It's a little hard to believe it's been ten years since Neil Gaiman wrote "Sandman: The Dream Hunters." A prose work with illustrations by Yoshitaka Amano, "Sandman: The Dream Hunters" was something that I read and enjoyed when it was first published, but I have to admit has gathered dust on my bookshelf since then. In some ways it's almost the proverbial black sheep of the "Sandman" library; because it isn't an actual comic, I suspect it gets left out and forgotten more times than not.
With P. Craig Russell adapting it into comic book format, I have to admit that the idea really excited me. Partially because it means that "Sandman: The Dream Hunters" gets remembered once again, and partially because Russell's proven time and time again how good he is at adapting other works into comics. Gaiman fans are probably familiar with his adapting "Murder Mysteries" and "Coraline" into comics, but Russell's tackled everything from operas to Oscar Wilde short stories with great success all around. So if there was any one man for the job, look no further than Russell.
I deliberately didn't re-read the original work before picking up the first issue of "Sandman: The Dream Hunters" so that I could judge it as a new reader. The end result was a very nice surprise. The story begins a bit quietly, so to speak, with a badger and a fox placing a bet on who could scare a monk away from his lonely temple on the side of a mountain. From there, we end up with a love story, a horde of demons, and a journey into the realm of dreams, all with three yet issues to go. The story builds on itself very easily, adding in new pieces of plot and surprises in a delicate, careful manner. It's a good story, and it very easily hooks the reader into wanting more.
Honestly, based on that alone this would be classified as a good end product. What makes it great, though, is getting Russell's gorgeous art. If you're unfamiliar with Russell's soft, gentle lines then you are missing out on one of the best artists working in comics. From the very first page, of autumn leaves falling through the sky towards the ocean, Russell's art is so beautiful that it's hard to believe you're not looking at a piece of classical art. From the curve and crest of each wave, to the perfectly placed drifting leaves, its composure is quite impressive. Russell's skills continue to shine throughout the comic, drawing animals, humans, monsters, and storms all with such a perfect touch that it is breathtaking. Add in a soft color palette from Lovern Kindzierski, and perfect-as-always letters from Todd Klein, and this becomes one of the most beautiful comics you'll see all year.
In the afterword to this first issue of "Sandman: The Dream Hunters," Gaiman talks about the sequence of events that both created the original novella as well as this comic adaptation. At the end, he comments that it feels to him like he's getting to read a new "Sandman" comic for the first time. I completely understand; Russell's able to do just that with his adaptations, preserving the original feel while somehow making everything fresh and exciting. I, for one, can't wait for the next issue.