And so we reach the end of our journey with Morpheus, Lord of Dreams. THE SANDMAN, VOLUME 9: THE KINDLY ONES brings down the curtain on Neil Gaiman's legendary creation, and it's all over but the crying. (Which we'll see in VOLUME 10: THE WAKE....)
Spoilers!!!!! Consider yourself warned.....
The first thing you'll notice is that this volume is, by far, the biggest of the bunch. Weighing in at over 300 pages, and collecting thirteen full issues (THE SANDMAN #'s 57-69), and a short story pulled from VERTIGO JAM #1. It's also, far and away, the most beautifully told story in the series, as Gaiman uses the extra breathing room to play host to almost every character we've encountered in the series thus far: Fiddler's Green, Mervyn Pumpkinhead, Cain & Abel, Lucien, Matthew, Eve, Lucifer and Mazikeen, Remial and Duma, The Corinthian, Lyta and Daniel Hall, Barnabus, Rose Walker, Zelda, Hal, Death, Destiny, Desire, Delirium, Despair, Loki, Hob Gadling, Odin, Thor, Puck, The Cluracan, Nuala, Thessaly, Alec Burgess, and the titular "Kindly Ones"- The Furies.
Having spilled "Family blood" when he took the life of his son Orpheus in THE SANDMAN, VOLUME 7: BRIEF LIVES (Review HERE.....), Morpheus opens himself up to be targeted by The Furies, who are sought out by a vengeance-crazed Lyta Hall. Lyta's son, Daniel, was conceived in dreams, and, as such, belongs to Morpheus. Now, Daniel has been kidnapped, and Lyta blames Morpheus. (The matter of just who commissioned the kidnappers, is never clearly spelled out by Gaiman. I originally thought, twenty years ago, that I was just dense and missed it, but now, thanks to Gaiman's afterword and Google, I know that it purposely wasn't addressed. There's a strong implication that it was Dream himself that dispatched Loki, but if that's the case, how did Robin Goodfellow get involved? Was it purely spite on his part, as he hints in his conversation with Nuala? The brilliance of Gaiman's storytelling is that he doesn't hold the reader's collective hands, and leaves certain aspects of his story open to individual interpretation. He clears up some long-standing mysteries in this volume, and leaves a few new ones in their stead. As the book progresses, and the quest of Lyta Hall escalates, the endgame becomes inevitable, but it's still a shock when Gaiman actually presents us with the story's climax. The interwoven plot threads from all of the previous volumes, almost everything Gaiman has shown us, all that his characters have said and done, all of them come back in this ninth volume, and are woven together as beautifully and skillfully as any reader could possibly hope for.
Artwise, this is probably my favorite SANDMAN collection, as the bulk of the art is handled by Marc Hempel (GREGORY), whose work I adore. His cartoony style somehow suits the story perfectly, and he's ably abetted by Kevin Nowlan, Richard Case, D'Israeli, Glyn Dillon, Teddy Kristiansen, Dean Ormston, and Charles Vess. Hempel especially excels at capturing Lyta Hall's descent into madness, taking her from pretty, shy introvert to blood-crazed warrior, and making it seem effortless.
Every SANDMAN volume has been an outstanding read, but THE SANDMAN, VOLUME 9: THE KINDLY ONES is the first one that I'd give a perfect 10 out of 10 to. Highest recommendation possible.