Book 3 in my introduction/re-introduction to graphic novels was Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes. Now, I like Neil Gaiman both as a writer and as a human so I probably would have got to his Dream Lord graphic novels eventually. Eventually. But the sale bumped him up on my reading list.
The premise is immediately eye-catching: A magician, attempting to capture Death in order to bargain for eternal life, ensnares her brother Dream instead. The magician takes Dream's symbols of office (a helm, a bag of sand, a ruby) and imprisons him in a glass cage. Without Dream to direct the Dreaming, people fall asleep for years. Decades. Seventy years (one of those people, Unity, is an important character for the rest of the series). When Dream (also known popularly as Lord Morpheus) escapes he goes on a quest to recover his stolen possessions and exact vengeance on those who wronged him.
Wow. Just, wow. I could not have predicted any part of the narrative. Inventive, creative, beautiful, and creepy as hell. I loved how Gaiman pulled in other mythologies as Morpheus progresses on his quest - the representation of the three witches/Fates was fantastic.
I was really surprised to see so much crossover with other DC characters (JLI, Arkham Asylum - I had to depend on introductions, notes, and a Wikipedia search to get all of them). But the crossover also provided the final villain to stand against Morpheus. The use of John Dee as a damaged man further deranged by the use of the Dream Lord's ruby provided an interesting counterpoint to the god-like and dispassionate Morpheus (and while we are on the topic of John Dee the "24 hour" chapter may have been the most disturbing thing I've read in ages; holy crap).
Although I couldn't get confirmation on this I still think Morpheus was deliberately drawn to look like Neil Gaiman himself. Can't wait to read more.
PS: How many more volumes until I get to Death's book? Great final chapter in "The Sound of Her Wings."