Archive for thesandman

More re-reading of The Sandman

Eric San Juan is re-reading the series, volume by volume over at Weird Tales.

I certainly didn’t think my idea was unique and I have no clue if Eric San Juan knows of it. But it’s a lot of fun to see someone else’s take on the series. I loved re-reading it and discovering new things in the process. It delights me that someone else is doing the same thing and recording his thoughts on it. Obviously, I don’t agree with everything he’s said, but I’m also surprised at some of the conclusions we both came to, like that Dream Country is where Neil Gaiman finds his voice in the series. I’m also surprised at where we differ — he likes Season of Mists much more than I did this time around.

I also admire his ability to write about each volume every week day — I could barely manage one per week.

The Sandman: In conclusion

I started reading The Sandman the day after my 14th birthday. I turned 28 a few weeks ago. If you do that very easy math, you find out that The Sandman has been in my life for half of it.

What has changed in these 14 years? Well, for one thing, I can tell you there was no young adult novel that featured a young female Neil Gaiman fan as one of the major characters 14 years ago.

It’s impossible to know quite how The Sandman changed comics. Yes, the title gave rise to the Vertigo imprint and showed there was interest in adult stories (even if most of those take the sex-and-violence bit of “adult” too much to heart). It gave creators permission to make titles that were finite from the beginning. It opened a door for titles like Hellboy, with their mishmash of history, literature and mythology. It put comics in the hands of people who never picked up a superhero title, who in turn, put comics into the hands of other people who’d never read comics either.

And it was – and is — read by a lot of girls and women. This is undeniably important.

The comic book industry is still trying to figure out what women and girls want. They give us things like the Minx imprint, which is, at most, well-intentioned. They try out titles like Mary Jane Loves Spider-Man. They create manga-style comics. They do all the gimmicks they can think of. They never stop to think girls and women may just want something that doesn’t set out to appeal to them. They just want something that’s good.

Women read The Sandman because it’s good. Yeah, it’s a cliché that boys recommend it to their girlfriends (a few weeks ago, a man at the bar was overheard doing so to his date). And I’d gladly recommend it to women. Not in a general “you’re a woman so you’ll like this” kind of way, but to a woman I’d think would like it? Yes, there’s no question there. (Of course, I’d also gladly recommend it to men who I think would like it.)

Personally, it opened up a new world to explore. It was a world of literature and myth, of music and art. It was one I fit into. It’s one I could see myself being a part of. It’s maybe a little dramatic, but feeling trapped in the halls of high school, it was important to me to know that there was more out there. I’m not trying to give it too much credit, but I think The Sandman showed me who I could be, if I wanted. (I was 14 when I first read The Doll’s House. Rose Walker was 21. That seemed impossibly distant to me. It’s funny for me to think that I’m as far from that age now as I was then.)

I’m glad that Neil Gaiman is currently associating himself with Amanda Palmer of The Dresden Dolls. This will only mean that a new generation of teenage girls (of certain sensibilities, of course) will want to know who this “Neil Gaiman” is and pick up The Sandman. No bad can come of this.

I still love the comic. Maybe I love it more now than I did, but it’s in a different way. I see the craft (or sometimes, the lack thereof) of it, I see the beauty and the storytelling. It’s far from perfect, but I can’t think of anything else that covers so much history, encompasses so many characters. Like I said, The Sandman just has so much stuff in it. Maybe “24 Hours” freaked you out but “Ramadan” made you cry. Maybe you wanted to smack Dream sometimes and then other times you just felt sorry for him. The Sandman feels like it set out from the beginning to be huge and ambitious. Maybe it didn’t always make it to where it should’ve gone, but it’s a fabulous, lovely series.

It deserves its reputation. I’m proud to own it. I think if I learned anything by rereading it, I learned that. Or, at the very least, just had it re-affirmed.

(And also, it was a lot of fun rereading it. I recommend it!)

Revisit: The Sandman: The Wake

The Wake

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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.

Revisit: The Sandman: The Kindly Ones

The Kindly Ones

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I always remembered The Kindly Ones as being long, messy as complicated. I remember reading it for the first time in one sitting, not looking up for hours, and once I closed the book, I realized I was really hungry.

Certainly it was engrossing. And I supposed I liked it. But I didn’t remember much else about reading it, other than a few scant plot details.

And yes, The Kindly Ones is still long, still messy and still complicated. Those memories remain true. But I was amazed by it this time – it’s perfectly paced and brutally heartbreaking. It’s long and unrelenting, but it does pay off in the end.

