Endless Nights
by Neil Gaiman, various artists
(DC/Vertigo, 2003)

Any return by Neil Gaiman to his award-winning, brain-tickling Sandman series is cause for celebration. But his various brief dabblings and consultations over the years since the landmark series came to an end do not compare to Endless Nights, a full-bore, hardcover excursion into the eternal realms that surpasses all hopes and dreams.

Endless Nights is a collection of seven short stories, each focusing on one of the eternal incarnations: Destiny, Death, Dream, Desire, Destruction, Despair and Delirium. Each chapter pairs Gaiman with an artist of extraordinary talent, some of whom have worked with him before, others who are making their first inroad into Gaiman's vivid, highly developed world. (Only the lack of anything new from Charles Vess, my favorite mainstay from Gaiman's stable of artists, is cause for minor complaint here.)

Death comes to Venice in the first tale, colorfully illustrated by P. Craig Russell. A soldier on leave searches for the mysterious lady he met in his childhood and the impassable gate where she bides her time; behind its timeless boundaries, a centuries-old court experiences endless revels in defiance of their pending fates.

Milo Manara provides rich, sensual visuals for Gaiman's tale of Desire, in which a woman of an ancient tribe learns the difference between wanting and having. Barron Storey's chapter is not episodic in nature; his stark and disturbing portraits of Despair spotlight the incarnation through the lens of 15 lives she has touched.

Delirium, meanwhile, is lost when she dives into the mind of a girl who needs a peculiar sort of healing; Bill Sienkiewicz provides the rough, uncertain illustrations that reflect the mood as a handful of Delirium's unwitting disciples attempt a rescue. Glenn Fabry tackles Gaiman's tale of Destruction, in which archeologists dabble in the future, not the past.

The eponymous Sandman, Dream, is the focus of a story set eons ago, when the stars themselves discussed their futures with the Endless -- and with plenty of winks and nudges to the DC Universe aficionado. This ancient story depicts a very different Death, one who has not yet grown to love those she serves; introduces the first Despair, seen here for the first time; and gives us a glimpse of Delight, the sibling now known as Delirium. Dream, however, was still unlucky in love, as shown in this highly detailed episode drawn by Miguelanxo Prado.

Frank Quitely closes the book by illustrating a poetic paean to Destiny, the subtlest and most guarded of the Endless.

This is not Gaiman's best work; his years-long Sandman series contains many chapters that are more powerful, more poignant, more gripping. But Endless Nights was surely not written to match or exceed 10 years of staggeringly brilliant, highly developed storytelling.

Rather, this excellent volume marks Gaiman's triumphant return to the place that launched all his subsequent successes. These short stories expand on the abstract mythologies of the Endless without needing or even trying to top what came before. They further our understanding of Gaiman's enigmatic characters without laying them bare to utter comprehension. They whet our appetites for more to come. Coupled with stunning art, these stories will sate our desire to share Gaiman's unique vision -- for a little while, at least.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 4 October 2003

Buy it from Amazon.com.