Last year I signed up for Audible for the sole purpose of listening to the new audio version of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. And I enjoyed it greatly, even though it comprised only a small portion of the 75-issue comic that ran between 1989 and 1996. I think there must have been a selection process to determine whether there was sufficient interest to cover the whole thing. The first release included Morpheus’ first trip into hell, the brutal Collectors episode, Calliope, Facade, The Dream of a Thousand Cats, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But wait! What about Orpheus, Augustus, and The World’s End? Well, fast forward to a few months ago when Audible released Sandman Act II.

Ah, there we find some more of my beloved favourite stories. It seems like they’re working around to doing the whole thing. Eventually. In Act II, we meet Orpheus (in the French Revolution-set Thermidor – Where do you hide a severed head?) and having met his mother in Act I.

In general, they’re doing a good job of telling the essential stories – there are so many characters and there’s so much rich storytelling in Gaiman’s original material (not to mention in Gaiman’s own source material, which includes Shakespeare, Greek mythology, science, fiction, and the mythologies that make up a lot of history) that planning this out required a lot of choices regarding order and the transition from illustrated storytelling to audio. When the original run of Gaiman’s Sandman concluded in 1996, it was obvious that its conclusions had been in mind from very nearly the beginning (this remains a spoiler-free zone, note). Almost everyone we meet has a role.

My main issue, has to do with that very transition. When you read a graphic novel, there’s no reason to describe all the characters – we can see them. What we get in the audio drama is a lot more exposition than perhaps the story needs. We know what Dream and Death, Desire and Despair look like from their first descriptions. There’s no need, usually, to repeat. And it’s okay for the listener to fill things in that are left out of the text. These stories are especially strong and, mellifluous as Gaiman’s voice is, this kind of exposition could have been trimmed in favour of more showing. (I’ll note that being familiar with the source material, I can picture a lot of the story based in the original illustrations. I do wonder what listeners coming to this without the prior experience think.)

Having finished the last couple chapters (The Hunt, Soft Places, The Parliament of Rooks, and Ramadan), I’m overall very pleased with the production values, the acting, and the script. My gripes regarding exposition are minor. I think a lot depends on the story. I didn’t feel the descriptions were problematic or overtaking the stories as the audiobook progressed.

It’s interesting how the people working on this have balanced the overarching story with pieces that are one-offs in context. The framing of Three Septembers, for example, provide some background on the conflict between Dream and Desire. The last four stories are all self-contained, but provide more context about who Dream is. Weirdly, Act II’s centerpiece, A Game of You, only has a couple of scenes with Dream at the very end. And it can be hard to see how it fits into the greater narrative. (In this moment it comes to me that it bears a structural affinity to The Hound of the Baskervilles in which Sherlock Holmes only shows up at the very end.)

In considering the stories not yet shared in audiobook form, I wonder if a forthcoming Act III or Act IV will cover The World’s End which had some insanely good artwork and at least two wordless two-page spreads that will be hard to describe. As the series progressed, the art got more and more interesting (and even the earliest issues weren’t slouching in this department). This might also be why the audio exposition is so detailed sometimes.

In any event, I definitely recommend it, whether you’ve read the graphic novels or not.