Every Wednesday we’ll be running a piece on a volume of Sandman.
You can find Jason Sacks’s introduction to the series here.
You can find Mark Stack’s overview of “Preludes and Nocturnes” here.
You can find Kyle Garret’s shindig on “Doll’s House” here.
You can find Daniel Elkin, Keith Silva and Taylor Lilley’s conversation about “Dream Country” here.
Michael Bettendorf: My first exposure to Sandman was during a Shakespeare course in college. It wasn’t part of the curriculum, but when searching for inspiration for my final project, my comic peddling friend PJ said I should check out “Dream Country” for a unique perspective. A few months later, I decided to start reading Sandman from the beginning. I didn’t get very far for various reasons, but over the past few years I’ve continued to pick up a volume here or there.
To this day, I haven’t finished the series in it’s entirety, but along the way “Season of Mists” has stuck with me more than other volumes. Maybe it’s the chilling fourth (or fifth, including the prologue) issue with young Charles Rowland’s murder. Or maybe it’s the familiarity of Dream’s family dynamic during our current holiday season that resonates most. Whatever it is, it looms in the air, like a mist.
Joining me in conversation, is the friend who first recommended that I dig into Sandman and the guy I can always count on to join in shamelessly binging on comics and burritos, Omaha’s very own PJ Hunsicker.
PJ Hunsicker: I’ve pulled an arm chair up to a roaring fire with a glass of fine whiskey. Some weird strangers are telling me to put their furniture back and leave their house, but whatever. Let’s talk art things.
Michael: Certainly, I’ll grab a robe and some slippers. Tell them to stoke the fire.
The prologue, issue #0, begins with Dream’s brother, Destiny, being confronted by the grey women (PJ’s note: these are the Graeae from Greek mythology. Like my 27-year-old self, you probably remember them as the three crazy ladies that shared one eyeball between each other in Disney’s Hercules. Go get the VHS from your mom’s house.), telling him he needs to call a family meeting, a meeting of the Endless. The reason for the meeting, is the meeting itself, for the events that will transpire, unbeknownst to them, because of the meeting. Whew.
PJ: This is a good example of Sandman’s metafiction. If there’s one constant in this series, it’s an obsession with stories – their nature, the way we interact with them, their structure and all that noise. The Endless need to have the meeting because something is going to happen. Something is going to happen because they have the meeting. This closed causal loop is an aspect of storytelling we often either take for granted or over-criticize. Stories are closed systems. Events happen because they’re supposed to happen. The main character is always the main character because they are the main character and if they weren’t the main character, someone else would be the main character. There’s nothing profound about this fact, but it’s an insightful commentary on structure nonetheless. Also when Destiny admits to the fact that the meeting has no point other than the fact that it needs to happen, we get an amazing page in which a bunch of gods have to awkwardly figure out what to say to each other.
Michael: Like most families, there are complications, there are black sheeps and turmoil that doesn’t allow things to run as smoothly as they might appear in a family unit. The embodiment of the Endless are no different. Neil Gaiman’s ability to create an authentic family system is on point, while Mike Dringenberg’s ability to personify these ideas into fully developed characters is rather spectacular in this issue. Dringenberg’s use of posturing and gesticulation gives the character’s unique personalities that reflect the ideas they represent.
The most developed relationship amongst the siblings is of course that of Dream and Death’s. They are closest and they can confide in one another, as we’ve seen in previous issues of Sandman. The story is pushed forward and the reason behind Destiny’s meeting is revealed when Death questions her brother’s moral integrity about his treatment of Nada (PJ’s note: Dream had bae. Bae noped out. Dream sent bae to Hell).
PJ: We’re also getting set-ups for major stories down the line. Desire-as-antagonist continues to develop, though we’re starting to see that this isn’t so much out of cut-and-dry villainy as it is childish squabbling between immortal shapers of existence. In other words, they put the diss in dysfunctional. Gaiman also teases the absentee brother, Destruction, who everyone seems to hold in high regard – a curious departure from their normally antagonistic family dynamic. This issue also marks the first appearance of Delirium – formerly Delight (whose image still appears on her portrait, a subtle suggestion that maybe the family longs for her more innocent days, as opposed to her current “alternative” look and demeanor). Delirium is the most highly stylized of all of the endless in the way her vocal cues are presented in constantly shifting multicolored thought bubbles with scribbled text of varying letter sizes. It creates a very ethereal tone. Sandman really stretches the limits of lettering in that respect throughout the series.
