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 reading of “The Doll’s House” here.
You can find Daniel Elkin, Keith Silva and Taylor Lilley’s conversation about “Dream Country” here.
You can find Michael Bettandorf and PJ Hunsicker discussing “Season of Mists” here.
You can find Ray Sonne and Alexander Lu discussing “A Game of You” here.
You can find Jason Sacks’s take on “Fables and Reflections” here.
You can find Ray Sonne and Daniel Elkin talking about “Brief Lives” here.
You can find Kyle Garret delving into “World’s End” here.
You can find Alexander Lu’s examination of “The Kindly Ones” here.
For a book called Sandman, Sandman wasn’t, in the end, really about Sandman.
Which is why his death works so well.
It’s never the death of the character that hits me emotionally, it’s the way that those who are left behind respond that spears me emotionally. I think it’s simply because that’s what we relate to. We don’t see the death of a character and think, yes, dying is no fun. But we do read about people grieving after the death of a loved one and we feel it, we know it. It’s not the tornado that upsets us but the devastation it leaves behind.
“The Wake,” Sandman #70-72
Kyle Garret: As you would imagine, death for one of the Endless is different than it is for the rest of us. The Endless, as the name suggests, don’t completely die. Not unlike superheroes, they are totems that will survive forever. But each iteration of that totem is a bit different, and each iteration lives its own life, making that life unique. Dream the character we’ve read about for over six years has died, but Dream the Endless never will.
The king is dead, long live the king, if you will.
None of this changes the loss felt by Dream’s family and friends.
The Endless go to the necropolis Litharge to begin their traditional ceremony when one of them passes. We again meet the disembodied voice that appears to hold power over the Endless and who can be contacted within the tombs of Litharge. This is also where “the cloth” and “the ceremony” are kept, the former featuring an image of Dream’s helmet, the latter being a large book which contains the details of how the wake will go.
There ceremony itself is not unlike most funerals. There’s a service featuring eulogies by those who knew Dream, starting with the Endless and moving through countless characters, some who have appeared in this series, some who have not. Each of the eulogies we hear reflect some aspect of the speaker and the relationship he or she had with Dream.
The cloth is placed over Dream’s body and he is placed on a boat with a swan at the head and Dream’s helmet at the end. The boat sails off and gets brighter and brighter, eventually disappearing in a brilliant flash of white light.
But, again, the funeral itself isn’t really the story here. The story is about those who were left behind.
The list of characters from the series who fall asleep and are pulled into the Dreaming for Dream’s funeral is extensive, from Rose Walker to Lady Bast and every mortal and god in between. Every major arc of the series is represented by at least one character. And one last time, Gaiman nods towards the large DC universe as a whole, including Batman, Superman, the Martian Manhunter, and the original Sandman in the wake.
And they have stories. They all have stories, because this is Sandman. Even though we know all of them, we don’t know everything, and a wake is the place to talk about the moments you shared with the deceased.
This is the perfect distillation of the series: unique characters telling stories because of Dream’s influence. Dream is the impetus, but he’s not in the panels, not on the page, because he isn’t what matters, what he represents does.
What he represents can never die, but it must start over. Daniel is the new Dream, but also the old Dream reborn, which is making his attempts to rebuild his kingdom difficult. The Endless so rarely die that the inhabitants of the Dreaming all view the new Dream as being exactly that: a new entity. For his part, Daniel doesn’t retain all the knowledge that his predecessor did, so his work is anything but smooth.
According to the big book o’ ceremonies, the new Dream cannot attend his own funeral, nor can he meet the rest of the Endless until they’re done seeing him off. This does not stop Destruction, the wandering Endless, from visiting Daniel while everyone else is at the funeral. Destruction asks him if he wants leave the Endless the way that he did. He says that everything will carry on just fine without him. He also makes the case that Dream and Destruction form the balance of the world, the optimism of dreams on one side, the entropy of destruction on the other.
The inclusion of Destruction in this story is important, because Destruction ultimately undermines the existence of the Endless, or at least their importance. Destruction has been missing for quite some time, yet destruction still happens. Unlike when Dream was imprisoned, Destruction left of his own choice, which is apparently the difference in how the universe responds to that absence. Because, again, these entities are not individuals, but representations of greater forces. Locking up the physical manifestation of dreams didn’t eliminate dreams all together, but it did cause problems. Destruction isn’t locked up, so destruction goes unchanged. The existence of the Endless is enough; all the rest is just window dressing.
Like the funeral.
Daniel continues to rebuild the Dreaming. The funeral ends and the mourners wake up, not entirely sure what it was they just dreamt. The Endless go to meet their new brother. The story begins anew.
There was perhaps no better choice to drawn “The Wake” then Michael Zulli. The word “lush” comes to mind, but I don’t think it does his work justice. Zulli has this style that makes me think of charcoal drawings, yet more defined like traditional pen and ink work. Daniel Vozzo takes full advantage of this, working primarily in earth tones which sets up the moments when he introduces brighter color. Delirium, in particular, benefits from this effect.
“The Wake” makes me wish we’d seen more work on Sandman from Zulli.
“Sunday Morning,” Sandman #73
Kyle Garret: And speaking of more Michael Zulli art, he continues his work on to the epilogue of “The Wake.” He’s not the only one to return, as Hob Gadling makes his final appearance.
I have a soft spot for Hob, as he first appeared back in the “Doll’s House.” His relationship with Dream was a singular one in that it was a two way street of friendship; Morpheus rarely allowed those around him to be on equal footing. And Hob was a mortal!
