At this point, there have been way more comic book “Sandmen” than a person can rightly count, and while the most popular remains the Neil Gaiman iteration, it owes a heavy debt — and over the course of its run makes references both tangential and concrete — to the version of the character introduced by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon in 1974. Simon and Kirby had collaborated on another “Sandman” altogether around three decades previously, but the ’70s version, while short-lived, remains beloved by fans and creators alike, and so when DC announced its series of specials in celebration of The King Of Comics’ centenary, it was certain he’d be making a return appearance — and so he has.
The Sandman Special #1 is neatly divided into three distinct sections — the first story, written by consistently-busy veteran Dan Jurgens and illustrated by nowhere-near-as-consistently-busy veteran Jon Bogdanove, sees the land of dreams’ sworn protector, along with colorful and loquacious sidekicks Brute and Glob, working overtime to try to contain the extra-powerful imaginings of a precocious little boy; the second, scripted by Steve Orlando with pencils by Rick Leonardi and inks by Dan Green, sees a now-grown version of Jed, who figured prominently in both the Simon/Kirby and Gaiman series during earlier phases of his “life,” trying to make amends with his past after the death of his grandfather; and the final third is a collection of “Strange Tales Of The D.N.A. Project” back-up strips by Kirby himself that originally ran in the pages of Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen. That’s the particulars out of the way, then.
You already don’t need me to tell you that the final section of this $4.99 book is the best one and worth the price of admission alone (that is if you haven’t read all these short, two-page strips already), so let’s talk about the new material : the Jurgens/Bogdanove yarn is definitely the stronger of the two, and while it’s entirely predictable, that’s also the source of its strength and charm — you know who the over-active little dreamer is from the get-go (or at least you know who you want him to be), and events play out precisely as expected. Jurgens’ script is simple and efficient, and really just gets out of the way and lets Bogdanove, who treats us to some sumptuous double-page spreads (including an amazing Kirby-esque collage) have all the fun. That’s as it should be. The art style is pure homage all the way, yet delivered in a manner free of the curse that is intentional irony, thereby allowing it all to look and feel as entirely respectful as it is. Nobody’s re-inventing the wheel here or anything, but I defy you not to have an ear-to-ear grin on your face by the time it’s all said and done.
Somewhat less successful, but still not too shabby, is the Orlando/Leonardi/Green strip — it’s great to see Jed again, don’t get me wrong, but having his grandfather be a physical doppleganger for Kirby feels like a clunkier and more forced tribute than the more seamlessly-woven one delivered just a handful of pages previously. It’s okay enough in its own right, but only that — okay. Again, the art is basically what we’ll call an extended, and entirely polite, tip of the hat to The King.
On the whole, then, I admit that I had plenty of fun reading this book, and a supremely cool cover by the great Paul Pope provides the icing on the cake for this birthday tribute celebration. I paid for this comic out of pocket and didn’t feel ripped-off in the least, and I’ll look forward to reading it again when I go through all these specials in a single sitting once they’ve all been released. Of the three that have come out so far, I’d rank this one in the middle of the pack, just a notch behind Howard Chaykin‘s The Newsboy Legion And The Boy Commandos Special, but well ahead of the dull and unimaginative travesty that was Shane Davis‘ New Gods Special.
Okay, fair enough, the greatest tribute one could pay to Jack Kirby would probably be to create new and innovative characters and concepts that actually push the medium forward, but if you’re bound and determined to play the “nostalgia card,” you could do it a whole lot worse than it’s done in these pages.
Story : Dan Jugens and Steve Orlando Art : Jon Bogdanove, Rick Leonardi, and Dan Green
Story : 7 Art : 8 Overall : 7.5 Recommendation : Buy