Michael: Yeah, I was hoping you’d mention the lettering with Delirium, because that is one of the stylistic choices that sticks out to me. I wouldn’t call it subtle, due to multi-colored bubbles and varying texts, but it isn’t jarring. It fits Delirium’s persona and is presented well. Another stylistic choice that stuck out to me was the way Dringenberg and Gaiman introduce the characters. It’s almost like a portrait you’d see in a grand hall, which is fitting for the house. For as rocky as some of the earlier issues looked, it’s apparent that, with these types of artistic choices, Sandman finally is hitting its sweet spot and becoming its own distinct book.
Also, I don’t really know what you’re talking about regarding Desire as an antagonist and Destruction’s absence because I’ve only read through Volume 5.
PJ: Desire continues to be a tool and Destruction is off living in a cabin somewhere because that Endless stuff is exhausting. Don’t hurt yourself trying to wrap your brain around all that.
Michael: Does Destruction have scotch? Because I’d be tempted to join that cabin. I could use a vacation. ANYWAY, LET’S MOVE ON, SHALL WE? HMM?
Yeah, I suppose we should probably move onto the next issue – which is #1 if you’re reading along in trades or #22 if you’re cool and have them in singles. I’m not above answering my own question to move on. Deal.
Michael: Okay, so to Hell with Dream, right? He’s realized he’d been a bit too, uh – harsh? with Bae, so he’s going to Hell to get her back. #Classic love story right? Rescue the girl who’s been tortured and locked up for 10,000 years. Close enough.
What I like most about this issue, is how we see how contemplative Dream is, spending the entirety of the issue preparing for his departure, spending time in dreams, meeting old friends and giving himself room if worse comes to worse. Which differs from the first time he had an absence when he was captured waaaaay back in Preludes and Nocturnes.
This reveals quite a bit about Dream and it’s rather humanizing. We know that Dream is afraid of Lucifer. This isn’t just about taking care of his responsibilities, but more about putting off the inevitable. He’s afraid. He’s uncertain. He’s utterly human right now.
PJ: I would say it isn’t just Lucifer he’s afraid of, but facing up to his own past transgressions and perhaps, even more so, fears that he will die before he can make it right.
Michael: Totally. He has to face Nada. He has to whip up some humility, admit he was wrong and apologize – on top of entering a place where they want to kill him.
What’s interesting to me is how this all played out. Do you think Dream truly thought what he was doing to Nada was just and only now realized he was wrong? Or do you think he knew he was overreacting all along and was just a worse Endless-person at that time in his life?
PJ: I think Dream was fairly humbled by his captivity at the hands of humans and had trouble seeing them as the insignificant beings he may have once treated them as. Committing one to an eternity of damnation and suffering suddenly seems like a crummy thing to do in that light.
Also, Gaiman (I suspect these particular decisions are more his than the artists’) has this thing about characters in Sandman having a resemblance to pop cultural figures – Constantine was modeled after Sting, Fiddler’s Green had some similarities to G.K. Chesterton, etc. And then there was Lucifer who, in Preludes and Nocturnes, was drawn to resemble David Bowie. And why not? Seriously. Tell me why not. There is no reason why not shut up.
But in the book he does not look like David Bowie. He looks like a weirdo with a dumb chin. And maybe there’s a point here about the ever-shifting nature and perception of mythological figures in culture but that’s beside the point because he doesn’t look like David Bowie anymore who do I blame for this I hate them (PJ’s Note: I don’t hate them. I find the art to be dynamic and expressive but it STILL ISN’T BOWIE).
Anyway. What were we talking about? Deathstroke?
Michael: Yeah, I remember reading somewhere about the resemblances to pop culture icons – mostly Bowie. Lucifer definitely looked more like Bowie in Preludes and Nocturnes than he does in further installments. His face does get less recognizable (as Bowie) as the story continues. Sometimes Dream’s face doesn’t look consistent, panel to panel, page to page and volume to volume. I mean, it does mostly, but whatever. I know artists show up here and there to do different issues – or maybe it’s on purpose (Michael’s Note: Inception Bwaaaah).
