I’ve discovered that my favorite Sandman comics aren’t the ones that focus on Morpheus — though I continue to enjoy the scenes with the titular hero — but the ones in which Gaiman takes advantage of the format and the clear freedom his publishers granted him to tell stories that instead focus on the human condition and the part dreams play in our everyday lives and the choices we make. In these stories, the Lord of Dreams is often little more than a supporting character, and at other times he doesn’t show up at all.
My favorite story in this collection, the sixth in the Sandman saga, is “The Hunt,” in which an old man tells his granddaughter a story of their people’s history. Morpheus doesn’t show up until late in the story, after the main character of the story has refused to sell a lost dream item to Lucien. It’s a story about our dreams and how they change, and how sometimes the dreams we think we have aren’t at all what we really want or need. It’s when Gaiman is telling these types of stories — stories that go beyond the characters — that he’s at his most effective.
Gaiman borrows a bunch of real historical figures in this collection, including the Emperor of America, Marco Polo, Caius Octavius, Haroun al Raschid and Mark Twain. It’s an eclectic bunch, but I especially liked the story about the Emperor of America and his “madness.”
“A Parliament of Rooks,” featuring Eve, Cain and Abel, is also among the best in the collection. I keep pointing to different stories that I like, and as I flip through the pages again, I keep finding more little pieces that I want to re-read. That seems like as good a recommendation as I can provide.