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Neil Gaiman's Sandman is one of my all time favorite comic books, maybe one of my favorite works of fiction. Before you applaud my bold and unique choice, let me elaborate. I came into the comic not expecting to like it. I didn't think it would hold up. I'd seen it happen before, too often mob mentality takes over and you're left with people liking something because they were told it was good and, whoa man, they should like it too, God forbid they get caught not liking this good thing. Something about my first impression of Sandman made me think it was those cases.
But you know what? It won me over. The first volume was a bit shaky, but there was a nugget in there that kept me coming back. I think it was because I didn't get it right away. I had to think on it. I had to let the book stew. It stuck with me. That turned out to be the template for the rest of my encounters with Sandman, or The Sandman if you're nasty. To call the comic bittersweet is like calling a hurricane windy. It made me hate it, it made me hopeful. It went places that freaked me out, it went places that made me laugh. It touches on every raw subject of humanity: mortality, hope, love, duty, fate, and somehow -- somehow -- it ends on a kind of up beat. Each volume was an experience, I had to digest them like fat, tear stained steaks. It wasn't until I had no more Sandman comics left to read, when I felt the void in my soul, that I understood the fanfare behind it. A good story touches you, a great story changes you. Sandman had changed something in me.
And now there's a prequel on the way.
People are justifiably uneasy about a late addition to an already great story, never mind that it's a prequel, the most hated and feared of all the "quels". It's incredibly difficult to catch the same magic twice, let alone compete with people's nostalgia about the series. With so much to worry about, it's hard to get excited.
Well pull up a seat, friend, and let me tell you something. There's plenty to get excited over. Such as...
Neil Gaiman is a Different (and Perhaps Better) Writer
No man ever steps in the same river twice. That's an awesome saying and it applies here somehow, I just know it.
Basically writers change, they get older, they almost get hit by vans, they have kids. Their writing reflect the person they are no matter what, they can't help it. Neil has gotten older, he's matured, and he has explored other genres and mediums. Look at his body of work, some of his best stories have come after Sandman. I'm not sure if the 20 something Neil who penned Sandman could do The Graveyard Book, but our now-times Neil could, in fact he already has.
It's not the same writer stepping back into the comic, and that's awesome. It's a more experienced, older, wiser, more world weary Neil. That'll translate to a richer, more informed Sandman. A Sandman 20 something Neil couldn't do.
Another thing 20 something Neil couldn't do is escape the forest
The Perfect Artist for the Job is Doing the Job
If you had me make a list of the artists who should do a new Sandman book, J.H. Williams would be at the top of that list so hard there would not be an acurate metaphor for how hard he would be there.
The obvious thing that stands out is the panel placement, something that Sandman also played with from time to time. But Williams' artwork is much more deeply suited for it. First off, he's worked on Promethea for Christ's sake, how much more evidence do you need for his ability to work within sky high concepts and still make things gorgeous and interesting. His work on Batwoman also shows he wont tone things down or sacrifice his vision for the sake of mainstream-ity.
He's a badass, visionary artist that won't pull any artsy fartsy punches.
Neil's Had This Story in Mind for a While Now
The biggest strike against belated "quels" would be their tendency to be rushed cash grabs focused on name recognition. While there's no evidence of it being the contrary here, Gaiman doesn't have a history of money grubbing. In fact, his decisions have seemed to be dictated by his own storytelling, and luckily not the influence of finances. You don't start out a kid's book with the murder of a baby's family if you're interested in pulling in that sweet sweet mainstream revenue.
And it's not like this is a new thing. At 2012's San Diego Comic Con Gaiman spoke about having this story in mind for years:
"When I finished writing The Sandman, there was one tale still untold – the story of what had happened to Morpheus to allow him to be so easily captured in The Sandman No 1, and why he was returned from far away, exhausted beyond imagining, and dressed for war. It was a story that we discussed telling for Sandman's 20th anniversary … but the time got away from us. And now, with Sandman's 25th anniversary year coming up, I'm delighted, and nervous, that that story is finally going to be told."
It's Not Going to Be the Same Sandman (and That's a Good Thing)
The big theme throughout the whole Sandman run is change. Everything changes. It's innevitable. Change or die. This Sandman will not be the same as the ones we've read before. It's innevitable, Neil Gaiman is a different person and the story being told is different from the ones before. People will go in expecting a rehash of the experience they had the first go around, and most of those people will be disappointed. Change or die.
But fret not, Dear Readers, because I'm here to tell you that such change is a good thing. More of the same will only hurt the book, especially so long after the run's end. Chasing the same spark, the same magic, is a mistake. It's a death trap. One I think Gaiman understands. We're not going to be impressed with an attempt to recreate the past, we need to be wowed by a powerful, compelling new Sandman story.
You can see it in Gaiman's work: he's not interesting retreading ground. He didn't try to redo The Doctor's Wife with his second Doctor Who episode and it's not like he's especially fond of sequels in the first place. This is going to be a different Sandman crafted by an older, more versed writer.
It's going to be good.