Deathstroke. Yes. Yes, something like that.
Well, shoot. Should we talk about the people he visits before heading to Hell? DO YOU CARE?! I dunno. ARE THEY SIGNIFICANT, PJ?
I would say the most important person he visited would be Hippolyta, due to her connection in previous issues and her son, Daniel, who I can only assume spurs future events in the series. (Michael’s Note: Remember I’ve only read through Game of You) So this is speculation, but knowing how Gaiman has already been setting up plot points, my assumptions aren’t entirely farfetched.
PJ: Yes. We’ve already established Daniel’s importance as the heir to the Dreaming should Morpheus ever die – a fact Lyta doesn’t particularly enjoy – so it makes sense he would pop in for a quick visit before heading off to his potential death.
Michael: Um? When was that established? I haven’t read the first three volumes in a while, so I’m a tad rusty.
PJ: Volume 2, Issue 12. The child gestated in a pocket realm in the dreaming that had been taken over by Brute and Glob, so Morpheus claimed him as an heir because of fantasy world-building rules.
Michael: Great. Where can I get some dream-wine? Can we toast to some dream-wine, PJ?
PJ: Dream-wine is my lady.
Michael: Also, there are a lot of Biblical references in Sandman, sorry to insult everyone’s intelligence by pointing that out, but whatever. I have more thoughts about that for a couple later issues in this volume.
PJ: Where are those references?! You’d better point them out because I don’t know…
Michael: Nothing like a good game of sarcasti-ball with you, PJ. Well, shall we move on?
PJ: By all means. SUM IT UP.
Michael: So I think this issue #2 (#23) could be fairly easily summed up in terms of plot. Dream goes to Hell, expecting a showdown, but instead he shows up and is greeted with what I imagine the theaters looked like on opening night of Garfield (PJ’s Note: Snap).
The place is essentially empty, save for the one guy that has to be there (Lucifer), the guy that stumbled in with purpose, but really, really doesn’t want to be there (Dream) and of course, a few random masochists who are enduring the pain and don’t want to leave (the demons). Is that accurate enough?
So Dream gets there and is all, “Uh, what’s going on?” and Lucifer is like, “Dude, c’mon…it’s obvious, bro,” and then tells Dream that’ he’s quit with one of the creepiest panels. That face…that face is far from Bowie. THEN we have three of the most meme-able panels of Dream. Please, there needs to be a caption contest for that sequence…
PJ: Neil Gaiman is going to have us killed. (Michael’s Note: Noooooo.)
Michael: Anyway, all of that aside, it’s a very well done issue, providing a new perspective on Lucifer. He confesses to Dream that he’s just tired of it. He doesn’t want to be in Hell any longer. Doesn’t want to be in control. He’s throwing in the semen covered sock (probably what they’d have in Hell right? Do they have towels?) (PJ’s Note: Yes, but they’re covered in semen. Hell is terrible.)
He questions his purpose and he questions God’s purpose in Lucifer’s existence. He questions how much of his rebellion was planned – did he have a choice in the Silver City (Heaven, by the way…too much?) or was it just a part of God’s plan? It starts a conversation about purpose, meaning – necessary balances – power…all sorts of heavy stuff, which we’ll touch on a bit more in a later issue when Dream is trying to get rid of the key. Oh yeah, that’s the result of this issue.
Lucifer tosses in the (PJ’s Note: Semen-covered. Hell is terrible.) towel and hands over the key (Michael’s Note: A…skeleton-key…) to Dream – and yeah, that’s about it.
PJ: Yeah, barely anything happens. Other than everything, I mean.
So Lucifer’s revenge is basically “good luck, asshole” and he lights out for the territory while looking very distinctly NOT LIKE DAVID BOWIE.
And before I move on, I would like to give a shout-out to Kelly Jones’ insane two-page spread showing Hell at the beginning of this issue. It’s like a mixture between Giger, Lovecraft and Terry Gilliam’s Flying Circus cartoons at a scale that Gaiman described in his script as “mind-fuckingly huge.” It’s super great. Moving on.
