Neil Gaiman's Midnight Days

by Neil Gaiman, et al.

Cover image

Publisher: Vertigo
Copyright: 1999
ISBN: 1-56389-517-X
Format: Graphic novel
Pages: 208

Buy at Powell's Books

Catch-all collections of previously uncollected material are often a difficult concept. They happen when an author has become very popular and people want to read everything they've written, but often there's a reason why this material was never collected. It's even more difficult in comics, where the author probably started out working on established series with their own backgrounds and ongoing cast, where extracting single stories won't always make a great deal of sense.

This is a collection of much of Neil Gaiman's previously uncollected Vertigo work, much of it from before he went on to write his deservedly famous Sandman series and long before he became a novelist. Three of them are Swamp Thing stories (one previously unpublished), one is a John Constantine story, and the last is a Sandman Mystery Theater story, the only one featuring Dream.

This is a mixed bag, and of course lacks the epic scope and sweep of Gaiman's long Sandman series or later novel work. It's a collection of one-off short stories, and not only that but short stories that fit into existing continuities (even if they're all stand-alone within that context). The Swamp Thing stories were my least favorite, mostly because I just don't care about the characters. The final story was my favorite, in part since it participates, however obliquely, in the Sandman mythology that I came to love.

Nothing here is unmissable. If you've read everything else Gaiman has done, it's good for completists. His profund and ironic take on mythology occasionally glimmers through a story, though not strongly, and his introductions to the various stories are interesting reading. I wouldn't seek out this collection, though.

"Jack in the Green": Drawn by Stephen Bissette and John Totleben, the classic Swamp Thing team, this is the previously unpublished story. Gaiman wrote it and sent it to Alan Moore, who liked it, but it was never drawn until this collection was put together. It's the story of a 17th century Swamp Thing, at the death of his friend. As Gaiman says, nothing much happens, but the art is attractive and the story has a nice poetic rhythm to it. (6)

"Brothers": This is the first of the two Swamp Thing Annual stories, this one drawn by Richard Piers Rayner and Mike Hoffman and featuring the return of Brother Power, a character from comics that Gaiman read as a child. It's an odd, surrealistic story that fits a very surrealistic and nostalgic character. The retro-1960s thing didn't do anything for me; the moments with the Swamp Thing were better but still didn't hold my interest. I think it would have made more sense if I had any idea of the Swamp Thing continuity and background; as is, nothing much happened and I didn't really care about any of the characters. (5)

"Shaggy God Stories": Mike Mignola is the artist for this short second story from the same Swamp Thing Annual. It reminds me the most of Sandman, I think in part because the viewpoint character (Floro) is an insane stammerer who feels a bit like a cross between Gaiman's later Abel character and someone touched by Delirium. The conversation with the Green shows Gaiman's touch with mythology, but the story seems to be a coda or bridge to some new story, complete with foreshadowing, and since I know neither the prior nor the subsequent stories, it was mostly lost on me. (5)

"Hold Me": This is the centerpiece of the collection in more ways than one. It's a John Constantine story, the first non-Swamp Thing entry, and it's drawn by Dave McKean, Gaiman's long-time collaborator and the artist behind the Sandman covers. It's a strong short story in the classic mode, setting up a problem and a sense of dread and then putting a twist and barb into the ending. It's also apparently Gaiman's favorite of the collection. I must admit to not being as big of a fan of Dave McKean as the rest of the world (his art feels chaotic and often too dark to me), but he has a distinctive style and if you like his art, I expect you'll like this story quite a bit. The story is about homelessness and despair, and the moral is neither subtle or particularly complex, but Constantine works well as the cynic with a heart. (6)

"Sandman Midnight Theater": Co-written with Matt Wagner, this is a crossover story between Sandman Mystery Theater, featuring the original DC Sandman as a pulp noir detective, and Gaiman's mythological Sandman. (The art was painted by Teddy Kristiansen and fits the mood beautifully.) The story takes place while Dream is trapped by the madman he escapes at the very beginning of the Sandman series, so it's not a collaboration between Dream and Sandman in the full sense, but they do meet. Mostly, though, it's a Sandman story; he's untangling a blackmail plot on the verge of World War II. It's a quite satisfying detective story and shows off Wesley Dodd's dual identity and different outlooks quite well. A good classic pulp hero story, with a nice flavoring of Gaiman mythology, and I think the most successful story of the collection. (7)

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2006-09-11

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