19 October 2013

Endless Nights

The Sandman graphic novels are intended for mature readers and though this post doesn't go into explicit detail there is discussion of events in the collection, including nudity, sex, violence, despair and delirium. Just so you know.

A full list of my Sandman Summer posts and a bit of an introduction is available here.

Sorry if the images in this post look odd, the precise workings of my scanner are a mystery to me at times and some days it's more co-operative than others.

Death: Death and Venice
Artist: P. Craig Russell
A Venetian Duke on an island conducts an elaborate death for himself involving two virgins and an elephant, and a grand party is thrown. A soldier returns to modern day Venice and stops a street vendor from fleecing a tourist. The Duke orders a day of penitence and monks come to hear confessions and scourge everyone on the island, especially the Duke. The soldier remembers a childhood stay in Venice with his Italian relatives, they went out to a ruin-covered island and he met a young woman who was waiting for a gate to open. His cousins found him hours later, he told them he'd been sleeping, may he had been. The Duke announces a magnificent ball and word is sent to Venice and the other islands. The Duke makes a speech to his guests, dressed gloriously in every colour besides black, about the perfect day he has created, untouched by time or death. The soldier takes a vaporetto out to the island he visited as a child and he finds the woman, still waiting, still the same. He kicks down the gate and they enter the ruins. Inside they are no longer ruins, a palace and gardens, and the soldier and the woman step into 23 May 1751, their outfits change to appropriate ones for a masked ball. The woman walks through the party pointing to each person and describing how they die, each dies and crumbles to dust. The Duke is informed about strangers in black and confronts the uninvited pair with a sword and a speech he composed. He levels his sword at the soldier, who cannot understand the speech, the woman steps forward and describes the fate of the Duke and his island. The Duke sees how beautiful Death is, he missed her and takes her hand. The soldier is woken by the water taxi driver, he fell asleep in the ruins and is guided back to the vaporetto and taken back to Venice. Everything seems "thin and unreal". He'll return to his unit and his work, sending people to her. He knows he'll see her one more time.
A story about someone who was able to avoid Death -for a while- and someone who encountered her and couldn't forget. The Duke is so proud that he has been able to create some kind of groundhog day situation, but for everyone on his island, but when he confronts Death he knows he missed her.

The images of modern Venice are grey and bleak for the most part, presumably that's how the soldier sees it. The soldier's remembrance of childhood is done in warmer, sepia-tones, to indicate memory and a happier time. The images of the Duke's perfect day are colourful and bright, it is idealised.

Desire: What I've tasted of Desire
Artist: Milo Manara
A young woman in an Iron Age(ish) village tells about how she did not care for the cocky chief's son. He was skilled in battle, and very popular with the other girls of the village, but despite what her sister claimed she found him too sure of himself. One morning they were both walking in the same direction and they stood close and talked a bit and at the end of walk she knew she wanted to spend her life with that infuriating young man. He never noticed her after that, and was regularly with other village girls, though he seemed to have little interest in them besides the physical. The young woman visits a witch, but she does not want a man whose love she could buy with a potion or from a god or goddess, she wants him to want her as much as she wants him. The witch says that there is one who can help, with golden eyes. The young man goes to the coast to trade, the chief goes to negotiate with people across the river, they kill the chief and return his head. The young woman dresses as a boy and heads for the coast, on the way she meets a person with golden eyes, and is taken somewhere else. This person admires how much the young woman wants and warns that getting what she wants won't make her happy. When she is returned the young woman is at the coast, which is usually three days walk away. She finds her young man and tells him his father is dead and he's now the chief. The walk back to the village and he suggests they lie together, but she refuses. He proposes, but she says he's just doing it to quench his desire and refuses even to kiss him. At the village he becomes chief and he courts her for three moons. He avenges his father's death and offers her the spoils as a wedding present, and she accepts. Their wedding night is worth everything to her. The village girls whisper he'll be back with them soon enough. He leaves for the coast and while he's gone and the men are out hunting wolves strangers arrive. Hospitality is the way of their people and the strangers are taken to the dining hall. The leader puts her husband's head on the table and the woman seems not to notice it. She feeds her guests and entertains them with music and song, and admires them enough that they start to fight over her. She plays with their desire until the village men return and kill the invaders. She lived the rest of her life not wanting anything else, though she married and had children and grew old.
Another story that shows the range in Sandman, the setting is certainly early-medieval or ancient, but yet the story is understandable. This is a woman's personal tale of her desire, not a saga. Desire makes the point that its brother talks about stories, but the plot of every story is somebody wanted something. It's hard to argue with that point.