Michael: Yeah, lemme stoke the fire some more and refill my whiskey…who are these people? They have cheap whiskey…
Introducing the next issue with the Norse legend Loki, the snake and Sigyn (Loki’s wife), further illustrates how much stories are ingrained into the very being of Sandman.
The narrative continues as various gods, demons, angels and other beings become aware of Hell’s emptiness and Dream’s possession of the key to the bony gates of Hell. Dream becomes, somehow, even more distant while he revels in the fact that he came back from Hell without Nada and instead with a dumb ol’ key he doesn’t want; a key barring responsibility.
Like that use of a semicolon, PJ? #SomeonesBeenToCollegeIGuess
Dream confides in his sister, Death, about his decision and we get a quick, but pivotal plot point for the next issue – the dead are coming back to life.
Throughout the issue, it seems that Dream is more preoccupied with what to do about the key and less about Nada, at least in speech, but the way Kelly Jones draws Dream, it requires you to read between the lines of the situation that he’s been placed into. Jones has done a beautiful job at conveying agony, stress and mental anguish. Every perfectly placed hand gesture, posture, and scowl allows us into Dream’s head – a place of regret and uncertainty.
You uh, wanna take on a little bit about his guests, PJ? I’d be curious to know how Gaiman chose the potential buyers of Hell. Some of them definitely make sense – the angels, the demons – even Order and Chaos, but still, there seems to be a purpose to them.
PJ: Yeah, In one way or another, most of the figures that appear here are in some way related to death or the underworld, given that Hell is a realm of the dead. We can maybe infer that the figures of Order and Chaos (as an empty cardboard box and a small child, respectively) are there given that death is simultaneously part of the natural order of things, and yet the laws of thermodynamics suggest that all things are moving towards a state of entropy. So that’s the first reach I’m making. There’s Anubis, Egyptian deity of the underworld for a time. Susano-o-no-mikoto is the product of the Shinto god Izanagi cleansing himself of impurities following a trip to the underworld. One of Odin’s many associations is with the gallows. Etc. Etc.
Michael: Do you think he would have considered his sister? Sure, she’s off dealing with death pretty much constantly, but she is an Endless and it would make at least a smidge of sense for her to be considered. Then again, she’s the one that mentioned just getting rid of it and selling it to the highest bidder. She didn’t show any sort of interest in it, but it was a thought.
Also, Thor drank all of our Dream-wine, PJ and now he’s making lewd jokes. What do we do?
PJ: I think because her area is the very concept of death, she’s well above the need for any sort of realm. Her job is to get people where they need to go. I think the way Gaiman is contextualizing Hell as the “Most desirable plot of psychic real estate in the whole order of created things” is suggesting that the Abrahamic religions that Hell exists within are kind of the biggest world players. Nobody’s praying to Anubis or Odin these days, so it makes sense that they would maybe be reaching out for that relevency again.
And if you want to try to stop Thor, be my guest.
Michael: I couldn’t stop Thor if I wanted. I kind of like seeing him be a train-wreck. It’s an amusing counterpart to Marvel’s iterations of Thor. Since you’re a big fan of issue #4 (#25) – why don’t you kick this one off?
PJ: So this issue is a huge departure from the main story. Sort of. It is and it isn’t. Shut up. Leave me alone. (Michael’s note: But I can’t, we need to keep talking. These people won’t let us use their fireplace much longer.)
It’s set in the St. Hilarion’s School for boys, a kind of amalgamation of every boarding school from every movie with that sort of setting. Think the movie If…. but with a huge dose of psychological horror for taste. (Michael’s note: I mean, boarding school sorta screams psychological horror to me, but what do I know? I went to normy-public skool.)
It opens on a young boy, Rowland, sprawled out in what is clearly an attic. He’s sweaty, barely moving, terrified. Another boy, Paine, leans over him. Rowland says it has been 6 days and then the issue cuts to six days prior to this moment. Rowland is the only child left in the school over the holidays. The school serves as the proxy for the rest of the world when the dead begin to rise back up after being turned out of Hell, which is the least ideal scenario when it comes to the dead rising again. Set against what is supposed to be an upstanding institution, the sadism and horror that the dead inflict seems all the worse because it becomes painfully clear why they were in Hell in the first place. We find out Rowland was burned heavily against a stove by some expired bullies and was taken away to safety in the attic by Paine. Unable to move or call for help, Rowland succumbs to his wounds and when Death arrives to take him away, he refuses to go without Paine, who was the only person to stay by him in his last days. Considering Death has much more pressing matters to deal with, she lets him go and they vacate the school and move on to a brighter future. Seriously. There’s green grass and sun and an open road and everything. That school was terrible.
