Dreams and Nightmares
Neil Gaiman's series definitely gets better as it goes along. Once he tells his initial stories, Gaiman starts to get the hang of the character and this universe - primarily by freeing virtually any boundary of storytelling, akin to The Twilight Zone and other anthology series. The initial storyline of Dream's capture and subsequent mini-quest to regain his missing tools of power is a pretty good start to the series, and an unusual way to introduce the main character, by showing him at his most vulnerable and least like himself. That gives Gaiman the opportunity, which does more late in this collection, to show how Dream used to be. The most disappointing issue is the darkest, "24 Hours" (#6). I understand that the series is in part a horror tale, but this issue transgresses the boundary (though it is, for lack of a better word, "interesting" how Gaiman works the event into the Doll's House storyline later). It's one thing to be like Lewis and Milton and speculate on the shape and nature of the underworld, but it's another to revel in the grotesque to that extent. (I understand Dr. Destiny is the villain, but still.) The bonus material at the end of the collection, likewise, intimates that on further reflection even Gaiman thinks they may have gone a bit too far with that one. The violence in the Doll's House is not exactly "excusable" in comparison, but it is, to an extent, more "tastefully" done (at least it is less frequent) - especially the way issue #14, "Collectors," ends, with Dream making it thoroughly clear this sort of deviant and horrible behavior does not empower people and is in no way acceptable: that was a quite satisfying ending, especially with Dream's destruction of the Corinthian. The way Gaiman brings back characters and events several issues later is impressive and enjoyable, even if most readers are not familiar with the DC/Alan Moore/Sandman history. Like with all good allusions, lack of familiarity does not detract from what Gaiman does here. Of course the highlights are #8, "The Sound of Her Wings," and #19, "A Midsummer Night's Dream." The great reputation of #19 and the other Gaiman works I've read were the main reasons I started reading Sandman (before I knew it was in-part a horror series), and it still stands up to its success. The Sandman Universe is still in development here, but Gaiman is eventually off to a good start with the Endless and Dream's regained care for the well-being of humanity. This series certainly isn't for everyone, but I can see why it is so well-regarded.