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Three things first off:
1. The hardcover of The Wake is beautifully presented and I think the cover is my absolutely favorite Dave McKean image. So perfect and gorgeous. I feel lucky to have the book in this form.
2. Matthew’s comments at Dream’s funeral make me cry. Like in that impossible-to-read-anymore-can’t-see-through-the-tears-have-to-put-the-book-down way. Every time.
3. The pun of the title is an obvious one, but I still love it.
It’s hard to know what to say about The Wake, really. After the manic The Kindly Ones, this is a quiet, meditative conclusion.
Michael Zulli’s intricate art in the first four parts provides a great counterpoint to Marc Hempl’s blocky, saturated art in The Kindly Ones. The contrast is a fitting one. There’s little action here. It’s mostly just characters talking, trading stories about Dream. I especially like his old lovers exchanging their thoughts about him. I like seeing Richard Madoc again (who, until he appeared, I’d forgotten about). I also like Batman and Martian Manhunter showing up here. While Neil Gaiman did get farther and farther away from trying to put this story in the DC Universe, I like the little reminder of “yes, friends, this was, in fact a comic book by the same people who publish Batman.” It’s a subtle bit of self-awareness.
While the three issues of “The Wake” and its epilogue, “Sunday Mourning,” do a good job of wrapping up the major plot points, I liked the feeling that these stories weren’t over. These characters are going to go off and have other adventures. I just may not get to watch. The Sandman exists in such a rich, lovely world that I feel like I was just given small glimpses into.
Hob’s decision to live in the end is beautiful and hopeful – it’s a choice that Dream couldn’t make for himself. Gwen even jokes about “they all lived happily ever after.” (And I know that he has a black girlfriend in the end was, in part, a reaction to that most of the black women in the comic ended up dead.) We know, from having read this comic, that there probably aren’t too many cleanly happy endings out there, but we leave most everyone at the point of a new beginning.
“Exiles” is a strange story – almost unnecessary, except that Jon J. Muth’s style here is amazing and for one line – “Sometimes I suspect that we build our traps ourselves, then we back into them, pretending amazement the while.” That is, essentially, the theme of all of The Sandman. Dream was his own prisoner. The only way he could find the way out of his cage was by dying.
And it’s impossible to not read “The Tempest” without injecting Gaiman himself into the story. Shakespeare is at the end of his career, writing his final play, and Gaiman’s wrapping up a nine-year long project. Shakespeare’s comments about family neglect, using personal tragedies in his work may or may not be autobiographical, but it’s pretty clear that any creative work involves making some sacrifice. It’s Gaiman’s explanation as to why he didn’t want to do this anymore, in one way or another.
And it’s the perfect ending to an amazing series. I closed the book and was left feeling thoughtful and complete. There’s other stories we could’ve been told, sure, but I don’t think I could really ask for The Sandman to be anything other than it was.
Except, for you know, being told about Alianora. But tiny, tiny complaint.
In a few days (next week?), I’ll do a final wrap-up on The Sandman. But I will say this now: I am absolutely glad I reread it. I don’t know what took me so long to do it. I already knew the series well, but I was amazed at how much there was in it I didn’t remember or didn’t notice before. I’m sure, in a few years, if I reread it once again, there will be even more. I think that is what struck me this time – just how much stuff there is here.