The art shows the daily lives of the village people, in the background of the story, cooking and hunting and loving. The drawings are detailed and look like paintings. People receive the same detail as backgrounds, their expressions and body language very naturalistic and nuanced.

Dream: The Heart of a Star
Artist: Miguelanxo Prado
A father tells a story to his child, it happened so very long ago and far, far away. Killalla of the Glow travels through space in a bubble to meet her lover's family, it's an unusual situation. Her lover is Dream and they arrive at an enormous place, not world, but a vast collection of palaces and gardens. Their host Mizar greets them, there is a Parliament of Stars, and the Endless have been invited. Dream wants Killalla to meet his favourite sibling, Desire, who is so funny and kind. Dream thanks Desire for Killalla, which confuses her. Desire explains that Dream was lonely and wanted someone, he believes that Desire did him a favour. Killalla is encourage to entertain herself while the business of the Parliament goes on. The important stars are there, plus a clumsy little yellow one called Sol, who means well. Death turns up and bums everyone out by telling them they'll all be hers someday. Killalla encounters Delight, who seems like a happier version of what she'll become. Mizar introduces Killalla to Destruction, who bumbles and suggests that the family were concerned that Dream needed a companion and Desire sorted it. Everyone goes back to the talks and Killalla is approached by Destiny (who was not expected to attend), he tells Killalla that millennia from then it will be decided that the Endless may not love mortals and she'll come up a lot in those discussions. During a party Sol tells Killalla that when his sleeping planets have life he wants them to look like her. Killalla is approached by a green star who seems familiar and friendly, she asks him about the gathering and he explains that her lover isn't king of dreams, he is Dream. He also tells her that the stars present are not representatives of solar systems, they are the stars themselves. He is Sto-Oa, the star of her world. The truth is to much for Killalla, she tries to get away. Sto-Oa follows and kisses her, she's surprised but kisses him back, then Dream turns up. He walks away without a word, Sto-Oa and Killalla are scared and cling to each other. The original Despair points Dream to Desire. Dream tells Desire about the kissing, Desire cheerfully points out that they've gone past that. Dream is angry that Desire is amused and tells it that they are no longer friends. Desire doesn't understand why Dream is so angry over a joke and Destruction points out that he's never much sense of humour. Sol tells Dream he would like inhabitants for his planets once they wake up and welcomes Dream to his system. Dream leaves. It is revealed that the story is being told by Sol, to his sleeping daughter Earth, who looks forward to when she has life on her surface and the Endless will come to her. Sto-Oa and Killalla were happy, but as a mortal she died and he translated her to his centre to burn inside him.
I think this is my favourite story of the collection. It is by far the oldest story in the series. Humans are a distant dream when the story is being told, and even then the events of the story took place an extremely long time ago. Here are the Endless when they were younger, and often different. In the introduction to this volume Gaiman explains that "it would be several hundred million years before Death would cheer up, and longer than that before Delight became Delirium." This is a story that explains things and is the most linked with the rest of the Sandman series.
Death was moody and made people uncomfortable. Dream and Desire were friends, and this tells of how they stopped being friends. We see the original Despair, for the only time. We see Delight before she changed. It seems that this may have been the first time an Endless fell in love, and it is interesting that the rest of the family noticed Dream's loneliness, though it is unsurprising that Desire meant the whole thing as a joke. I have noticed that Dream surrounds himself with others much more than the rest of his family, his creations and his loves seem to far exceed any connections his siblings have. Destiny reveals that what happens with Killalla informs the prohibition against Endless loving mortals. This prohibition is in place when Dream meets Nada, as told in The Doll's House, and I'm not surprised that the Sun (presumably Sol) is the one who enforces the rule, the stars saw what happened the first time. The fact that Dream keeps falling in love and having these bad ends to relationships suggests that Desire just can't stop baiting him, and Dream never stops falling for it (I'm thinking of Thor and Loki in the Marvel film universe - which have nothing to do with the characters of the same name who appear in Sandman).