The story in a nutshell is this: Hob and his girlfriend go to a Renaissance Fair. Oh, this takes place in America, so this is Hob (now calling himself Rob), who was alive during the Renaissance, attending a poor reenactment of that time by way of America.
It’s a clever twist on what we’ve seen in Sandman for the last few years. The book, like much of what Vertigo was publishing at the time, was a Brits view of America. So here was Hob, face to face with America’s view of the Brits; he’s not a fan.
There’s an interesting moment in the middle of this book when Hob and his girlfriend, who is black, talk about slavery. Hob was once a part of the slave trade and remembers some very specific details of what it was like, although they’re generalized so that his girlfriend thinks he’s just talking about history, not remembering his past. But it introduces the idea that Hob, who has been an irregular cast member of this series and the closest thing that Dream ever had to a friend, is ultimately a horrible person. He clearly has guilt over what he did, but that doesn’t so much change what happened. How do you reconcile that? And what do we make of his girlfriend being black? Is she there to make us think he’s somehow evolved? It comes off as manipulative and rather weak.
Guenevere heads off to play her part in the fair, while Hob goes and gets drunk. He eventually stumbles into an abandoned building and it’s there that he runs into Death. She’s decided to pay him a visit as a gesture towards her now deceased brother. Hob tells her that he knew the dream he’d had of Dream’s funeral was real, but her arrival has confirmed it.
He asks if she’s there for him and she says that she can be. And Hob turns her down yet again, this time claiming that Guenevere would kill him if he died on her. And I guess that’s supposed to mean something, but it’s still just kind of awful.
I would imagine this issue is meant to tie up loose ends, but it’s mostly unnecessary, save for getting another issue of beautiful Michael Zulli art.
“Exiles,” Sandman #74
Jason Sacks: The Sandman was always one of those comics that had a strong attack of vertigo, swinging wildly between pseudo profundity, piercingly personal presentation, and precocious playfulness. At its best, Neil Gaiman and his fantastically talented crew of artists delivered comics that transcended their subject matter and stuck in the mind. They delivered comics that are timeless in every sense of the word: unstuck from any specific time period and any specific genre; outside of the fashion of their times and the zeitgeist they explored. When Gaiman and his artists were at their best, they delivered comics that filled an aching void that readers never knew they had. When they were at their worst, Gaiman and co. created a void that ached for an anchor.
“Exiles”, by Gaiman with art by Jon J Muth, from Sandman #74, is one of those comics aching for an anchor. It’s one of those Gaiman stories that is intended as a parable, or a kind of exploration of a different viewpoint, or perhaps a travelogue between dream spaces. It sets the reader down in one of those soft places that readers explored in Fables and Reflections, mashing up Eastern philosophy, dream logic and a love for cats in a way that is (judging by your mood) either achingly pretentious or profoundly moving.
Count me in the list of people who think this story is pretentious. With lines like “And now I am here, sand in my beard, thoughts washing into grey dreams, like sea foam, washing over everything”, I kept wanting to turn the page to find something, anything (please God anything) happening in this story. I desperately wished for a move away from pseudo Kahlil Gilbran claptrap like “You mourn, for it is proper to mourn. But your grief serves you: you do not become a slave to grief. You bid the dead farewell, and you continue.”
The art by Jon J Muth is lovely, definitely in the tradition of Gaiman’s most fruitful collaborators. His use of negative space is spectacular, emphasizing mood and parable in a memorably gorgeous way. There’s a sense of space and energy in his use of the page that fills the story with the vastness of a desert and the desolate loneliness of a man who lost his child.
It’s a shame that Gaiman’s story doesn’t deliver a richness that matches his artist’s vision. “Exiles” is one of those pseudo profound presentations that read painfully. Sometimes vertigo causes a fall.
“The Tempest,” Sandman #75
Kyle Garret: You have to admire the fact that Neil Gaiman is upfront about the artist who influenced him the most. And you have to respect the gumption it took to make said artist a character in his story.
Did we know Sandman #13 would feature so many beginnings that would only have endings in the last months of the series? First Hob Gadling in #73, now Shakespeare in #75, who made a deal with Dream all those years ago.
In this final issue, Shakespeare is writing his final play, and we can see that Gaiman is using him as a stand in of sorts for himself. It’s a bold statement, really, to make your literary hero a character in your story and then to take it a step further and place the story of his last story in your last story.
I swear all of that makes sense.
The story itself is ultimately about Shakespeare coming to terms with his life and the fact that he owes his success to a deal he made with this other worldly creature. He owes Dream a play, the play he’s writing, but he’s unsure what will happen after their deal is over. Is Dream the devil? Will he no longer be able to write? What will his life be like now?
These are questions I would imagine Gaiman was asking himself. What would life be like post-Sandman? It was the series that made him. Was there life after Sandman?
Special side note: This issue also features a guest appearance by Gran’ma Ben, from Bone. It’s really just a woman drawn to look just like her, but it’s a nice nod towards what was arguably the best comic on the shelves when this was published.
And, as always, there is a story within the story. Shakespeare is writing “The Tempest,” but is ostensibly writing about himself, just as Gaiman is writing this issue of Sandman, but also writing about himself.
This is, of course, how you would expect the last issue of Sandman to go. And a series about stories should end with one about the man who most influenced Dream’s creator. The Morpheus we knew may have died, but has been reborn, albeit differently. His story will continue on without us. There is never really an ending, even when the writer puts down the pen.