The Sandman: The Dream Hunters

by Neil Gaiman & Yoshitaka Amano

Cover image

Publisher: Vertigo
Copyright: 1999
ISBN: 1-56389-629-X
Format: Graphic novel
Pages: 128

Buy at Powell's Books

The Dream Hunters is a stand-alone story in Neil Gaiman's deservedly famous Sandman universe. It was a return to that universe after a long break, which accounts for much of the splash and excitement about this graphic novel. It was also notoriously placed in the Best Related Book category of the 2000 Hugo, to run against various non-fiction books, since the award administrators couldn't figure out what to do with a graphic novel.

For all that splash, the substance is a little disappointing. This is, in essence, an illustrated short story, a fable with Oriental trappings told in words alongside lavish works of art normally at least a trade-paperback page in size. Facing, below, or above each short excerpt from the story is another of Amano's illustrations, including one fold-out spread, and I think the greatest appeal will be to those who love the Japanese-style artwork (which ranges from watercolor to charcoal). I'm not much of a connoisseur of artistic style and therefore am not the best to comment on the quality. I liked the paintings, but didn't find them special. I've seen better work in other Sandman stories. They're a cut above the average run of comics, to be sure, but they didn't captivate me and they set a mood more than told a story.

Similarly, the story shows the marks of Gaiman's grasp of style, language, and sense of wonder, but compared to the rest of his works, it's a somewhat pedestrian affair. After an initial fairy-tale confrontation demonstrating the powers of both, a fox falls in love with a monk, without much motivation or setup, and then they save each other's lives in a spiral of inescapable consequences and doomed love. Only towards the end does it wander towards the complex melancholy and tricky emotional depths that The Sandman offered reliably throughout it's normal run, and the involvement of the Sandman characters is fleeting at best. It's nice to see Morpheus again, it's particularly nice to see his raven, and Gaiman is one of the best at retelling fables, but this is certainly not the return of The Sandman. Endless Nights came much closer; this is just a minor short story set in the author's famous world.

If you are a Gaiman fan, The Dream Hunters is certainly worth reading, but I'm not sure it's worth seeking out. If you're a fan of Japanese artistic style and watercolor paintings, this work may be of sharper interest. For everyone else, this is a minor work of a great author, of passing interest and a pleasant way to spend an hour but not something to rush out and acquire.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2006-04-29

Last modified and spun 2014-12-21