Michael: Right? It’s this type of diversion that shows Gaiman’s knack of storytelling. He could have went a much different direction to show that the dead are now rising, but this is what we got and the issue is great, but so utterly messed up. The headmaster’s mother was particularly twisted.
While it does depart from the main story, it acts as a tributary, as you said, only connected by the dead rising again. It seems to serve more as a conduit to illustrate some philosophical ideas, like the fairness of death, which was brought up in the kitchen when the three dead boys gang up on Rowland.
The lifelessness of the characters is expressed well by Matt Wagner’s pencils, who only worked on this issue of Season of Mists. His artwork uses fewer shading lines and thicker line weight. The faces of the characters is most distinct, having less detail than other issues. As I mentioned the lifelessness of the dead is conveyed through bold, empty white eyes that most of the characters have. Their facial expressions are exaggerated and can look somewhat simplistic, but somehow captures a childlike tone which is an interesting dichotomy to the subject material.
PJ: There’s certainly a cartoonier, boxier quality to the art in this one. I’d say that Wagner relies mostly on heavier shading and exaggerated expressions over subtlety.
Michael: Definitely so. The shading, especially of the figures is heavier and solid, whereas the background gets some line shading, but mostly relies on the heavy values to pull out, or leave out, detail.
PJ: And he often frames Rowland in the center of the panels and makes the backgrounds feel more expansive and encroaching. But I think the most terrifying moment is the one in which he doesn’t quite show anything.
Michael: Oh, geez. Yes.
PJ: The still-born child being held by the Matron with its tiny hand waving from the bottom of the panel saying “Hello” to Rowland. We’ve seen what it looks like, but the abject horror being so bad that the panel has to pan up. And that gurgly word balloon. YOU MONSTERS.
Michael: Right? And the heart indicating the molestation of the headmaster. Just the creepiest shit. Seriously, this issue captures evil and tosses it onto the page effortlessly. Nearly every panel has something off about it, be it creepy, some act of darkness, suspense, fear, disgust. It’s all pretty much terrible until Death arrives…woah…I think I’m done after that thought. Moving on?
PJ: Basically death in all of her ‘90s workout leg warmer glory seems way preferable to that hellhole DO YOU GET IT?
PJ: Exactly. The editors will love us. MOVING ON.
Michael: I have to edit this. ‘S cool.
But yeah, moving on, eh?
Issue #5 (#26) brings us back to the Dreaming and Dream’s banquet hall. The faeries, Cluracan and Nuala, are fashionably late to the party, but are welcomed by Dream, because he’s one hell of a nice guy, except the whole Nada thing…Okay, he’s mostly a nice guy, but who hasn’t messed up a time or two?
We get another scene of Thor being a womanizing asshat, making Mjollnir-penis jokes to Bast – the cat goddess. Do we need any more symbolism, say whaaat? Loki, who’s hair looks like the villain from The Incredibles (PJ’s Note: SYNDROME!), doesn’t eat, but rather does what he does best – observe.
The majority of this issue consists of the various parties making their offerings to Dream to consider in exchange for the key to Hell. Cluracan explains that the faeries offer up nine of their most beautiful, wisest women every seven years and winds up offering Nuala as the gift from Titania and Auberon (from Dream Country).
Dream says, “eh, we’ll see” and moves on. Afterward, Cluracan grabs some wine to party it up with some girls while Nuala drinks some water, being a responsible faery. Dream, being the awesome host he is, offers up some free entertainment while he meets with other guests in the form of a stage show where Cain saws his brother, Abel, in half repeatedly, taking advantage of his immortality.
There are some amusing exchanges between characters, including Bast telling Dream that Thor is being a giant perv, but she needs to talk to Dream regarding the key. Meanwhile, the Merkin (Michael’s Note: He had to know what a merkin is right? This was on purpose, it had to be [PJ’s Note: It was.]) and Choronzon start to get freaky in the bedroom…but wait! It’s a trap! and before you know it, Choronzon is caught in the Merkin’s web (gross) and let’s Choronzon know that Azazel plans to offer him as part of prize, along with Nada, for the key.