To me, as much as I love Brief Lives and a lot of the short stories in The Sandman, this is probably closest to what the title was always capable of. It has the darkness, the depth the title had from the beginning, but Neil Gaiman manages to pull all of its disparage storylines into one final epic and doesn’t miss a beat doing it. I was honestly amazed at how well it all worked and how saddened I was by several of the deaths. I knew what was coming at the end – I knew it before I read it the first time, even – but the sense of loss continued to affect me for days afterward. I didn’t expect that.

Neil Gaiman also does a neat trick when it comes to the Kindly Ones themselves – there are the obvious ones, the fates in their form as the furies, but then there are also the other women that act, even unintentionally against Dream – Lyta the mother; Nuala the maiden, and Thessaly/Larissa the crone. Yes, I know everyone else figured this out years ago. It’s not like it’s not obvious (and I kind of feel like I probably saw it the first time I read it, too). But I still think it’s a lot of fun and lovely.

Oh, and Thessaly? It’s good to see her again. I know plenty of people didn’t quite understand the reasons behind her being Dream’s mystery lover – as in, they didn’t understand what Dream saw in her. I think most of those people where men, though. I know what Dream saw in her, though. Because it’s what a lot of women see in themselves.

Stick with me here.

In The Sandman, we see Dream fall in love with a queen, a muse … and OK, we don’t know quite who Alianora is, but I think we can assume she’s probably someone special.

Thessaly, or Larissa, as she calls herself now, isn’t a queen or a goddess. Sure, she’s a powerful, basically immortal witch, but other than that, she’s probably the most normal of Dream’s girlfriends (that we know of, anyway). Obviously, Dream can see past appearances and doesn’t just date rock stars or models (so to speak). In other words, girls, Dream would totally date you. Remember what I said about pandering to the female audience?

Maybe it’s not really any of that. It’s good drama, though. And while Thessaly’s protection of Lyta may seem overly cruel, she was just doing what she had to. She knew what was inevitably going to happen and I personally think she wanted to have some control in how it did. Her actions were self-serving, maybe, but I don’t think there was anything necessarily vindictive about her actions toward Dream.

Ultimately, though, I think the character’s journey I most relate to in The Kindly Ones is Nuala. She first appeared in Season of Mists as a fairy who gets her glamor taken away from her. She pops in and out of the issues after that, as a rather plain, ordinary girl. When she’s called back to the Faerie, she decides she liked who she learned she was while in The Dreaming and rejects glamor. She wants to be an ordinary girl because it means she’s herself. I always thought that was wonderful thing (although the fact Dream barely knew who she was or that she was in love with him does sort of negate my whole statement of “Dream will totally date you.” But whatever. Men are oblivious).

And I do think that’s what I like about The Kindly Ones: The women aren’t to blame. Yes, their actions do contribute to Dream’s downfall, but Dream’s downfall was his own fault and something he more or less wanted. It was something he sought out. There is not a moment in The Kindly Ones where any fingers point to any of the female characters as being responsible. That would’ve been the easy way out and I love that Gaiman avoided it entirely.

While contextually, Rose Walker’s story here doesn’t have much to do with the overall plot, I still think she’s a necessary part of this book. I like seeing her again and I like that she gets some sort of resolution. In her own strange way, she embodies all three aspects of womanhood – maiden, mother and crone.

And yes, I like Marc Hempl’s art here. I think it’s perfect for this story.

Now I just have The Wake left to read. And I am more than a little sad about this.

Revisit: The Sandman: World’s End

World’s End

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After the beautiful and satisfying Brief Lives, World’s End was inevitably going to be a letdown. True to the concept, these are just stories to pass the time, to fill in a gap before the final storyline.

Other than “A Tale of Two Cities,” which features the most distinctive art and layout in all of The Sandman, these are pointless adventure stories. They are fun (and I do particularly love “Hob’s Leviathan” because Michael Zulli never stops being wonderful) but they’re largely forgettable.

World’s End isn’t a waste of time, mind you, and the foreshadowing of the end is important and beautiful. Still, “Cerements” and “Cluracan’s Tale” don’t offer much artistically or texturally. I can take or leave “The Golden Boy.”

So yeah, I really don’t have much to say about this one. There’s not much here to say much about. I kind of fall in Charlene’s assertion that these are all “Boy’s Own” stories and there aren’t really any women in them. I find it odd that Neil Gaiman threw in a criticism of his own stories in there but I do agree.