Classic Comic Book Canon: The Sandman. Issues 1-4

Welcome to a series that I am continuing. I am going to go through Neil Gaiman’s now-classic series The Sandman


Issue #1

Title: “The Sleep of the Just”

 Artist: Sam Keith and Mike Dringenberg

Collected in: Preludes and Nocturnes

Plot: In 1916 the Order of Ancient Mysteries hold a ritual in order to summon and capture Death. The leader, Roderick Burgess, instead captures Morpheus, the Lord of Dreams. The cult steal his tools: his helmet, his ruby stone, and his bag of sand. Around the world, different people suffer after effects of the Sandman’s imprisonment succumbing to a sleeping sickness.

Burgess’s son Alexander figures out the identity of their prisoner. Ruthven Sykes, second-in-command to Burgess’ Order of Ancient Mysteries decides to strike out on his own. He steals a large sum of money from Roderick as well as Dream’s tools. Roderick’s former mistress Ethel Cripps runs away with him. Sykes barters Dream’s helmet with a demon named Choronzon for protection. Ethel Cripps leaves Ruthven Sykes and takes the Dreamstone. One of the sleepers, Unity Kincaid, is raped and gives birth to a girl.


Roderick Burgess dies and Alexander takes over, keeping Morpheus prisoner. He lives in the mansion with his partner Paul. In 1988, Alexander’s wheelchair accidentally smudges the binding circle. Dream pretends to collapse. Paul McGuire unlocks the glass dome to check on him. As soon as he does so, Morpheus blows sand in his face and escapes. Across the world, those who were affected the worst by the Dream Lord’s imprisonment begin to awaken. Morpheus takes his revenge on Alexander by trapping him in a never-ending nightmare.


First appearance: Morpheus, Unity Kincaid

DC characters Wesley Dodds (the Golden Age Sandman)

Historical references Roderick Burgess and the Order of Ancient Mysteries is loosely based on real world occultist Aleister Crowley and his Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

Between 1915 and 1926, an epidemic of encephalitis lethargica spread around the world. Nearly five million people were affected, a third of whom died in the acute stages. Many of those who survived never returned to their pre-existing “aliveness”.

Keep an eye on: There’s a lot that happens that will affect the rest of the series. Unity Kincaid is going to play a major role in the next arc. The demon that Sykes trades the helm for will appear again. Ethel Cripps will also appear again

My take I think it’s interesting that Gaiman chooses to introduce Morpheus at his very lowest. I also note that the first stories are very much in the horror vein.


Issue #2

Title: “Imperfect Hosts”

Artist: Sam Keith and Mike Dringenberg

Collected in: Preludes and Nocturnes

Plot: Dream arrives at the House of Mystery, and he asks Cain and Abel for their letters of conscription. The papers that bear his signature provide just enough power to give Dream a bit more strength. Morpheus journeys beyond the Gates of Horn and Ivory to the steps of his castle, which has fallen into a state of severe dilapidation since he’s been gone. Lucien the librarian comes out and tells Morpheus about what has been going on in the Dreaming since he’s been away.


Morpheus visits the three witches known as the Hecateae to find information regarding his tools of office. His pouch of sand was last seen in the hands of a hedge mage named John Constantine. His helmet was given to a demon by Ruthven Sykes and his ruby was last seen in the presence of the Justice League.

Meanwhile, ninety-year-old Ethel Dee visits her son John in Arkham Asylum, who is in a terrible physical and mental state. He was the super villain known as Doctor Destiny.

DC characters All of the characters in the Dreaming we meet were “hosts” of DC’s horror anthology comic books.

  • Cain and Abel were the hosts of House of Mystery and House of Secrets.
  • The Raven Woman, Eve, was the host of Secrets of Sinister House.
  • The Fashion Thing was introduced as The Mad Mod Witch as the host of The Unexpected.
  • Lucien was the host of Tales of Ghost Castle.
  • The Three Witches originated as the hosts of The Witching Hour, but they were introduced as human witches, not supernatural deities.

Arkham Asylum is the institution where most of Batman’s rouges gallery are imprisoned. Batman, Green Lantern and other JLA members are shown. John Dee is Doctor Destiny. 1 Pre-Crisis, 2 he had created a dream stone called the Materioptikon, and the JLA employed psychiatrists to keep him from dreaming. Post-Crisis, it was the stone itself that took a toll on him.

