7 October 2013

The Wake

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 death and grief. Just so you know.

Chapter One: Which occurs in the wake of what has gone before
Destiny, Despair, Death, Desire and Delirium receive a message and they gather at the Necropolis Litharge. They are treated respectfully by the ruler who opens the gates to the catacombs. Despair has never done this before. The siblings create an envoy, named Eblis O'Shaughnessy to go down to the room and retrieve the book and cloth, for not even Death can enter. In the Dreaming Cain demands that Dream of the Endless restore his brother, Cain's identity as murderer, as part of a duo, is clearly important to him. Dream recreates Abel, and states that he is no longer Morpheus. Matthew grieves and sulks in Eve's cave, refusing to answer the requests of the new Dream and ignoring Eve's attempts to comfort him. Dream recreates Merv Pumpkinhead. Familiar characters fall asleep: Nuala, Rose Walker, Richard Madoc (CalLiope's captor from Dream Country), Hippolyta Hall, Alexander Burgess, Robert 'Hob' Gadling. Dream tries to recreate Gilbert, but Gilbert declines the offer of life. Titania leaves Faerie, Remiel and Duma leave Hell, Bast gathers power and enters the Dreaming. Humans, gods, fairies and others gather. Hob looks as he did when Dream first met him, and angrily disbelieves his old friend is dead. Alex Burgess is a child again. They are all dreaming, "where else should the wake for the dream lord be held". Towering above the mourners the five giant figures of the remaining family loom.
   "If you bring me back to life, my death will have no meaning."
  • Eblis O'Shaughnessy is sent into the catacombs of Litharge to the room found by a young Mistress Veltis in the deeply nested Cerements story in Worlds' End, the font of the Voice is the same
  • As she falls asleep Rose Walker is surrounded by books and holding a skull, no doubt the final effects of Zelda, who died in the previous volume
  • Lyta is looking in a mirror as she goes to sleep, she is often shown in mirrors, only when she's being Daniel's mother is she not shown in reflection
  • As he falls asleep Alex Burgess holds a ring, probably the ring that belonged to Unity, and Rose found and gave to Alex while he was still in a coma

Chapter Two: In Which a Wake is Held
The giant Endless building a huge brick structure. Everyone gathers, including you and the palace staff come down to join the crowd. Dream watches them go, Lucien explains that according to the book of ceremony he cannot attend the wake. Eblish O'Shaughnessy asks Lucien who the lord in white was, and Lucien says he was Dream of the Endless. When asked who, or what, they are mourning Abel explains that the deceased as a point of view. Cain threatens Abel, but Lucien tells him not to kill on that day. Calliope talks about her marriage to Oneiros, the ending of it, and the way he saved her. Matthew is confused by the gathering and distressed to see Merv alive and cheerful. He goes to Dream, who confesses to fear, he is old as time but yet everything is new to him. Nuala sees Cluracan, who denies removing her glamour or telling her a poem. A hooded figure approaches and reveals himself to be Cluracan's nemesis, the one he accidentally created when he visited the Dreaming, it was he that removed Nuala's glamour and inspired her to leave Faerie. Queen Titiania speaks briefly of the Lord Shaper. Dream tells Matthew that when he was still little Daniel he saved the raven from the Corinthian by distracting him. Matthew is still not accepting of the new Dream and asks about his options. Matthew encounters the gatekeepers, include the gryphon, but this gryphon was not resurrected, he is a champion sent from another land. Rose Walker, and her brother Jed, encounter a grim Lyta Hall, Jed tells Rose that she and her husband used to live in his head. Matthew speaks to Lucien and Eve, still figuring things out. Matthew reckons Morpheus let it happen and Lucien insightfully points out that he did more than that. Thessaly describes her relationship with Morpheus and its ending. Matthew encounters the Endless (now in scale with everyone else), Barnabas and Eblis O'Shaughnessy just before the ceremony. Death is wearing red, just for that day.
      "I think... sometimes, perhaps, one must change or die. And, in the end, there were, perhaps, limits to how much he could let himself change."

