I’m on a personal mission to start reading more comic books. Old or new, I just need to read more of them! So this week I’ve grabbed a few that tickled my fancy.

The Sandman (“Dream Country,” Issues #17-20) written by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Kelley Jones, Charles Vess, Colleen Doran, and Malcolm Jones III – DC / Vertigo

The extent of my Sandman knowledge prior to reading this was miniscule at best. I knew it was supposedly AMAZING and that Gaiman did it (and I have yet to read anything of his that I don’t care for). Little did I know the whole thing I was jumping into! My friend let me borrow a trade he had, “Dream Country” with the stories “Calliope”, “a Dream of a Thousand Cats”, “a Midsummer Night’s Dream”, and “Façade”. They were each stand-alone issues bound with the theme of dreams. The Sandman as a character appeared in each, but there weren’t any other cues to tell you that they were connected. It was a really great way to start the Sandman, since I didn’t know it was a 75-issue endeavor! It was a wonderful little sampler plate with everything from Egyptian gods to Grecian muses to William Shakespeare to kitty cats!

Like I said, it was the first bit of Sandman I’ve read, but I highly recommend it! It was a nice shakeup from the capes, and it kept you interested and invested in the characters. The version I had included in the back one of Gaiman’s scripts, covered with scribbled notes. As someone who loves seeing the behind-the-scenes content on any project (and lover of director’s intent), I was fascinated by all the little things that go into making a comic book. Granted, a lot of this information is available online, but little tidbits like the fact that the female artist who drew the title character in “Calliope” drew her very skinny, almost emaciated, with ribs sticking out and gaunt shadows. The inker didn’t think that was very appealing, so he didn’t ink in all the gaunt bits and shadows like he was supposed to. I find that incredible interesting! (It sounds boring, I know, but look at the character’s design and it will click, I promise!) My favorite story was about the cats (of course), because it was so unique. I loved the determined, heartbroken character they had created… out of a feline! It was very interesting and I was completely on-board. Yes, I may have teared-up a bit at one point. :’( My second favorite story was Façade. What a tragic character they featured. There wasn’t a lot of backstory, but that’s because it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter how our leading lady got to where she was. The point was that she was there and she was miserable.

Spider-Man: Fairy Tales (Issues #1-4) written by C.B. Cebulski, illustrated by Ricardo Tercio, Niko Henrichon, Kei Kobayashi, and Nick Dragotta – Marvel

There are four issues in this trade paperback with the theme of telling Spider-Man stories in the style of classic fairy tales. “Off the Beaten Path” is a “Little Red Riding Hood” style story featuring Mary Jane as the lead role that really explained the core of the Mary Jane/Peter relationship. “The Spirits of Friendship” is told in the style of classic African tales, with Spidey in the role of Anansi. I think this was the most clever of all the tales, as it tied together the traditional tales of Anansi so perfectly with Spider-Man. They are very similar characters, so it was really interesting seeing them interacting together for the first time I’d ever seen! “Eclipse” was the story of the symbiote told as a standard samurai story. And “What You Wish For” was a “knights in shining armor” version of Peter and Gwen’s (brief) relationship. All but the Anansi story are origin tales. They show how Peter took the step to become Spider-Man (or the Boy with Red Skin or Prince Arachne).

I absolutely go crazy for this kind of creative story telling. I love hearing original versions of classic stories, like all the Spidey stories we know and love! The artwork is delightfully appropriate for each story, and my only real complaint is that there wasn’t enough of it. I felt that a few of the stories could have benefitted from being a 2-3 issue arch. “What You Wish For” seemed the most rushed. There’s a lot of content to get through: Peter and Gwen meeting, Peter and the Osborns relationship, Gwen’s death, and the aftermath. Within the constraints of a single issue story, I think they did as well as they could. I just wanted more!

No Man’s Land (Issues #1 & 2) written by Michael J. Kessler, illustrated by Mickey “Spooky Kid” Chaney Jr. – Bleating Goat Comics

I was recommended this comic by an offbeat dude and it totally fits! The story is about AFTER zombies take over everything. After there aren’t any humans left. But then a zombie starts returning to his more human-like state. It’s really cool! I didn’t like the first few pages, but by the time I finished the second issue, I was all in. It’s as if the comic book gods heard all the pleas from us peasants “please, we love Walking Dead so much, and zombies are so cool… we just need interesting new stories!” and the gods sent us No Man’s Land and they saw that it was good. And there was much rejoicing.

I’m really interested to see where this story goes. It’s almost like a complete inverse of the typical group of survivors who stave off the zombies until one by one they’re picked off. I can’t wait to see what happens when more zombies get “back to normal” or however you want to put it. I really want to find out what’s reversing the zombie virus. I’m all in on this one and I can’t wait to read more.

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