Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman is arguably the author’s greatest work and it has rightfully earned that title. The illustrious graphic novels and its spinoffs have won a total of 26 Eisner Awards and it’s one of the best-selling graphic novels of all time, and for a handy overview of the dense material, there are summaries on Neil Gaiman’s official website. The story captures audiences with its fantastical worlds and brilliant characters and has some of the best writing you’ll come across in any medium. Even non-comic book audiences have fallen in love with the story and it’s been analyzed by scholars and the general public alike to uncover all the literary treasures placed within its pages.
After years of speculation and stops and starts, The Sandman will be adapted into a live-action TV series coming to Netflix Aug. 5, and it’s highly likely that a flood of new fans will come with it. It stars Tom Sturridge as Dream/Morpheus who’s been accidentally captured by occultist Richard Burgess (Charles Dance) when he attempts to imprison Death. Instead of breaking out in the 1980s like in the comics, Morpheus will be arriving in the present to reclaim his Totems of Power and thusly his title as King of Dreams.
Here’s the list of the best Sandman graphic novels you should definitely check out.
10. The Sandman Vol. 8: World’s End
In The World’s End, a reality storm strands travelers in an inn and they exchange stories to pass the time. It’s a nice reprieve from the main story and focuses on the world surrounding Morpheus rather than Morpheus himself. The concept, as always, is intriguing with this Worlds’ End Inn being a place between realms that keeps its occupants safe. Morrison is masterful at revealing people’s personalities through their diverse stories and reveals how we all use stories to make sense of our lives.
9. The Sandman Vol. 10: The Wake
The Wake opens with James Elroy Flecker’s poem, “The Bridge of Fire” about worlds in-between, and it foreshadows the bittersweet ending. The story is about Morpheus’ death, which feels fitting considering his story began with Burgess trying to capture Death and imprisoning Dream instead. There’s a poignant message about the connection between the two, and readers get a treat from the multiple guests who speak about the King of Dreams, certifying his profound impact. It will leave you satisfied and wishing to return to the series to find all the subtle beauty you might have missed the first time.
8. The Sandman Vol. 6: Fables and Reflections
Fables and Reflections is a collection of single-issue stories that are revealing in a different way. The title is fitting, as it uses fables to reflect the real issues going on in the world, specifically as they pertain to themes of power. “Distant Mirrors” explores the powers that leaders wield by telling a story about emperors. In “Thermidor”, Morpheus enlists the help of Johanna Constantine and gets detained while in the guise of a peasant. And “The Song of Orpheus” uses the Greek myth to tell a personal story about Morpheus and Calliope as the parents of Orpheus. This volume is at once mythic and relevant.
7. The Sandman Vol. 4: Seasons of Mists
Seasons of Mists introduces seven entities who represent an aspect of nature. They include Dream, Death, Destiny, Despair, Desire, Delirium, and Destruction. It’s refreshing seeing Morpheus in this setting and how he interacts with his other family members. Lucifer also abdicates from hell and gives Morpheus the keys to the kingdom, which takes him on a completely unexpected journey that tests him in new ways. Morpheus has to reconcile with his past as well and right some wrongs which is satisfying character growth for a being so powerful.
6. The Sandman Vol. 7: Brief Lives
Brief Lives sheds new light on Delirium as they ask for help in finding their missing brother Destruction. Delirium becomes a more sympathetic character in this story as readers get a better look into what they’re going through. Their mental state is deteriorating and it proves that although family may fight, there’s still love there. Morpheus isn’t in the best of spirits after the ending of a romance, the two working on solving this mystery feels like it’s just what he needs.
5. The Sandman Vol. 5: A Game of You
A Game of You features Barb, a New York divorcée who travels to the realm of fantasy where she’s threatened by an evil creature named Cuckoo. She was a minor character in “The Doll’s House” and it’s nice to see her trying to discover who she is. Her imaginary friends in this dream world attempt to save her and it leads to carnage in both the waking world and the dreaming one, and the stories in this volume are insightful and more applicable. The art by glorious Dave Mckean is gorgeous, having really nailed his style at this point, and Neil Gaiman himself has said it’s probably his favorite genre.
4. The Sandman Vol. 3: Dream Country
Dream Country is another volume composed of single issues and feels like one of the most overtly literary with its evident appreciation of Shakespeare. It’s here where Dream’s son Orpheus is first mentioned, adding another layer to the complex being, a fan-favorite story where Morpheus becomes a cat, and one story shows the muse-lie relationship dream had with William Shakespeare. This volume in its distinct storytelling demonstrates the immense power that dreams have in the world and they shouldn’t be taken lightly.
3. The Sandman Vol. 9: The Kindly Ones
The Kindly Ones is the most harrowing of all the volumes. The avenging spirits known as the Furies are after Morpheus, and of all the threats, even Lucifer himself, the Furies represent a higher level of danger. The penultimate volume is written as a Greek tragedy, which gives the reader the distinct sense that things will not turn out well for our King of Dreams. It’s a single storyline that addresses lingering questions and revisits characters throughout the series. It’s such a haunting story that will stay with you long after you close the book.
2. The Sandman Vol. 2: The Doll’s House
After the brilliant introduction, The Doll’s House opens up the world of Sandman even more as we finally get to see Morpheus operate more from a place of power. Although darkness still abounds in Morpheus’ world, there’s a lot of hope within these pages, due in large part to fan-favorite character Rose Walker who helps the old woman Unity Kinkaid who suffered from sleeping sickness when Morpheus was captured. The story sees Morpheus resolving conflict in his past as he has to address his treatment of his former lover Queen Nada, and deal with serial killer The Corinthian, a nightmare Morpheus created who’s gotten out of control.
1. The Sandman Vol. 1: Preludes & Nocturnes
There are many great stories in The Sandman, but there’s just something unmistakably special about where it all began. Morpheus’ origin has become like a true myth itself, the representation of dreams once arrested and unable to free people from their own prisons gets free and as he learns, so too does everyone else. Reading about him reclaiming his power, meeting many different characters, and traveling to different worlds gives just a taste of where he’s going to eventually go, but all the potential is right there from the beginning. From the very first volume, one can tell that this isn’t just any graphic novel. This had all the makings to become one of the greatest graphic novels of all time.