Keep an eye on: We will see the witches in various forms throughout the series

My take: I like how instead of rejecting the DC universe, Gaiman embraces the obscure hosts of the 70s and brings them into his world, setting the precedent that anything can be found in the Dreaming


Issue #3

Title: “Dream a Little Dream of Me”

Artist: Sam Keith and Mike Dringenberg

Collected in: Preludes and Nocturnes

Plot: John Constantine wakes up after suffering a terrible nightmare. He goes down to Ed’s Easy Diner for breakfast. The song on the jukebox is about dreams. When he leaves, he encounters a street woman named Mad Hettie. Hettie warns him that the Sandman has returned. Hettie warns him to heed her words for she is two-hundred and seventy-three years old.


Dream finds John and inquires about his missing bag of sand. He tells Dream that they should check an old storage facility that he once leased. John finds a photograph of an ex-girlfriend – Rachel. He now recalls that Rachel stole a bunch of his stuff and sold it for drugs.

When they enter Rachel’s house they find that her father has been transformed into a living nightmare – barely alive. John enters Rachel’s room. Years of substance abuse have wasted her and she is slowly dying. Dream notices that she has the sand pouch and cites that it is the only thing that has kept her alive until now. John asks him to put her out of her misery. Dream places Rachel into a happy dream where she is young and healthy again. Dream collects his pouch as Rachel dies peacefully.

John asks Dream for a favor. He describes the nightmares that he has been having, and Dream tells him that his nightmares will now cease.

DC characters John Constantine 3 first appeared in the pages of Swamp Thing and is the main character of Hellblazer. The events of this issue take place during the events of Hellblazer# 18. John makes a reference to an incident that took place in Newcastle. Newcastle was the scene of a botched exorcism that Constantine took part in in 1978. The trial proved so harrowing that Constantine was committed at the Ravenscar Secure Hospital for two years.

Chas Chandler is a friend and reluctant driver of Constantine. Mad Hattie appeared in Hellblazer and will appear later in the series

Historical references This issue is peppered with lyrics from various pop songs relating to dreams. Songs include:

  • “Dream a Little Dream of Me” by the Mamas and the Papas
  • “Mister Sandman” by the Chordettes (or the Four Aces)
  • “Sweet Dreams” by Patsy Kline
  • “Sweet Dreams” by the Eurythmics
  • “Dream Lover” by Bobby Darin
  • “Power of Love” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood
  • “In Dreams” by Roy Orbison
  • “The Dreaming” by Kate Bush
  • “All I Have To Do is Dream” by the Everly Brothers

My take I really think this issue is to establish the book along with DC’s other horror books like Swamp Thing and Hellblazer.


Issue # 4

Title: “A Hope in Hell”

Artist: Sam Keith and Mike Dringenberg

Collected in: Preludes and Nocturnes

Plot: Dream travels to Hell to retrieve his missing helm. He is met by Etrigan who takes Dream to see Lucifer. He takes Dream past a woman he knew long ago – Nada. Nada begs his forgiveness for a prior betrayal, but Morpheus refuses.

Sandman 04-07

The triumvirate of Hell (Lucifer, Azazel and Beelzebub) convenes before Morpheus, and he informs them that a demon stole his helm of office many years ago, and he has come to Hell to reclaim it. Using his magic sand, Dream eventually finds the one in possession of the artifact – Choronzon. Choronzon claims to have acquired the tool fairly, and has broken none of Hell’s laws. If Morpheus wants it back, then he must challenge him for it.


The game involves taking on the identity of an item or animal and using the properties of that item to trump the opponent. Dream wins the challenge. Lucifer vows that one day he will destroy the Dream King.

In Arkham Asylum, John Dee receives a gift from his dead mother, the charm thst Sykes had received from Choronzon

First appearance: Nada is seen as a prisoner. This is the first appearance of Choronzon.

DC characters Hell became a triumvirate as a result of a civil war which was sparked by the appearance of the Great Darkness. The events that led to this war culminated in Swamp Thing (Volume 2) #50. Etrigan, known as The Demon, is a character who was bonded to a mortal called Jason Blood. Agony and Esctasy made their appearances in Hellblazer.

Keep an eye on: Nada and her story will play an important part of theSeason of Mists storyline. Lucifer becomes a major player, and recieves a spin-off comic. 4 Choronzon and Azazel appear later as well

My take More connections with the DC Universe. I think it’s interesting that the series will drift away from the mainstream and become its own thing