All the nerd cred I have attempted to rack up in my life will most likely be worth nothing when I tell you I have only started reading Neil Gaiman’s Sandman this year. I was recently gifted the unspeakably beautiful slipcase set and it is intimidating to say the least.To all of you hypothetical geeks judging me in my paranoid brain right now for my blatant humble brag I say, “Fuck you. Do you have the Sandman slipcase set? “
I want to start the actual review off by saying the first seven parts to Master of Dreams are great and completely serviceable for horror comic aficionados, they are also undoubtedly less ambitious than the issues to come. The opening introduction and even the afterward of this first volume make it abundantly clear that the story is rough in comparison to the later arcs. The plot of the first issues are similar to video game objectives, the protagonist and ‘lord of dreams’ Morpheus loses all his dream equipment and he has to find each piece one by one. You can tell Neil was testing the waters of his concept, as a result he acted cautiously at the beginning when he threw in established DC characters like John Constantine. The final part of Master of Dreams is proof that his story and characters stand on their own.
The Sound of Her Wings is often regarded as the issue in which Gaiman came out of his shell and it marks the first time we see fan favorite Death. It is not only the end of an 8 issue story arc but the end of the first volume Preludes & Nocturnes. This is where the usual warnings of the early issues being rough stop, for good reason because The Sound of Her Wings is one of the best single stories I have ever read.
We start with Dream feeding pigeons in a city park, he is feeling down in the dumps because his quest to retrieve his stuff is over and now there is little to keep him preoccupied. His quirky and spontaneous sister Death arrives to call him on his shit and cheer her brother up by taking him along on her daily duties as the end of life.
The pages of Death doing her job and guiding souls to the end after witnessing their last moments are beautiful and horrifying. Gaiman intentionally starts her and Dream’s journey off with the spectacle of a natural and peaceful death, gradually working towards the more untimely fates of each individual. Overdose, suicide, murder, accident. The circle of life doesn’t stop for anyone. At one point an infant asks “is that all I get?” before death inevitably has to take the child away. Your mood will change throughout the issue, a happy page turns into a sad page and sadness becomes enlightenment for both the reader and our protagonist. Dream notices how his sister carries on her duty with diligence, dying is as natural as dreaming. When the siblings return to the location they started at, Dream learns to embrace his purpose.
There are not enough good things in the world to say about the crafting of this story. Neil engages the reader with interesting and subtly realistic characters, he makes us understand the importance of every person having a function and his descriptive writing fits perfectly with the tone the artist creates. Gaiman doesn’t waste any potential here, for example, the namesake of this issue in particular comes from the sound Death makes when she takes spirits away with her. Dream hears the beating of wings every time she does this, and in the last page when the pigeons he was feeding earlier at the park fly away he hears the sound of her wings again. This issue is a good example of Sandman transcending its genre, and it comes close to transcending the medium of comics all together.