  • Two human dreamers talk, they seem to be the people who were serving food at the banquet in Season of Mists
  • Dream's former lovers speak of him -Calliope, Thessaly, Titania (whose relationship with him was a source of rumour)- standing near them is a Chinese child, is this Nada in her current form?
  • Mad Hettie, who has appeared only once in Sandman, but is in the Death miniseries and (I assume) other DC works, delivers a speech
  • Rose Walker joins her brother Jed who is older and looks a lot like Shaggy from Scooby-Doo now (is this a phase younger brothers go through?) Rose doesn't know Carla died
  • Lucien is drinking with an old friend who is the Indian gentleman from the sea story in Worlds' End, he was a king and became an immortal
  • Clark Kent, Batman and the Martian Manhunter chat, as do three guys in trench coats, one of whom is John Constantine
  • Jed tells Rose Lyta and her husband used to live in his head, so Jed (or his dreams) was kinda the gestational environment for the new Dream

Chapter Three: In Which We Wake
More people than can be perceived enter an enormous mausoleum. Eblis O'Shaughnessy takes his part in the ceremony. Destiny speaks, then Bast, then Desire. At the castle Dream strokes the new gryphon and the hippogriff. The hippogriff explains that this Dream is different to the old one already. A traveller approaches and Dream invites him into the kitchens for refreshment. He recognises the traveller as Destruction, who won't go to the ceremony but wanted to offer the new Dream some advice. At the ceremony Despair speaks, so does Wesley Dodds (the original DC Sandman superhero), the angel Duma sheds a tear, and Delirium speaks. Destruction tells his new brother that he could leave, Dream declines but thanks him for all his advice. Destruction says it's best not to tell the others he was there, but suspects they'll meet again. Matthew speaks at the ceremony, and so do many, many others. The mausoleum is a bridge -because this is a dream- and Death, in her red dress, speaks and gives everyone peace and meaning. The bier is on a boat now and travels down a black river. A small Chinese boy throws blue roses into the water and the boat falls off the river and down into a sky where it becomes a huge star. The ceremony over people return, gradually. Lyta appears in the throne room and tells Dream/Daniel that she did everything for him. Dream tells her that he is not Daniel and that she has lost her son forever, he explains that grim fate of the man who murdered the first Despair, says her crime was worse but marks her as under his protection. Matthew tells Dream his family are waiting to meet him and offers to stick around and help for a while. They encounter Alex Burgess as a lost child and send him back to himself. Alex wakes to see Paul who has just returned from a funeral, probably for Jack Holdaway. People wake as the Endless siblings chat about meeting their new brother. Despair reveals how scared she was in the same situation and resolves to be good to this one, though Desire is more grudging. Dream opens the door to meet his siblings. You wake up.
 "You can't kill dreams. Not really."

The Wake: An Epilogue Sunday Mourning
White, Englishman Robbie Gadling is taken to a Renaissance Fair by his Black, American girlfriend Guenevere. He is not looking forward to it and moans about how historically inaccurate it all is. Gwen ignores his moodiness and refuses to believe him when he tells her Catherine of Aragorn was black. Despite his grumpiness it's clear he really cares foe Gwen. She tells him a book-binder at the fair wants to meet him because there were a few long-ago Robert Gadlings, one was a book-binder. Robbie talks about how one was a slaver, gets really guilty and apologises about slavery, describing it in terrible detail. Gwen reassures him that he's not responsible and calls him out on his white guilt, she thinks it's crazy he's taking it so personally, and correct guesses she is the first black woman he's dated. Robbie explains that he didn't used to think slavery was so bad until a now-dead friend of his put him right. Gwen comments that he has so many dead friends she first assumed he was gay. Robbie visits the book-binder, and sees a book he made. Feeling morbid he goes to the pub and pays to the waitress to bring him a lot of beer without any fake English accents or pseudo-olde-worlde speak. Whilst drunk he goes into a condemned building and chats with a woman who tells him she is Dream's sister, and he realises is Death. She offers to take him, but he refuses. Gwen finds him asleep after the fair and is amused that he talks as though he was actually there in the past. He falls asleep under a tree while Gwen and her Renaissance Fair friends drink and talk in modern clothes. Hob dreams of Morpheus and a friendly-but-crap pavement artist he once met (Destruction) walking happily into the end of the story. He tells Gwen about it as they drive away.
"Trust me, If Catherine of Aragon had been in Alabama in the 1950's they'd have made her ride in the back of the bus."

