Taking It to the Next Level
Magnificent. Truly this is one of the greatest works in the comic book genre, and if I could give it a sixth star I would without hesitation, but since this site will not allow that, I'll have to make due with what I have.
Now, to begin my review of the actual content itself I cannot go any further without mentioning the foreword, now I know that in most cases the foreword to a novel of any kind is normally just a slab of text so droll that you can't read it without falling asleep but I tend to find Neil Gaiman's introductions are not so, and this one is no exception. His introduction to seven of the finest short stories ever conceived is a story within itself, explaining inspiration for the stories and proving itself a necessary component in enjoying and understanding the tales.
The first story is called Death in Venice (art by P.Craig Russell), and as the title insinuates, it is Death's tale so, her being who she is, you may expect silliness but that is not the case this time. This story takes a more somber approach to Death and her business in telling the tales of two men. One who has become time's master in his quest to escape death and another whose childhood encounter has led him down a path he never intended to take. The story can be a little confusing the first time through with the whole "time thing" but by the end, all is made clear with one of finest conclusions you can ask for. The art for the story was also amazing, the only flaw I might see is Death's appearance was different, and I for one preferred her normal look but otherwise it is quite artistically sound.
The second story, What I've Tasted of Desire (art by Milo Manara) is once again made fairly obvious by the title to whom it belongs, for it is Desire's story. Honestly, when I saw the first page of the story I wasn't surprised at all at what I was getting, in fact I expected a massive sex-fest or something, Desire never seemed too pleasant a being either. So when I actually realized the story of the tale I was quite surprised, and extremely pleased. Desire is a very minor character in the tale, rather it is a tale of what true desire is - and honestly - this story is spellbinding, even without the glorious artwork it is a masterpiece. The protagonist of this tale is someone if she were real, I would truly admire, she was always in control, never letting others use her, if only more people in this world had her spirit...
The Heart of a Star (art by Miguelanxo Prado) is Dream's tale and most likely my favorite "story" in this collection, not because of the feelings felt so much as the tale told. Its sort of that "origin story" for the Endless that clears up so many questions, only to create so many more. Questions answered include, "Has Death always been so happy?", "Why do Dream and Desire hate each other so much?", "Who was the first Despair?", and even questions like, "How Did the Guardians of Oa learn to make Structure from their Sun's Energy?" or, "Why did only Superman escape Krypton?". Besides all the answering of questions it just brings about a tale both horrid and beautiful, a definite one to add to your "must read" list.
Despair's "story", Fifteen Portraits of Despair (art by Barron Storey and Dave McKean) isn't really a story per-say, its more like a collection of writings, art and some short stories that all give you an overwhelming feeling of despair. Gaiman mentions in his introduction that they'd originally planned twenty-five, but in retrospect he's glad they stuck to fifteen, I have to say I agree, for with the power already felt by the mere fifteen portraits I couldn't dare imagine how depressed one would feel after another ten, truly great work, no matter how bad it'll make you feel.
Perhaps the most confusing, yet most heart-breaking story is Delirium's, Going Inside (art by Bill Sienkiewicz). Unlike all of the previous stories, this one is clearly taking place after the events of The Sandman as it casts the second Dream of the Endless. The story is extremely complex, or perhaps just confusing, as its cast are Del's people, which as you may know, means none of them are fully sane though all express originality in their mental barriers. From paranoia, to being reduced to a catatonic state or suffering from self-imposed rules and punishments that need not exist. Though their story's alone make you feel for them, it is Delirium's role that really saddened me. Perhaps it comes from growing so attached to her in The Sandman but unfortunately at times, it is sad story's like this that define her character and this is definitely a recommended read if you too have come to love Delirium as I have.
The sixth story, Destruction's, On the Peninsula (art by Glenn Fabry) is perhaps, the most essential story to his life of any he has ever been in. Although I myself still do not understand completely the necessity of Stanley and Rachel, they have interesting stories of their own meshed with his. What I find most intriguing however is that Neil writes in his intro that this story takes place after Delirium's, which actually adds a touching aspect to the story, as his love for his little sister won out in the end in its battle with his desire to abandon all ties to The Endless. Otherwise though, I have to sadly admit this is my least favorite story because I felt it ended unconclusively and left me hanging.
Endless Nights (art by Frank Quitely) is the final chapter, though it can hardly be a story, it is basically a combination of some of the finest artwork I've ever seen with a perfect description of Destiny and everything about him that I feel should be set in stone, though it has been tampered with on multiple occassions by other writers using the character.
In conclusion, this work possesses some extremely beautiful artwork by some of the finest artists in the industry with one of the greatest writers in literature today to form The Sandman: Endless Nights, a book I'd recommend to anyone looking for some real substance to what they read.