Review: Endless Nights

Title: Endless Nights
Publish: DC/Vertigo
Cover Price: $24.95 USD
Release Date: Sept. 17, 2003
Creative Team: Neil Gaiman, writer; Glen Fabry, Milo Manara, Miguelanxo Prado, Frank Quitely, P. Craig Russell, Bill Sienkiewicz, Barron Storrey, illustrators; Dave McKean, designer; Todd Klein, letterer.

By this point, everyone who keeps up with these sorts of things knows of Endless Nights.  By this point, even people who don’t keep up still may. DC has pushed Endless Nights throughout the media, and pieces on Neil Gaiman have appeared in such mass-media publications as USA Today, Entertainment Weekly and  The blitz surrounding this book is obviously working — it’s at #20 for the New York Times Bestseller list in Hardcover Fiction for the week of Oct. 12.  That’s no small feat for a graphic novel.

Is the book really worth all of the attention? Endless Nights is, of course, gorgeous.  That’s the ultimate point of this book — the perfect souvenir of ten years of DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint.  It’s more art book than graphic novel.  It’s a reward for loyal fans of the series to glimpse The Endless drawn by a diverse group of international artists (most of which have never appeared before in The Sandman) and a functional standalone for new readers.

Still, the stories are what make this book — and, on occasion, keep it from being as fully satisfying as it should be. “Death and Venice” is a strong start with Neil Gaiman’s penchant for blending elements of the fantastic with everyday emotions.  Complimented by P. Craig Russell’s familiar art, it provides the perfect beginning for the book.  “What I’ve Tastes of Desire” continues strongly, both sexy and matter-of-fact, in both text and Milo Manara’s illustrations.

After the first two chapters, though, the rest of the book is a little uneven.  “The Heart of a Star” is strange and misses its mark (although it’s hard to say exactly what mark it was trying to hit), and although “Going Inside” has an captivating construction, it’s hard to follow. The weakest of the seven stories is “On the Peninsula,” leaving no lasting impression on readers (and has the most traditional comic book art, by Glenn Fabry, of the seven).

The standout story is without a doubt “Fifteen Portraits of Desire,” and is the farthest removed from the comic book format. While still sequential art, it breaks the panel/dialogue balloon format as Dave McKean marries Barron Storey’s jagged, intriguing artwork with Gaiman’s snippets of text, revealing moments of despair in individual lives. Discomforting but heartfelt, this single story is nearly worth the price of the entire book.

The Destiny story provides a clean epilogue to Endless Nights and does make the book as a whole feel like it was going somewhere, even if most of what’s here doesn’t leave too much of a lasting impression. Maybe the book was little more than an excuse for Neil Gaiman to work with some artists he wanted to, but that’s not a bad thing. At its best, Endless Nights may show some people that there can be more to comic books than just men in tights and capes. For those that already knew that, Endless Nights, for its flaws, remains a good reminder.