Sandman is considered one of the best comic book series of all time, and for good reason: from consistently excellent writing by Neil Gaiman, to an amazing team of artists, the book holds up years later as a testament to what devoted creators and a finite story can achieve (except for, you know, certain prequel series that has just been announced at San Diego Comic-Con). If you’ve never read the book? Well, go grab the first trade right now. For the rest of you, though, here are the ten best individual issues from Gaiman’s amazing seventy-five issue run:
10. Ramadan (Issue #50)
Like most of the truly great Sandman comics, Sandman #50 is a story about stories. Here, we learn about a deal a Caliph of Baghdad made long ago with Dream, to make sure that hi city would always endure. Morpheus honors the deal, but strips the city of all its magic. In return, Baghdad does survive forever, in tales handed down from generation to generation. Elevating this cracking good yarn eve further is the art by P. Craig Russell, who illustrates the issue in the style of an Arabic manuscript.
9. Facade (Issue #20)
One of the more unique aspects of Sandman is its relationship to the main DC Universe. Technically, Sandman - despite moving over to Vertigo soon into its run - took place in the DCU, though the series only occasionally used the setting to its advantage. Here, we learn that Element Woman - a superhero, and female version of Element Man - is horrified by her face, and hides away all day long. She tries to kill herself, but can’t die. And after an attempt to rejoin society, she instead retreats even further, until meeting Morpheus’ sister, Death. A sad, poignant story with a surprisingly hopeful ending.
8. Convergence - The Parliament of Rooks (Issue #40)
This issue is reliably solid, with a number of residents of The Dreaming gathering to tell stories about the time before they were in Dream’s domain. But what elevates this issue is Jill Thompson’s superb art, and in particular, the introduction of the L’il Endless, baby versions of Dream’s brothers and sisters. They would go on to be spun off into their own books... And the world was better for it.
7. Convergence - The Hunt (Issue #38)
Like Ramadan, The Hunt takes another style and owns it. Here, we’ve got an Eastern European fairy tale about werewolves, a princess, and the witch Baba Yaga. The issue is pencilled by Duncan Eagleson, who channels the setting effortlessly.
6. Calliope (Issue #17)
Paralleling the first issue of the series, a Muse is captured by a struggling writer. Every day, he rapes her, and every day, he gets new ideas. Finally, she calls for help, and Morpheus takes vengeance on him in the worst way possible. Heart-breakingly sad, then thrilling and terrifying, this issue would have ramifications for later in the series, but stands brilliantly on its own.
5. A Dream of a Thousand Cats (Issue #18)
Taking as many Internet memes as possible and jamming into one issue, Gaiman created Cat-Morpheus, the most goth kitty of all time. We’re sort of kidding of course, but this story did launch a thousand Tumblr gifs much, much later on. In the issue, cats tell a story of the time they met the lord of Dreams in his more feline form. Witty and fun, this issue also serves to widen the scope of the book... Because everything dreams.
4. The Sound Of Her Wings (Issue #8)
An epilogue of sorts to the first arc in the book, a depressed Dream hangs out for the day with his sister, Death. By spending time with her, pointedly and ironically, he recognizes how important it is for him to embrace his form of life. This was the first issue to feature Death, who has become almost as iconic as Morpheus - and for good reason. Gaiman’s pleasant portrayal of the avatar connected with the comic’s audience, and presented a nice counterpart to the usual bones in a cloak portrayal of Death.
3. Men of Good Fortune (Issue #13)
Probably a personal favorite, this issue starts with a man boastfully telling a crowded, medieval tavern that he has no intention of dying. Turns out, Death and Dream are there, and tell him that if he really doesn’t want to die, they should meet again in one hundred years. What follows is a beautiful story of friendship, and how time changes the world - without truly changing it that much - as Dream and the man, Hob Gadling meet in the same place once a century.
2. Collectors (Issue #14)
There is no more terrifying issue of Sandman than “Collectors.” Set in a hotel holding a convention for serial killers, we meet The Corinthian, a man with mouths for eyes; Funland, a grotesquely fat child molester; and many, many more nightmares that are horrifyingly real. Morpheus enters late in this story, after the main character Rose - who is searching for her missing brother - is tortured and nearly killed. Read this story, and you may never visit Morpheus - in real life at least - ever again.
1. A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Issue #19)
There is no single issue greater than “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and its also possibly one of the best short stories ever written. Earlier in the series, Morpheus had given William Shakespeare extraordinary writing abilities, in exchange for... Something. Here, we find out that something is the play of the title, performed by the actual fairies depicted in the show. Charles Vess’ art is beautiful in this issue, as are the pristine, bright colors from Steve Oliff. But it’s the story that truly shines, as Gaiman underscores pretty much every theme that plays throughout Sandman, particularly the extremely thin line between reality and fantasy. If you read no other single issue of Sandman, read this one.