Monday, March 4, 2013

Fox Hunt

Sandman: The Dream Hunters: written by Neil Gaiman; illustrated by Yoshitaka Amano (1999): For the tenth anniversary of the first issue of his critically and commercially gigantic Sandman comic-book series (which ended its run in 1995), writer Neil Gaiman wrote a novella set in the Sandman universe and illustrated by acclaimed Japanese artist Yoshitaka Amano. It's not a comic book, but rather an illustrated story, as Amano wasn't comfortable trying to draw a comic book.

We see several familiar characters again, chief among them Morpheus, also known as Dream, one of the seven Endless in Gaiman's comic book (the others being, circa 1989, Destiny, Death, Desire, Despair, Destruction, and Delirium, the last once having been Delight before something changed).

Set in medieval Japan, The Dream Hunters ostensibly retells a Japanese folk tale. Gaiman's afterword in which he somewhat puckishly and straight-facedly describes this (imaginary) folk tale led a lot of people to believe there really was a folk tale to begin with. There wasn't. That thinly veiled versions of DC Comics' Cain and Abel make an appearance, along with the Dream King's raven, possibly should have tipped people off.

The story begins with a bet between a fox and a badger about who can force a young Monk to abandon his lonely mountain-side shrine so that either the fox or the badger can live there. As foxes and badgers have considerable abilities in the realms of shape-changing and illusion, this is a bet it seems one or the other must win. But things don't go the way either plans.

It's a very enjoyable story, and Amano's illustrations offer a new look at Gaiman's Lord of Dreams and his kingdom. I do think that Gaiman is a better comic-book writer than a writer of prose, however, and P. Craig Russell's comic-book adaptation of this novella, from 2009, is superior to this work. In either case, one doesn't have to know the backstory of Sandman to enjoy the book. Recommended.

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