The art is detailed here and like the last issue also looks painted. Instead of ordinary life what is seen here is the fantastical, the depths of space and a fabulous palace filled with celestial bodies, literally embodied. Everything is unreal, and yet it is grounded by Killalla who, despite her blue skin and ability to create green light, is an ordinary person and reacts as an ordinary person would, her emotions are drawn with realism, as are those of the other characters.

Despair: Fifteen Portraits of Despair
Artist: Barron Storey, designed by Dave McKean
This comic contains a variety of images, mostly abstract. They relate to the text, but rarely clearly, these are not panels containing action, they are images to be interpreted. There is usually an image that could be Despair on the page, sometimes many. The text sometimes describes Despair, the rest of the time it provides a snapshot into the lives of people she has claimed.
A priest being kicked out of the church after an allegation of molesting a young girl years before.
A girl making a list of things that make her happy can only come up with one thing.
A man on disability somehow takes in a horde of stray cats, then locks them in his trailer, then the police come.
A man who secretly collects things from his lover to make a shrine, he watches his lover on TV and imagines meaning that is not there.
A couple enters a suicide pact, but one of them survives and hears the sirens coming.
A man loses his job, pretends to his family that he is still working, starts robbing houses for money and knows the police are asking about him.
A man who raised all the money he could from everyone he knew to get justice for his daughter, finds the legal system has failed him, and knows it has only just begun.
A woman who seemed to have everything ends it all by the side of the road. In the snow she watches them take her body away and waits for happiness.
This is not a story so much as a series of vignettes. It's all abstract, and though some of the writing is clear there is some that is suggestive and what I've written above is my interpretation of some pages, there are others. I expect there's stuff in this I don't get. There is one page which shows Despair, her hands on her face, over the top of this is a sketch of Desire, like something drawn on a mirror.

The art is full of faces, and often female nudes that are, or could be, Despair. There are many different techniques and types of image used and the only thing that unites all of them is that they are not comfortable. I am not surprised that Dave McKean was involved, as the weirdness of composition in a lot of this is characteristic of him.

Delirium: Going Inside
Artist: Bill Sienkiewicz
A catatonic girl is cared for by her mother. A man who sees  conspiracies sees a bird die and follows a dog, writing messages of warning on walls. A woman on the street knows that men have babies really, they stole her babies and her womb and now she is full of lizards. A school janitor, whose mission is to chronicle the Sky-boys to stop them from being stuck in hell, leaves his house before completing his 10 pages for the day, normally he would punish himself but he knows he is needed. A talking dog asks how many they've got so far. A man who sees rainbows after opening all his extra eyes. The catatonic girl rises and leaves home. They all go to an abandoned building. Barnabas asks how many they have Dream (formerly Daniel) says they got 4 or 5, which surprises Barnabas. Matthew, Dream's raven, isn't sure that it will work. Barnabas is unimpressed by their rescue squad, but Dream tells him not to judge them by appearances. Barnabas gives the 5 crazy people a pep talk, telling them to go into the bathroom, find the girl who is hurting and bring her back. Matthew, Barnabas and Dream aren't sure if this will work, but none of them could go in there when she's like that and keep their minds intact. It becomes clear the catatonic girl was raped and went inside herself. The woman with lizards inside her has fish come out of her mouth, the fish lead the way. The man who sees rainbows follows the trail of the fish. The Sky-boys lead the janitor on their mission and they all walk through the bathroom. A shark with one blue eye and one green eye swims towards them. They find Delirium, she went a long way inside because she hurted. They bring her back. Barnabas tells her not to do that again. The catatonic girl's mother called the police, thinking her daughter had been taken. Her daughter walked home, and tells her she's let it go.
In comparison to the previous issue the art and words in this one tell a definite, coherent story. Of course the story is told largely from the point of view of 5 insane people, and the text and images change according to their world views. There are fish throughout, Delirium manifested as singing fish in The Kindly Ones, then later turned her guide into a fish. The most coherent scenes are those with Barnabas, Matthew and Dream, the presence of the new Dream showing this takes place after the Sandman series.

