?Everyone got their flowing black robes, mascara, nail polish and ankh necklaces? Good, cause it’s time to talk about Neil Gaiman’s epic 75-issue Vertigo series that ran from 1989 to 1996, otherwise known as the comic that every goth kid in high school was super into. Yeah, the same kids who would snicker when you told them you read Superman or Spider-Man when you struck up a conversation after recognizing their Death T-shirt. Jerks. After years of bitterness, we actually got around to reading the book and its pretty amazing. Hey it’s not the book’s fault a bunch of weirdos liked it, right?
Sandman follows the adventures and misadventures of Morpheus, lord of the Dreaming and one of seven beings known as the Endless who embody metaphysical concepts like dreams, desire and death. Running the gamut from in-continuity superhero tales starring the Justice League to tales of cats and Shakespeare, Gaiman introduced readers to a plethora of interesting characters, some of whom had been around in DC Comics like Cain, Abel and previous versions of the Sandman character and brand new ones like Merv Pumpkinhead and Matthew the Raven. Here’s a look at the coolest, most interesting and terrifying characters created in the book all other Vertigo comics are measured against.
Daily List suggested by The Great A’Tuin.
12) The Cat
?Star of “A Dream Of A Thousand Cats” from Sandman #18, this Siamese feline braved the realm of the Dreaming in an attempt to wreak vengeance on mankind for killing her babies. Instead of granting this long-suffering cat her revenge, Morpheus, in the guise of a cat, tells her a story about how cats used to rule the Earth and humans were their pets until one thousand of them dreamed that humans were in charge and always had been. Now, the cat finds herself traveling the world, spreading the word in an attempt to unseat the humans. And, hey, would we really be much worse off if we were just little things running from cats and not insane terrorists and militia groups?
?Lucien watches over Morpheus’ crib while he’s gone, but his main function is that of a librarian. That might not sound crazy interesting, but this isn’t your average library. In addition to having every book ever written, the Dreaming’s library also boasts every novel ever started but not finished, conceived and thought of. That means it’s stocked with the unfinished works of Alan Moore, J.R.R. Tolkein and Ray Bradbury along with, well, everyone reading TR right now. Our boy Lucien here gets to read them all.
10) Merv Pumpkinhead
?Janitors get a bad rap thanks to some inherent creepiness and the fact that Freddy Krueger was one before getting toasted by accusing parents. Well, Gaiman did his best to make the profession a bit more glamorous when he created Merv Pumpkinhead, whose job it is to build up and tear down parts of the Dreaming, even though we all know Morpheus can do it with less than a flick of his wrist. Merv’s got a gruff, nonplussed attitude that always made us smirk considering he lived in the most fantastical place in all of creation. So beloved was Merv, that we shed a collective tear when he died in defense of Morpheus. Thankfully, Morpheus’ successor recreated him in the last issue and he went on to play the role of secret agent in his own miniseries.
9) William Shakespeare
?Whole warehouses of paper have been dedicated to the writings of and about Shakespeare, but whether you find him like totally boring or prefer his plays to his sonnets, it’s hard not to appreciate the struggling, strangely driven, artist portrayed in Sandman. We first meet Willy Shake as a struggling writer in a bar, then as he puts on a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Morpheus and Auberon and Titania of Faerie. See, it’s all part of a deal Morpheus made with Shakespeare to grant him untold levels of inspiration as long as creates two plays for Morpheus, the aforementioned Dream and The Tempest. We love the idea of Gaiman taking away from Shakespeare, that takes huge balls.
?What happens when a member of the Endless quits? That’s the big question surrounding Destruction and the answer seems to be that it still keeps happening, it’s just not the big redheaded lug’s fault anymore. Destruction gave up on being the big bad of the Endless just as the atomic bomb got developed and he wanted to wash his hands of the whole thing. After taking off, Destruction tried his hand at art and other creative endeavors but he generally sucked at them. Ah well, better to be bad at creation than awesome at destroying life, right?
7) Cain and Abel
?The first murderer and victim from the Bible were first imported into DC continuity when they took Crypt Keeper-like roles in ’70s era horror books House of Mystery and House of Secrets, respectively. Then Alan Moore included them in his epic Swamp Thing story, but Gaiman really gave them the spotlight. And by spotlight, we mean, a platform for Cain to repeatedly kill Abel over and over and over again.
?Sandman is a book full of quitters. Instead of throwing down in what would have surely been an amazing battle with Morpheus, Lucifer — the king of Hell — just quits and hands the key of Hell over to Sandman and takes off for redder pastures. Instead of allowing mortal souls to torment themselves on his watch, the David Bowie-esque Lucifer bought himself a piano bar called Lux and just chillaxed with his no-faced demon girlfriend Mazikeen. You know what they say, a player’s gotta play.
5) Hob Gadling
?Hob started off as a regular guy in 1389 hanging out in a bar and rabble rousing. He tells his compatriots that he’s decided not to die. Liking the cut of his jib, Morpheus arranges for him to live forever with Death’s okay. Gadling and Morpheus made a deal to meet up every 100 years to see how each other are doing and for Dream to ask if Hob wants to go on living. Readers got to see Gadling go from soldier to slave trader to modern man with varying levels of riches, but all the time not wanting to give up his eternal life.
?Morpheus is a cold dude. He’s not the best lover — banishing one of his past loves to eternal imprisonment in Hell — but he makes an even worse father, just ask Orpheus. The product of an affair between Morpheus and Calliope, Orpheus’ wife dies on his wedding night, but his pops won’t help him get her back from Hell. Destruction and Death, do, but in the end he gets ripped apart by crazy broads. Instead of really helping his son, Morpheus gives Orpheus — who is now just a head — a group of priests to watch out for him, but tells him they’ll never see each other again. As part of his progression during Sandman, Morpheus breaks his word and goes to see his son, granting him his one awful wish.
3) Lyta Hall
?For the most part, Gaiman’s alterations to DC characters in Sandman haven’t really taken, but Hippolyta Hall seems to be the one exception (aside from Daniel’s few appearance in JLA and JSA) as Gaiman picked her up following her appearances in Infinity Inc. and, even further back, Jack Kirby’s short lived Sandman series. Gaiman took Hall and that version of the Sandman, made them a part of the dreaming and then took her even further by making her the vessel for her child Daniel, who would become incredibly important later on, but not before putting into motion the events that would lead to Morpheus’ downfall. After a miniseries starring her, Geoff Johns then picked Lyta Hall up in his JSA series and turned her back into a superhero. We’re big fans of that kind of continuity between DC and Vertigo books that some people seem so adamant about keeping separate.
2) The Corinthian
?In a series filled with demons and nightmares, none gave us the creeps quite like The Corinthian. An actual nightmare created by Morpheus, The Corinthian took a 40 year murder vacation while Morpheus was held captive for the better part of the 20th century. Becoming a legend amongst serial killers, the Corinthian attended the annual convention for people of his ilk where Morpheus and some of his other Dreaming creations caught on and put an end to his shenanigans only to remake the fang-eyed nightmare when forces threatened Morpheus and the Dreaming itself.
?Here’s hoping that Gaiman came closer than anyone else when it comes to figuring out what Death is really like. Dying sucks enough as it is, but if you’ve got to go, wouldn’t you rather go with a cute, pale girl with black hair — who MAYBE looks like Tori Amos — than some hooded skeleton? Becoming one of the most popular characters from Sandman, Death popped up here and there throughout the series and even scored a pair of miniseries. Probably the most compassionate member of the Endless, Death is seen hanging out with humans and encouraging her siblings, specifically Dream, to do the same.