PJ: Just a great idea, bribing Dream in his own domain.
Michael: It worked for us to get this fireplace and cozy chairs…but let’s see, let’s see…Thor is completely blitzed out of his mind on some of that Dream-wine, and Odin tries to persuade Loki to deceive Dream for the key. Loki, as usual, is too bright for that and knows that they don’t stand a chance, especially in Dream’s realm.
Odin explains that his only fear is Ragnorok and a while back he created a sort of pocket realm that is in constant battle and he’s, “learned much from it.” The pocket realm is accumulating warriors, ones that Odin didn’t create, and he tells Dream that there is one warrior who has essence of Dream in him. So yeah, that’s his offering. It sounds like something that could lead to other story arcs later on.
PJ: I think it’s a reference to a JSA story going on around that time. According to the annotated version, see the miniseries, Armageddon: Inferno. Thanks Leslie Klinger.
Michael: Nice, must be cool to own those BA annotated volumes. Anywho, Jemmy (Chaos) tries to threaten Dream with, well, constant chaos. Dream doesn’t have any of it and tells Jemmy to knock it off. She does and adorably skitters off like the batshit-chaotic-little-girl-embodiment of chaos that she is.
PJ: She does give him her balloon. It is a normal balloon, which is a terrible trade. But it does give us a panel in which it looks like a very confused Robert Smith is holding a child’s balloon.
Michael: Haha, yes it does…yes it does, but Speaking of Order and Chaos…Kilderkin (Order) offers up some essence of dream’s from the newly dead and the promise of a perfectly ordered Hell if Order were to receive the key.
Susano-O-No-Mikoto mentions that the gods of Nippon are expanding and could use such real estate as Hell, so basically what you mentioned earlier about different religions being recognized and followed. He asks Dream to name a price and they will pay it. Dream’s like, “Money? Pffffft” and moves on.
Bast offers information, since she sees through the eyes of cats, and says she knows where his brother, Destruction is located. So, here we start to see some of the earlier threads pop up…buuuut while he finds it interesting and potentially worthwhile, he declines, figuring his brother doesn’t want to be found.
Last but not least, Azazel, the demon, offers Choronzon as a token for revenge for stealing his helm (Michael’s Note: Way back in Preludes and Nocturnes) and of course, the actual reason Dream went to Hell in the first place – Nada.
The issue ends with him tossing away the key only to have it appear at his feet. Decisions are tough, man.
PJ: This issue has a lot world-building. Gaiman is really digging in with his knowledge of folklore and mythology. It’s pretty exhaustive, as is his development of the rituals and manners of the “court,” so to speak. It’s actually even a little exhausting.
Michael: Oh yeah, each thread has a fully actualized story nestled within. Each of the offerings are clearly very well thought out and offer some sort of purpose to both the giver and Dream, but it does carry on a bit, probably more than necessary.
PJ: Everybody’s pretty much setting their cards out on the table. Sort of. We’re finding out that all of these gods are extremely petty and calculating. It’s an interesting dichotomy; all of these immortal, supposedly infallible beings squabbling and bargaining for Hell like it’s Black Friday for psychic real estate.
Michael: There’s a lot of great panels in this issue. They make solid use of space and depth to put so much information on the page. There’s some great use of facial expressions to show Dream’s interest or lackthereof in the bids. Not to mention some of the tension and/or amusement among the guests. The perspectives are pretty great too, particularly when Dream is dealing with both Chaos and Order, and the sex-ish scene between Chorozon and the Merkin. The final sequence continues to nail home just how stressed and spent Dream is in dealing with the key. The middle portion of the last page, especially, with the five closeup panels of the key being thrown away.
The fire is getting a little warm, so, time to open up the ol’ robe a bit. Hope you’re still cozy, we’ve got a couple more to go.
PJ: It would be cozier if you closed your robe back up.
Issue #6 (#27 if you’re keeping up) begins with Cluracan telling Nuala about his night-long debauchery, explaining that they have no chance of receiving the key because there are too many big boys in the house.