The art in changes for each different point of view. There's a lot of sketches, and impressionistic bits, very little realism. The backgrounds are coherent, because all the images are made of impressions that are overlaid by the various delusions that the characters experience. The angel fish swim across most pages, antagonistic at first until Delirium is restored.

Destruction: On the Peninsula
Artist: Glenn Fabry
Rachel has dreams about disasters, massive disasters, sometimes they creep into her day. She needs a change. She is invited by a friend/colleague/contact to a confidential dig in Sardinia, it is something to do until next semester. There's a hill that wasn't there a year ago and they're digging up pennies minted in the future. It's an excavation of the future, which is why it's so secretive. They go across the bay to drink the cheap, local wine. There are a pair of other tourists there, they've been camping nearby since before the dig began - it's Destruction and Delirium. There was a lot of wine and Rachel sleeps with the guy who invited her along, but she thinks of the red-headed guy she saw at the bar. While she's digging the red-headed guy turns up and helps her remove a device from the rock, she asks him to help out. She finds a load of spent bullets, and one that glows blue. Destruction takes it off her and throws it far out to sea, where it explodes, it was still live. One evening Rachel goes to the camp and finds Delirium, who explains that her brother was asked to watch her as a favour to the rest of the family, because she was sick and shouldn't be on her own. She reckons the hill is there because of them, but it's not the future they're digging up, just a future. She tells Rachel she doesn't know her brother's name anymore, but Rachel can call him Joe. Rachel finds "Joe" and they discuss his sister, who probably got her feelings hurt somehow. Helicopters arrive, men in suits take over the dig and try to detain everyone. Rachel says she has info about the dig ready to go online if she doesn't leave and stop it. She sees Destruction and Delirium from the boat, but when she gets to the bar they aren't there. As she sits drinking the hill explodes cleanly in a single flash of light. She returns to her life and dreams of the man who is not called Joe.
This story follows on from the last, they are the only two in this collection that are connected. Rachel's dreams of mass destruction remind me of something in Fables, where plans to destroy humanity are discussed. Destruction minds Delirium after whatever happened to her, it's suggested that she got her feelings hurt and Rachel assumes it a bad romance, though this isn't confirmed and there are no details.

The art is naturalistic and we are back to pictures in panels with clear page layouts and basic illustration of the story. There's a lot of images of characters and their expressions, and these are clear. The colours are bright, and seem almost bold compared to some of the other issues. The backgrounds are detailed, grounding them in the clutter of the modern setting, or the natural spaces surrounding the dig site.

Destiny: Endless Nights
Artist: Frank Quitely
Destiny walks his garden. He walks past the statues of his siblings. He walks past his gallery, which contains drawings of his siblings. There is a description of his book, which holds everything, and people exist in the pages of his book. There are patterns in his book known only to him. There are galaxies and atoms in his book, he sees little difference between them. One day he will lay down his book and what comes next is unwritten. He walks, with his book, and inside his book is the Universe.

This does not seem like a story, so much as a description of what Destiny is and what he does. There are few words and no panels, everything is a full page of art. The picture of humans standing on Destiny's book is diverse, the animal carcass surrounded by flies is detailed. Destiny and his realm are drawn in fine detail -the grain of wood, the stubble on his chin- though the backgrounds fade into a creamy whiteness. It is short and beautiful.

That's all folks. I hope you've enjoyed it. I feel like I've rediscovered a lot and discovered a few things I hadn't noticed/realised before.

Last week: The Wake

No comments:

Post a comment