There are seven beings that are not Gods, that existed before humanity
dreamed of Gods, and that will continue to exist after the last God is dead.
There are seven beings that exist because,
deep in our hearts, we know that they exist.
There are seven beings that are called The Endless.
They are, in order of age, Destiny, Death, Dream, Destruction,
Desire and Despair, and Delirium, who was once Delight.
'The Sandman' is one of a bunch of comics that has come along in the last few years that has a far more adult slant than the usual Batman/Superman-type superhero stuff. Before you get too excited, adult doesn't mean lots of sex and violence. Even so, you may like it.
The main characters are the Endless - Destiny, Death, Destruction, Desire, Despair, Delirium and Dream, the sandman himself. They are not gods, or superheroes - they are the physical aspects of things that control the lives of every living thing. The Endless came into being when the first living thing was made and will be the last ones to fade away. As the title of the series suggests, most of the action revolves around Dream. This is not a single story, or even a series of stories - different characters weave in and out of the series, their actions possibly not having an effect until much later in the series. Complexity isn't lacking here. Although there are distinct story arcs which can be read independently, these arcs all fit together into a single coherent plot.
The series finished a couple of years ago, but even though the individual comics can be difficult to get hold of now, they are collected in a series of books. In chronological order (mostly):
Some pretty well-known characters from other sources put in an appearance from time to time - Cain and Abel, Eve, Lucifer, Wiliam Shakespeare, various gods, demons, angels, mythological characters, superheroes and even the occasional ordinary person. It's as if Neil Gaiman treats it as a game to pack the books with the most obscure possible references. A whole set of annotations have been written by various people from newsgroups, pointing out and clarifying the various references in the Sandman books.
Unlikely as it may seem, Death has taken on a life of her own (sorry for the pun) outside the Sandman series and has appeared in two books (The High Cost Of Living and The Time Of Her Life). The Neil Gaiman version of death is about as far removed from the skeleton-in-a-robe version of Death as you can imagine - a young, cute goth who likes Mary Poppins and is generally friendly to everyone she meets. Personally, I know which version I prefer...
Neil Gaiman hasn't just done the Sandman comics. As well as these and the two Death books, Neil also wrote the first run of the Books Of Magic and the Black Orchid graphic novel, amongs other stuff. He's even written a couple of 'real' books, for those of you who still don't want anyone to see you picking up a comic. He co-wrote Good Omens with Terry Pratchett, and wrote Don't Panic, a guide to the Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy.
Other people with far better writing and web-design skills than me have build enough Neil Gaiman web sites, so if you want to find out more, take a look at some of the pages listed below. You could even get hold of one of the books and give it a try (I'd suggest A Doll's House or Season Of Mists). Who knows, it might change your opinion of comics.
"If you need me, me and Neil'll be hangin' out with the Dream King
Neil says hi by the way"
- Tori Amos, Tear In Your Hand
The Heart Of The Dreaming
The Wake - Reflections on the death of the Sandman
Snow, Glass, Apples - a short story by Neil Gaiman