Loki takes one sad attempt at flirting with Nuala, only to get his neck Bart Simpson’d (Michael’s Note: Totally going to use this instead of strangled from now on) by Thor.
The two major plot resolutions that happen in this issue are: 1. What happens to the key? and 2. what happens to bae (Nada)?
PJ: Things. Things happen.
Michael: Alrighty, so Duma and Remiel have a message from the Creator for Dream, which is essentially that Hell must exist. It must exist because it is Heaven’s shadow and without Hell, Heaven is meaningless. Hell can only be entrusted by those who serve God directly. It’s at this point we see Duma realizing and coming to terms about what is going to happen. He and Remiel are to be the new proprietors of Hell, never to be in Heaven again. They are essentially being sacrificed to run Hell, sort of like Lucifer, except they didn’t rebel. Pretty shitty for those guys, but whew, what a relief for Dream, eh?
PJ: Well as it turns out, Duma is associated with death in Jewish mythology. More specifically, death’s silence (because the dead don’t talk much). And Remiel is the angel of hope, which will make sense later.
Michael: Knowledge is power! That brings us to Bae.
Azazel is pissed that he won’t be the new ruler of Hell, so he tries to trick Dream. If only Azazel were as smart as Loki he’d have known that trying to best Dream in his own realm is kind of a stupid idea. Azazel says he is going to devour Nada’s soul forever, but it turns out that she is protected, just like any other guest, regardless of her being held captive. Dream heads into Azazel’s mind, frees Nada and bottles up Azazel into what is likely to be worst message in a bottle. He’s tossed into a trunk for some poor kid to dig up in his grandparent’s basement in ten years or so I assume. Am I the only one that rummaged through his grandparent’s basement?
PJ: I can say for certain that you were if you expected to find douchebag demons in bottles while you were at it.
Michael: More like old pipe tobacco tins, straight razors and old, cool stuff. No demons though. And finally, Dream bids most of his guests farewell, expresses his regret that he could not give them all the key and asks Matthew (KEWH!…wait, wrong bird…) to ask Nada to join him for dinner.
This issue, as the last, showcased some awesome cases of perspective. The sequence where Dream dives into Azazel is the highlight of Jones’s penciling. Lots of great angles, lines, use of white space and depth to convey the vastness of Azazel’s self. Very impressive.
PJ: The overall design of Azazel is so much better compared to the first volume and is apparently closer to Gaiman’s original vision. He looks very unstuck from our perception of reality. OR SOMETHING.
Michael: Well, the bottle is almost empty, I’m getting sleepy and these people really don’t want us in their house anymore. One more issue, guys. It’s fine. The robe is closed up, there’s nothing to worry about.
The opening scene shows the damned returning to Hell. Remiel watches while Duma doesn’t seem to care. He’s, ya know, probably still bent out of shape for being sent to Hell. Can’t blame him.
PJ: Also he doesn’t talk. That’s his schtick. Are we reading the same book? Is this Hunger Games?
Michael: True, true, but I figured he would at least acknowledge what was going on. Eh well. The first thing I noticed is that we’re back to Dringenberg as the artist on this issue. His lines are lighter and more scratchy looking, but effective none-the-less. He uses shapes well to draw the forms within each panel and all in all, he draws figures well. The panel where Remiel is lying on the pillow, nude, looks kind of strange to me because the form is off. His legs seem to blend into one another and do not look correctly. And sure, he’s an angel, Michael, but he’s clearly based off a human form and that does not look correct.
Maybe he didn’t want to have to draw angel junk or assume that they even have genitalia, but if that were the case, he could have changed the perspective a bit to show just the legs or something less spread-eagle.
PJ: They’re beings that are beyond gender. Also nobody wants angel babies running around. They would look like Cupid and that’s confusing.
Michael: Fair point, that would be odd. Cherubs, cherubs everywhere…
The first sequence with Dream shows him waiting for Nada. It’s a five panel sequence that shows the passing of time and Dream’s nervousness about facing Nada after so long. It’s done well and done without any dialogue or narration.
Dream appears to Nada as Kai’ckul – the burning, hot white eyes reminding you it’s Dream. The conversation that follows goes about how you’d expect it might in their situation. It’s uncomfortable, awkward, there’s a loose tension in the air. The fact that Dream can’t look Nada in the eyes, let alone keep his eyes open says everything.
