Sandman is a brilliant fantasy series which mashes up colorful bits of genuine history (around the theme of story telling: Emperor Norton of the US, Marco Polo, the life of Shakespeare) with mythologies both real (Norse, Greek, and Judaic play particularly prominent roles) and invented – centrally, a mythos of The Endless, beings who are older and deeper than the gods, incarnating fundamental aspects of sentient experience: Death, Desire, Despair, Delirium, etc.
The central character is Dream, second oldest of the Endless, whose story unfolds through lots of lesser stories. Start either with Fables & Reflections (vol 6), a short story collection which introduces the characters and themes of the series through various historical and mythological vignettes, or Season of Mists (vol 3), in which Lucifer decides to close Hell and hands Dream the key, kicking off a political wrangle between various other godlings and demons for who’s going to end up with that valuable piece of metaphysical real estate…
Preacher has a lot that’s terrific about it… as well as a lot that’s just dumb and exploitative. It’s got a vision of humanity (and especially America) where pretty much every seemingly upright town or household masks perversion, degradation, and cruelty… and that eventually gets well past the credible and into the silly. Sometimes it plays the silly well, as with the epic tale of Arseface; sometimes, as with the Nazi dominatrix lawyer who gets a crush on our hero, it’s just preposterous.
But there are terrific bits too. Character moments I won’t spoil. The plot is basically a fallen preacher who acquires magic powers and goes hunting for God Almighty to hold him to account, accompanied by his assassin girlfriend and vampire buddy.
In the end, I read it as a really interesting story of a comic book writer trying to cut himself free of Christianity (font of most of the story’s aforementioned perversion, degradation, and cruelty) to embrace a pagan heroic ethic, but finding that he himself wouldn’t survive in a world run on that ethic, and looking to hold on somehow to the Christian ethic of grace for the contemptible – even while trying to kill off the Christian love-God. It holds together in a very different way than I’d thought it would when I started reading it, and I wonder how much the author knew the ending from the beginning.