Three years after the Sandman called it quits, and just over 10 years after issue #1 hit the stands, the Dream Hunters was the best return the King of All Night’s Dreaming could’ve asked for.
I was nervous about this story: It’s structure is a departure for the Dreaming, being a novella with accompanying illustrations instead of a ‘comic book.’ I didn’t expect it could capture Dream’s trademark twinkle nearly so well — and I was wrong. This is the Sandman, and it’s one of Dream’s most powerful stories. Gaiman spent years evoking the style of myths of all colors to tell stories about — well — stories, and this is him exercising that experience to pay homage to Japanese and Chinese folklore.*
This isn’t a continuation of the original series, either, making it a safe read for new-comers. The nods are there — and satisfying — but they’re unimportant to the story itself. The Dream Hunters is all Morpheus and his fatal hubris from beginning to end. He guides two potential lovers, a fox-spirit and a monk, to care for one another despite their doomed situation. Theirs is a sly, sad defense of forbidden love only Morpheus could deliver.
The illustrations decorating every other page were provided by Yoshitaka Amano, best known for his iconic Final Fantasy artwork. Amano’s simple, yet complex images go hand-in-hand with Gaiman’s prose. They’re both detached and maybe a bit cold in the same fairy-tale way, gently carrying a story for any time and as old as time to the reader. His pencil lines are sparse, but still provide fine details to strike humanity in his characters. (& his ethereal style captures the ’80s goth-punk vibe of Morpheus’ (contextually-ridiculous) figure so well!)
I loved it. It was sad, tender, cute ‘n’ sweet, and oh-so-powerful: The best collaboration you could want from these two artists.
* The Dream Hunters has a Japanese flavor. Gaiman cites a collection (pub. 1908) of Japanese myths by Yei Theodora Ozaki as the source (with minimal alterations to fit in with the Dreaming) in the afterword. He was wrong, for whatever reason; it’s source is Pu Songling (c. 1700) of the Qing Dynasty–though how similar it is, I have no idea.