PJ: Can’t imagine why he would feel ashamed here.
Michael: Dream tries to apologize, but it’s half-hearted and earns him a smack to the face. The scene is ugly, the slap is ugly, but in a visceral sort of way. The pencils utilize the scratchy lines to show the motion in the panels and give shape and depth to their forms. What follows is the more important part of the issue.
After Dream is hit, he reacts instinctively with anger and says, “I should…I ought to…” and Nada comes back with, “…what will you do to me, Dreamlord? Send me back to Hell?” further highlighting that there is nothing worse he could do. He’s already done his worst – and in shame, guilt and regret, he admits his wrongdoing and apologizes sincerely this time.
PJ: Of course he would react that way. He’s Dream. He’s the embodiment of stories. He’s still sort of locked into that aspect of himself. It’s interesting to watch him catch himself on that. That’s one of the more fascinating pieces of this series is watching Dream “humanize” himself.
Michael: They kiss, make up, Nada accepts his apology and they’re back to where they started oh so long ago. They love one another, but neither are willing to give in and give up the life they have to be with one another. Dream talks about always remembering her, but Nada admits that she may not. Dream visits her in a hospital in Hong Kong, where she is reborn.
There are a couple of other threads that are still part of the tapestry here. First off, Loki has hung around a while, not wanting to go back to the snake and the woman, so he poses as Susano-O-No-Mikoto. Dream pretty much says, “Close, but not quite.” He does make a deal with Loki and creates a dream image of Loki that will go back to the pit, everyone else none the wiser.
I’m not sure if this ties into the miniseries Armageddon: Inferno, but I could see this coming back later. Same goes for the faeries. Cluracan tells Dream that Nuala is his gift, a permanent gift, and refusing it would not go over too well with Auberon and Titania. Dream isn’t any more pleased than Nuala is by this, seeing as she had no idea that this would happen, but he fixes her a room regardless.
PJ: Why don’t you just wait and find out?!
Michael: I WILL IF YOU LET ME. Gaiman seems to be leaving remnants of story lying around that will likely show up in later issues. Once again, a testament to his world building.
And then we have Lucifer, chillin’ on the beach in Perth, Australia, sipping some drink and catching some sun. A local approaches and talks about the sunset and how beautiful it is. Lucifer mulls over the man’s thoughts and finally admits to the Creator, “The sunsets are bloody marvelous, you old bastard.”
PJ: Love that moment.
Michael: It’s pretty much a perfect scene.
And finally, the new proprietors of Hell change the rules a bit, explaining that they don’t want meaningless torture and violence; it now comes with a purpose – to redeem.
PJ: And the dead do not like that. This always fascinated me. Are the dead that repentant that they can’t stand the idea of redemption? Does the longing for redemption make the torture worse? Why is it worse?
Michael: That’s something that has always puzzled me too and I suppose it would depend from person to person, soul to soul or whatever. It looks like Gaiman is seeing the act of repenting or just owning up to God about the crumby things you’ve done is your ticket out of Hell, so by that logic, those that are there aren’t repentant and don’t want to be redeemed…or as you said, those that have turned around over the years spent in Hell are repentant, but feel that this is their just desserts, so they don’t want to be redeemed…maybe? I have no idea why it would be worse though, maybe some sort of guilt or believing the torture is deserved. Some of the demons and damned wanted to be there and liked being there, so the whole idea of redemption is moot to them. I think there is more to be discussed sometime about this, though.
The final page shows Destiny closing his book, knowing that the purpose has been fulfilled.
Whew, you satisfied, PJ? I’m feeling pretty good right about now. Whaddya say we get out of here and let these poor folks have their chairs back?
PJ: I’d say so. I would like to seriously thank Leslie Klinger for the annotated versions of The Sandman. Those books have been infinitely helpful here. It’s an absolute joy to have that extra dimension of comprehension while reading through this series. Anybody who wants to dig deeper should seek those books out post-haste. What we’ve covered here (when we haven’t been making dick jokes) barely scratches the surface. It would take another six thousand words to get anywhere near a full analysis in my opinion. So yeah. Before the cops get here, let’s get out. Dream-wine on me.