THE SANDMAN: BOOK TWO by Neil Gaiman (BOOK REVIEW)
The Sandman: Book Two – written by Neil Gaiman.
Artists: Kelley Jones, Malcolm Jones III, Mike Dringenberg, Matt Wagner, P. Craig Russell, George Pratt, Dick Giordano, Shawn McManus, Colleen Doran, Bryan Talbot, Stan Woch, Mark Buckingham, John Bolton, Jeffrey Catherine Jones, Michael Zulli.
Coloursists: Daniel Vozzo, Steve Oliff. Letterer: Todd Klein. Collection cover and original series covers: Dave McKean (1990-1993)
“I wish you were still around. There’s this idea I’ve got, and it’s something I haven’t managed to put into words properly, and I know if you were here you could help me to… Okay, here goes. Barbie’s idea. It’s like, that people… well, that everybody has a secret world inside of them. I mean everybody. All of the people in the whole world – no matter how dull and boring they are on the outside. Inside them they’ve all got unimaginable, magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing worlds… not just one world. Hundreds of them. Thousands, maybe. Isn’t that a weird thought?”
The second omnibus of Neil Gaiman’s classic The Sandman comic series collects the next part of the story, including the ‘Season of Mists’ and ‘A Game of You’ arcs and some of the material from the ‘Fables and Reflections’ arc, which are linked short stories taking place at various points in Dream’s history. These stories continue the high standard of those collected in the previous volume, fleshing out the characters of Dream and the Eternals, as well as some of the human characters previously encountered and the fantastical world. Building on already established lore and fleshing out ideas tantalisingly hinted at earlier in the series, Gaiman and his collaborating artists, which includes returning Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III, Michael Zulli and Colleen Doran, plus a host of new talent, brilliantly continue the story of The Sandman in a series of stories just as compelling as the preceding ones.
The Sandman: Book Two kicks off with a bang with the ‘Season of Mists’ arc, which for the first time in the series gathers together all the current six Eternals, as Destiny calls a meeting with Desire, Despair, Delirium, Dream and Death, because it is ordained in Destiny’s mysterious tome. Seeing Dream with his family offers fascinating insight into his character. Desire needles Dream about abandoning his one love Nada to thousands of years of torment in Hell for forsaking him (as we saw previously in ‘Preludes and Nocturnes’), which unsurprisingly causes Dream to go off in a sulk, until Death tells him that actually Desire has a point, the way he treated Nada was pretty shitty. Following some reflection, Dream agrees and decides to go on a quest into Hell to rescue Nada, despite Lucifer Morningstar’s oath that he will destroy Dream the next time they meet (after Dream wins his mask back from the demon Choronzon, also in ‘Preludes and Nocturnes’). Expecting a battle, he instead finds Lucifer closing up Hell and leaving Dream with the Key.
Dream then finds himself at the centre of intrigue, chaos and betrayal, as all the aggrieved parties who want to make use of Hell’s real estate come to beg, bargain or steal the Key from him. This proves an excellent opportunity for Gaiman and co. to revisit the psychedelic nightmare of Hell with all its inventively disgusting demons, then throw in a bunch of colourful characters from the fae to the Norse Gods. Glorious chaos ensues.
The second major arc covered in the omnibus, ‘A Game of You’, is even better. The story picks up with Barbie, a side character in ‘The Doll’s House’ arc, whose glamourous bimbo appearance belies the depth of her inner dreamworld existence. Following the events in ‘The Doll’s House’, Barbie has been exiled from her dreamworld of the Land, causing its inhabitants to leave her dreams and seek her help in reality to prevent it from being consumed by a dream parasite known as the Cuckoo. ‘A Game of You’ is a profound and moving exploration of the idea that all of us, no matter how mundane, contains worlds of wonder and imagination in our dreams both living and waking, as Barbie reconnects with her dreams.
Gaiman is clearly having a blast with the Land, with its outlandish creatures and bizarre talking animals, playing with and subverting typical fantasy tropes at every turn. And the arc features some of the comic’s most well-realised characters, including Wanda, a transwoman who is Barbie’s best friend. Although her character arc is tragic, the culmination with Barbie visiting Wanda’s hometown, suffering through conversations with Wanda’s conservative family, and scratching out her deadname engraved on her tombstone and replacing it with her real name in lipstick, is truly moving and sensitively done.
The rest of the omnibus is taken up by a selection of the short stories that originally made up the ‘Fables and Reflections’ arc. These stories are varied in tone and subject matter, but all expand the Sandman world in exciting and adventurous ways, and show how well suited the Sandman stories are to the short form. In ‘Thermidor’, Dream enlists the help of Lady Johanna Constantine, John Constantine’s ancestor, to rescue his son Orpheus’ head from Robespierre and Saint Just during the Reign of Terror following the French Revolution. In August, Emperor Augustus Caesar disguises himself as a beggar to experience life on the streets of Rome before bargaining with Dream for the fate of the Roman Empire.
And in ‘Three Septembers and a January’, Dream enters into a wager with Despair, and in the process saves the life of Joshua Norton, inspiring him to take up the mantle as the self-styled Emperor of the United States of America. The arc also includes ‘The Song of Orpheus’, perhaps the most significant of the stories on the wider events of the series, which tells the tale of Orpheus, Dream’s son, who as in the original Greek myth journeys into Hades to rescue his beloved wife Eurydice but fails at the last moment. The story provides a crucial insight into Dream’s personality given his feelings towards his son and Orpheus’ rejection of his father’s world.
The Sandman: Book Two is just as vital as the first omnibus volume, providing the same level of wonder, excitement and enchantment we’ve come to expect from this series. I look forward to following the story as it continues in the next volume.