How to Read ‘The Sandman’ Comics in Order
For the moody goth in all of us.
Netflix’s highly anticipated new adaptation of The Sandman, Neil Gaiman’s classic comics series chronicling the exploits of Dream of the Endless, is dropping in August. Starring Tom Sturridge as Dream, Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Death, Gwendoline Christie as Lucifer, and Boyd Holbrook as the Corinthian, The Sandman will tell the story of how Morpheus, the embodiment of dreams and the imagination, escapes his imprisonment by a magician and repairs his realm, the Dreaming. If you’re looking to enrich your Sandman experience by reading the original comics, then here’s how to read them in order!
The Sandman originally ran from 1988 to 1996, spanning 75 issues and winning numerous awards, including the World Fantasy Award and multiple Eisners. On the surface, reading the series in order seems pretty straightforward, since all the issues are collected into 10 numbered volumes. However, there’s also a dizzying number of spinoffs, one-shots, and specials to sift through. Is Sandman Mystery Theater required reading? What about The Dreaming, which focuses on the various characters inhabiting Dream’s domain? Or The Sandman Presents? Or the wildly successful spinoff Lucifer?
There’s tons of great Sandman reading out there, but if you’re just looking to get caught up on the essentials before the Netflix series drops, here are the core Sandman titles you should pick up (plus a couple of the very best spinoffs).
The Sandman: Overture
Although Gaiman and J.H. Williams III didn’t write this miniseries until 2013, it technically takes place first in the Sandman timeline. Overture starts with the birth of a galaxy and chronicles Morpheus’s exploits right up until his capture at the beginning of The Sandman #1.
Volume 1: Preludes and Nocturnes
Collects The Sandman #1-8. Roderick Burgess, a magician seeking immortality, tries to capture Death but ends up imprisoning Dream instead. After 70 years in captivity, Dream (also known as Morpheus) escapes and finds that his domain has fallen into ruin. Dream must enlist the help of various gods and demons to help him recover his three totems so that he can resume his job of governing the realm of dreams and imagination.
Volume 2: The Doll’s House
Collects The Sandman #9-16. Dream’s siblings Desire and Despair discover a dream vortex, a dangerous being capable of blending the imaginations of everyone they encounter. Meanwhile, a human named Rose tries to find her brother and ends up in the middle of a deadly conspiracy.
Volume 3: Dream Country
Collects The Sandman #17-20. This volume contains four separate stories that revolve around Dream and his domain. Two writers imprison the muse Calliope and force her to fuel their careers; a cat finds out that the world is shaped by dreams; William Shakespeare performs A Midsummer Night’s Dream for a faery audience; and an invincible superhero longs for death.
Volume 4: Season of Mists
Collects The Sandman #21-28. Lucifer abdicates as ruler of Hell, frees all the damned souls, and hands Dream the key to the domain. Dream must then preside over numerous gods all clamoring for the throne.
Volume 5: A Game of You
Collects The Sandman #32-37 (yes, the individual issues are a bit out of order in the collected editions, don’t worry about it). This volume centers on Barbie, a character first introduced in The Doll’s House. When Barbie is given an amulet called the Porpentine, she gets mixed up in the affairs of Morpheus and the Dreaming.
Volume 6: Fables and Reflections
Collects The Sandman #29–31, 38–40, and 50; The Sandman Special #1; and Vertigo Preview No. 1. This is a collection of standalone short stories, some of which barely feature Morpheus, so many fans consider it the least essential Sandman collection to read. However, if you choose to skip it, make sure you at least read The Sandman Special #1, “The Song of Orpheus,” because the events of this story have a huge effect on the final story arc of the series.
Volume 7: Brief Lives
Collects The Sandman #41-49. Delirium, Dream’s cryptic and unstable younger sister, decides to search for their long lost brother Destruction and enlists Dream’s help. Together, they visit various gods and beings in an effort to track him down.
Death: The High Cost of Living
As a standalone miniseries, this collection doesn’t have to be read before or after any particular Sandman volume, but I’m sticking it here because it came out around the same time as Brief Lives. Every hundred years, Death spends one day in a mortal body, and on one of her outings, she finds a suicidal young man and takes him on a journey of self-discovery.
Volume 8: World’s End
Collects The Sandman #51-56. Two travelers, Brant and Charlene, are in a car crash and need a place to stay. They make their way to an inn called World’s End, where various travelers all tell their stories. Brant and Charlene’s time at the inn act as the frame narrative for this short story collection, in which various people encounter Morpheus.
Volume 9: The Kindly Ones
Collects The Sandman #57–69 and Vertigo Jam No. 1. As the second to last volume of The Sandman, The Kindly Ones ties together all the storylines and loose ends that have accrued throughout the series. When Lyta’s son Daniel is kidnapped, Lyta blames Morpheus and sends the Furies after him. This volume is structured like a Greek tragedy, with the Furies as the chorus.
Volume 10: The Wake
Collects The Sandman #70-75. After the death of Dream, every being in existence gathers in their dreams to attend his wake and funeral. Meanwhile, the new Dream gets to know his domain.
Death: The Time of Your Life
Another spinoff featuring Dream’s sister, Death. When Death comes to take the soul of Hazel’s son Alvie, Hazel and her partner Foxglove make a bargain: next time Death comes, she can take one of them instead, as long as she lets Alvie live.
Lucifer Volume 1: Devil in the Gateway
If you fall in love with Lucifer in Season of Mists and want to see what he gets up to after his abdication, then check out the first volume of the Lucifer collected editions.
Netflix’s The Sandman streams on August 5, 2022. Until then, happy reading!
(featured image: Netflix)
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