REVIEW BY Dave Whiteman
Where should a superhero stand in society?
The 30th Anniversary of The Sandman
By Dave Whiteman
On November 29, 1988, the first issue of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman went on sale from DC Comics. Soon to be published under the new DC Vertigo imprint, The Sandman received critical acclaim and was one of the first graphic novels to be featured on the New York Times Best Seller list. Although originally advertised as a horror series, the comic would go on to break boundaries in the dark fantasy genre and would set the standard for mature-themed comics and graphic novels for years to come. Then a relatively unknown writer, Neil Gaiman started out writing articles for many British magazines, but after forming a friendship with comic book writer Alan Moore (Watchmen, V for Vendetta), Gaiman started writing comics including Miracleman and Black Orchid.
Gaiman had proposed to revive the 1970’s Sandman character by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby (after they left Marvel) but he soon created a new treatment for the character that would evolve into the series that we know. With unconventional cover artwork by Dave McKean, the series featured a variety of artists, including as Charles Vess, Sam Keith, Kelley Jones, Mike Dringenberg and Jill Thompson, which allowed for an assortment of styles and talents. The main character was Morpheus, also known as Dream, who was one of the seven Endless that personified certain aspects of existence, including his siblings Destiny, Destruction, Desire, Despair, Delirium, and of course Death. Death herself became equally popular among fans, especially women as she would heavily influence the Goth culture as well.
“We of the Endless are the servants of the living — we are not their masters.
We exist because they know, deep in their hearts, that we exist.” – Dream
The series featured a variety of stories which involved complex, multi-genre stories that even included references to William Shakespeare, one of which became the only comic book ever to win a World Fantasy Award. While The Sandman became a cult success for DC Comics, it also attracted an even larger audience, many who had never read comic books before. It would soon launch Gaiman’s highly-prolific career in both comics, graphic novels, novels, television and film. Although the original series lasted only 75 issues, concluding in 1996, the series would spawn a number of spin-offs, long-running series such as The Dreaming and miniseries, including titles under the newly released The Sandman Universe.
The legacy of The Sandman has surpassed all expectations of the comic medium and has earned many awards and soon would find its way into the mainstream of not just comics, but in the literary world as well. What makes the series stand the test of time and to be revered all over the world, is its uniqueness and its ability to address a diverse range of mature topics and darker subjects that comics had never addressed before. In a world dominated by superheroes, The Sandman became the flagship title for Vertigo Comics that would inspire other writers and artists to experiment with many themes and stories, to which has gone on to today.
Dave “Chernobog” Whiteman is a life-long comic book collector, metalhead, part-timer writer, Funatic and a die-hard Star Wars fan!
There are few occasions when I’ve been at a loss for words. This is not one of those occasions. Indeed, my problem now lies in deciding what words to use without forming an incoherent mass of babble. For how does one sum up the life of a man such as Stan Lee?
I could write about the history of comics and Stan Lee’s place in it. Because to write about American comics without discussing Stan Lee is like talking about American history without mentioning Thomas Jefferson. For all the controversy Lee has inspired over his treatment of his artist collaborators and the debate over just how much of his public persona as a shameless self-promoter was an act, Lee had an undeniable influence on the American landscape beyond even the world of comic books.
On that note, I could write about Lee’s status as a pitchman who could put P.T. Barnum to shame and how he made himself into the face of Marvel Comics. How many children of the 1980s still remember Lee’s bombastic voice-over introduction to every episode of Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends or The Incredible Hulk? And who could forget his many cameos in the Marvel Comics movies?
I could write about Lee’s status as a writer from a writer’s perspective and his influence on the industry. How it was Lee (along with Jack Kirby) who hit upon the idea of writing superhero stories from a more realistic perspective, with characters who were not always perfect and superpowers that could be as much of a blessing as a curse. This led to the creation of The Fantastic Four, which would pave the way for other flawed heroes such as Iron Man, Daredevil and, of course, Spider-Man. I could also write about Stan Lee’s First Rule Of Comic Writing – write every story as if it were someone’s first comic, because it probably will be.
For the sake of human interest, I could write about the man himself and his life outside of comics. How he was a Veteran who served during World War II, first in the Signal Corps where he repaired communications equipment, before being transferred into the Training Film Division, where he worked at writing training manuals, scripts for instructional short films and, yes, a few comics. (While he did this, he had the official military classification of playwright, despite not writing a single play.) I could also write about his romance with a model named Joan Boocock, and how they shared 70 wonderful years as husband and wife.
Getting personal, I could tell stories of the many times I was lucky enough to see Stan Lee speak. I could talk about how I was there when Stan Lee was roasted at a New Years Eve convention in Dallas. I could also write about that brief span of seconds being rushed through an autograph line, where I simply said “Thank you for everything.” as he quickly scribbled his signature on a reprint of Amazing Fantasy #15.
Perhaps all that is all that any of us who have ever read a comic book and dreamed can say?
Thank you, Stan Lee. For everything.
In 1991, comic book writer and artist Mike Mignola created a concept drawing of a demonic creature, that he called Hellboy, for a pamphlet for the Great Salt Lake Comic-Con. Although it bore little resemblance to the current incarnation that many fans now know and love, nevertheless it was the beginning of one of the most unique and distinctive looking comic book superheroes in the last 30 years.
Then his first full-color appearance was on the cover of “Dime Press” #4, an Italian Fanzine, in March 1993. Finally in August of 1993, Mignola published a short black-and-white comic book story for Dark Horse Comics in “San Diego Comic-Con Comics” #2, featuring the character as a paranormal detective, along with his characteristic red skin, in “John Byrne’s Next Men” #21.
Hellboy’s first story arc was the mini-series “Seed of Destruction” in March 1994, which featured his origin story and the first appearance of the B.P.R.D. (the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense), along with characters Abe Sapien and Liz Sherman, which was conceived of and illustrated by Mike Mignola and scripted by John Byrne. Supposedly Hellboy was primarily based on Mignola’s father, a gruff, working-class man, who always came home with many injuries, but just shrugged them off with his dry humor.
In 1944, the original founders of the bureau began with three members of the British Paranormal Society, a group of highly educated paranormal investigators including Professor Trevor Bruttenholm and a special unit of the United States army, infiltrated a small island off the Scottish coast known as Tarmagant Island, interrupting the Nazis “Project Ragnarok.” As part of that experiment, the evil sorcerer Grigori Rasputin opened a portal and inadvertently summoned a baby demon, later to be found by Prof. Broom, who named him “Hellboy” and officially adopted him in 1946.
Hellboy’s true name is Anung Un Rama, which means “upon his brow is set a crown of flame,” he has cloven hooves and his right hand, known as the “Right Hand of Doom,” is made of stone that was given to him by his father, the demon Azzael. Originally supposed to bring about the end of the world and the Ogdru Jahad.
Featuring Mignola’s simplistic, yet hauntingly surreal-style, Hellboy became a long-running series which lasted until 2011, when Hellboy supposedly died at the end of “Hellboy: The Fury.” With that, the story of Hellboy seemed to have come to an end until in 2016, Mignola released the 10-issue mini-series “Hellboy in Hell,” in which Hellboy wandered through the afterlife, having adventures and fighting demons, but also coming to terms with the end and to let go of his old life.
Hellboy would go on to appear in many mini-series, one-shots and crossovers, as well as returning to the B.P.R.D. comic books in the 1950’s retro-series. Since his appearance the character has appeared in two live-action movies starring Ron Perlman, two animated movies and three video games, as well as a new upcoming reboot in 2019 starring David Harbour from the “Stranger Things” Netflix series.