As dedicated fans of Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, we were delighted this week when Vertigo announced plans to compile an additional edition of its prestigious Absolute Sandman line of deluxe reprints. On sale this November, volume five will collect the wayward Sandman tales Endless Nights and The Dream Hunters - both the prose version illustrated by Yoshitaka Amano as well as the comics adaptation by P. Craig Russell. Of special interest to the hardcore superfans is the confirmation that Absolute Sandman Vol. 5 will include Sandman Midnight Theatre, the long out-of-print one-shot that depicts the meeting of Neil Gaiman's Drean of the Endless with Matt Wagner's interpretation of Wesley Dodds, the Golden Age Sandman.

The Sandman is one of only three DC Comics series (the other is WildStorm's Planetary and ABC's Promethea) that has seen its entire run reissued in the luxurious Absolute format, in which the stories are presented in an oversized fashion with extremely high production values, a hardcover and slipcase, and numerous bonus features that vary from title to title. Neil Gaiman's original run of The Sandman, which is a complete story, was fully collected in four previously released Absolute editions, but fans naturally wondered whether the various one-off graphic novels and other supplemental but similarly excellent work would be collected in a fifth volume. As one of those fans, I can tell you that such a collection would be necessary to maintain bookshelf harmony, so special thanks to Vertigo for recognizing this compulsion.

Endless Nights is a best-selling graphic novel in the anthology style. Featuring the artwork of P. Craig Russell, Milo Manara, Bill Sienkiewicz, Miguelanxo Prado, Barron Storey, Glenn Fabry, and Frank Quitely, each story spotlights one of the Endless, the family of godlike beings who administer crucial aspects of the universe: Destiny, Death, Dream, Destruction, Desire, Despair and Delirium. Beyond the typically sophisticated writing of Neil Gaiman and the breathtaking art of his collaborators, Endless Nights is notable for its inclusion of DC superhero mythology, specifically that of the Green Lantern Corps and Superman's home planet of Krypton.

The Dream Hunters is a prose novella written by Gaiman and illustrated by Yoshitaka Amano, the esteemed co-creator of Vampire Hunter D. Based on a Japanese folk tale, The Dream Hunters is a poetic story about the unlikely romance between a monk and the spirit of a fox, and the Sandman's influence over their situation. The book won the Bram Stoker Award for Best Illustrated Narrative, and was subsequently adapted for comics by P. Craig Russell, the writer and artist who illustrated the landmark The Sandman #50 and also retold Gaiman's Murder Mysteries and Coraline in comic book form. Russell's version of The Dream Hunters is also collected in Absolute Sandman volume five.

The deluxe reprinting of Sandman Midnight Theatre is of the utmost interest to myself, a recent devotee to the world of Matt Wagner & Steven T. Seagle and Guy Davis' astonishingly good Sandman Mystery Theatre. The classic Vertigo series about the Golden Age Sandman is remarkable not just for its incredibly chilling tales of serial murders in pre-war New York City, but also for its development of a truly realistic, mature and beautiful relationship between hero Wesley Dodds and his companion Dian Belmont. As made plain in James Robinson and Tony Harris' Eisner-winning Starman storyline, "Sand and Stars," the romance of Dodds and Belmont is arguably the greatest in the DC Universe.

An essential piece of the Sandman Mystery Theatre narrative despite not appearing in Vertigo's reprints of that series, Sandman Midnight Theatre finally shows readers the first and only meeting between Wesley Dodds and Dream of the Endless, whose imprisonment by occultists in the early 20th century was directly responsible for Dodds' activities as the Golden Age Sandman, which were motivated by inescapable nightmares of violence and injustice. The one-shot is co-written by Gaiman and Wagner and painted wonderfully by Teddy Kristiansen, whose work will no doubt look amazing in the Absolute format.

Another outstanding Sandman story that pops immediately to mind is "The Last Sandman Story," a short piece that appeared only in Dust Covers, a handsome coffee table book collecting all of Dave McKean's artwork for The Sandman series and its many collected editions. It was written by Gaiman and may be the only Sandman narrative that McKean illustrated himself.

The Sandman's publishing history is particularly rich, and there may yet be other stories unaccounted for. Can you think of any?

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