of the successes of Before Watchmen, why is there still this disparity in fan reaction? I guess I shouldn’t underestimate the power of Alan Moore’s hatred for everything.
Patrick: Shelby said something interesting to me when I started reading her copies of the Sandman trades. She said “It’s hard for me to imagine this series as a monthly title.” And while I’m only two trade paperbacks into the series, I have to say that I staunchly disagree with this statement. One of the things Sandman does so well is alter its perspective and style to best serve the story. This means each individual issue has a distinct feel to it, while all knitting together a slowly unfolding long-form epic. That’s heavily episodic nature is something virtually absent from modern superhero comics.
Also, I’m going to read anything H. J. Williams III draws. Full stop. But when I think about the kind of reality-bending adventures that Morpheus and his family embark upon, the thought of Williams’ art depicting those adventures makes me vomit with excitement. Though, the flip side of that coin is that if this detracts from his work on Batwoman, I may also vomit with rage (I have a very versatile and expressive gag reflex).
Also, I don’t really care that the original author is back on the property. DON’T GET ME WRONG: the fact that Neil Gaiman is writing a new series is appealing to me. But that’s because I like his previous work, not because Sandman “belongs” to him. Actually, if anything, it’s just exciting to see him back on comic books. Excepting the two-issue Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader (which is only okay), he hasn’t really been on a regular series in like a decade.
Drew: I’m glad Patrick made that small controversial remark — otherwise I might not have had much to add. Gaiman’s Sandman books are fantastic reads, and I think we’ll all agree that the prospect of more is exciting news. Shelby is absolutely right to suggest that Gaiman’s involvement with this project makes it far more appealing than the prospect of Watchmen content sans Moore. I’ll happily disagree with Patrick’s assertion that Sandman doesn’t belong to Gaiman (in as much as an artist can “own” their work). He created (or at least creatively co-opted) everything in this universe; he is Sandman. If other writers choose to write in his universe (as they do with Tolkein) or use his characters (as they do with Conan Doyle), it will amount to little more than fan fiction. I don’t mean to fetishize the canon of Sandman, but it’s Gaiman’s mind that made those stories so enjoyable, so it’s Gaiman’s mind that will bring me back.
My biggest problem with the prospect of new Sandman is that I have to catch up. I’ve — lamentably — only read the first couple trade collections, which leaves me woefully unprepared for more content. Fortunately, these comics are still a long way off from hitting the stands — some time in 2013 is as close as we’ve gotten for specific release dates — so I have plenty of time to catch up. I know Patrick is a little behind the curve on this, as well, and I wonder if we might be able to set up some kind of book club in anticipation of the new releases. I know Vertigo titles are a little out of our wheelhouse here, but it’s certainly the most logical baby-step to branching out. Would anyone else be interested in such a thing?
Peter: Drew, I like book clubs. Of course, with Neil Gaiman being who he is, and Sandman being what it is, many Sandman trades are found in your local public library. I hate that there really isn’t much more to say here. Let me break it down, in case anyone can’t follow; Neil Gaiman is the man, Sandman is great, pretty much everyone thinks this is the greatest thing to happen since Neil Gaiman wrote Sandman the first time. HOWEVER, what if it’s not that good?
DC has been on a resurrection kick lately. We are almost 1 year into the New 52. Before Watchmen is happening right now. Now we have the big announcement of a Sandman comeback. So far, Before Watchmen has been hit and miss. I can’t believe I am about to say it, but, what if the new Sandman isn’t as good as the old one that we know and love? I don’t doubt that Neil Gaiman will deliver a great product, but what if it isn’t as good as the Sandman we all remember? Chew on that for a while.
It’s going to be a previously untold story. So Morpheus will be back in the hot seat. How else will it be different? When in the grand scheme of Sandman will it take place? Hmm. All interesting thoughts. Right now I just need to find all the previous Sandman books so I can get re-caught up and continue to be excited about that.