Taken as a whole, Neil Gaiman's series The Sandman is probably my favorite comic book series. On the surface it is the story of Dream, one of the seven immortal beings known as the Endless. Each one embodies a concept over which they have dominion: Destiny, Death, Dreams, Destruction, Desire, Despair, and Delirium (formerly Delight).
This is really just the jumping off point for Neil Gaiman's storytelling though. Since his main character is the "Prince of Stories", Gaiman felt entitled to tell any story he wanted. Horror, comedy, high concept fantasy, mythology, and countless other genre's make an appearance. Yet despite this, all these disparate story arcs eventually connect and merge until at the end it truly feels as if it is the inevitable conclusion of everything that came before.
Frankly, don't have the words to sum up the series. Thankfully, Neil Gaiman was asked to sum up the Sandman in one sentence and did so brilliantly:
"The King of Dreams learns that all things must change or die and makes his choice".
That brilliance is why I love this series. But this is a list of my favorite storylines, not complete series. So I am going to narrow my focus down to a single arc: the Season of Mists.
Even among the cornucopia of pleasures that The Sandman provides, Season of Mists stands out. It starts simply enough. After a family meeting, Death basically uses guilt to convince dream to free an old lover that he cosigned to hell. He knows to do that he must cross paths with Lucifer, who he had offended earlier in the series. He girds himself for battle and prepares to storm the gates of hell itself.
Up to this point it is a pretty typical comic book plot. But when he gets to hell he finds it empty. He eventually finds Lucifer, only to find out that he has tired of his duties and decided to quit. He kicked all of the demons and tortured souls out of hell, which is causing no end of chaos. He then locks the gate and gives Dream the key, making him the new ruler of hell.
The key proves to be as devious a revenge as any could imagine, since there are many gods, demons, and manifestations of abstract concepts who desire it. Dream is trapped by his overwhelming sense of responsibility to consider all who desire the key. Meanwhile, the devil relaxes on a beach.
Seriously, Lucifer has never been written better. Well, maybe in Paradise Lost.
Tune in tomorrow for #2 on my Top Ten Favorite Comic Stories.