Master Li, an old man who has advised two emperors, is crossing the desert to the village of Wei, he is to be prefect in the farthest outpost of the Empire. He has been exiled by the Emperor because his son got involved in forbidden magic. On his journey he picks up a small, white kitten, it is foolish as the desert is harsh and there is little enough for him and his groom. On the journey he composes letters in his mind and reminisces. After being blinded by sand he finds himself alone, he encounters his son, who was killed for his studies into the magical art. Master Li berates his son then turns his back on him to follow the white kitten to a tent. In the tent he encounters a lord, who speaks to the kitten and describes the desert as a soft place on the edge of the Dreaming, he claims to be from hundreds of years away from Master Li's time. He gives Master Li a cup of wine he has been dreaming of and asks him about grieving for dead sons. Master Li delivers his thoughts then follows the kitten through the sands, past strange things he does not recognise. After using dream-logic to make a bridge over a chasm he and the kitten approach a familiar tent. Outside is a young lord, he looks like the brother of the previous lord, but he tells Master Li that that was him a long time ago. A group of riders approach the young lord and ask how to leave the desert and what will happen to them, the young lord permits then to leave but provides no explanation. The young lord speaks to Master Li of opening cages, of tools being subtle traps, and he asks Master Li to come to his castle and advise him. Master Li is honoured but will do as he was commanded and go into his exile. The young lord accepts this but tells him that he can send a message via the kitten if he changes his mind. Master Li is woken by the kitten biting his hand, his cry attracts the groom, who had thought him lost.
"Everything changes, but nothing is truly lost."

  • Morpheus asks Master Li a hypothetical question that is clearly about his reaction to Orpheus's death, it is not clear at what point in Morpheus's timeline/the series aster Li encounters him
  • New Dream tells Master Li about traps, especially those we make ourselves while feigning ignorance  and says he knows he must destroy the emerald one day, he is clearly reluctant, but at least he knows he must do it
  • "Tools, of course, can be the subtlest of traps" this is a line from the prologue prose section in The Doll's House, suddenly I wonder if Daniel is narrating that section as there is clearly a narrative voice

The Tempest
In 1610 William Shakespeare writes a play about a shipwreck at home in Stratford, and is questioned by his daughter Judith, who is on the brink of becoming an old maid. His wife Anne has little use for him writing plays and filling Judith's head with silliness while there are chores to be done. It seems that when Anne was Judith's age she got herself pregnant and Will had to marry her, there is something like affection between them despite their differences. He goes to the local inn, where two wet sailors are charging the locals to take a peek at the corpse of an Indian. As he is writing The Tempest, Will is visited by his London friend Ben Jonson, and they discuss writing and religion. Ben has experienced a lot more than Will and believes this makes him a better writer. The discuss the attempt to blow up King and Parliament by a group of misguided Catholics, and together compose a rhyme to mark the bonfire celebrations. Judith is being courted by a local lad Will doesn't much like, and Judith tells him how much she and the family missed him when she was young and he was in London. Going over his old plays Will sees his shadowy patron and explains the practical artifice behind the art of his plays. In winter he speaks to a member of the clergy about what to do if a man were to bargain with dark powers, how might that man save his soul? The answer is to abandon magic and renounce it. One completing the Tempest Will is visited by Dream, their deal is concluded, Will has written 2 plays glorifying dreams at either end of his career. He insists on having a drink in Dream's parlor, and talks of how much of himself he sees in his plays and how he has changed over the years. Drinking in Dream's throne room Will asks what would have happened if he had not struck that bargain, Morpheus says that he would have written less, probably gone to Stratford and become a school master. Will describes watching his own life even as he lived it and using it for material.Morpheus says he wanted a play of graceful ends, of a magician who turns his back on magic. Will wakes, writes the epilogue, and it is done.
"I am Prince of stories Will; but I have no story of my own. Nor shall I ever."
  • That quote from Morpheus at the end is clearly what he believes and just as clearly nonsense, or what else have we been reading?

The first 4 issues are pencilled by Michael Zulli and colored by Danny Vozzo, in complete contrast to The Kindly Ones the images are done with a lot of fine detail, subtle and naturalistic colouring and shading. There is a richness to the art, although it does mean that many of the characters who have appeared in previous volumes are harder to recognise being drawn so differently. However this is part of how comics work, different artist's have different styles and so it is the attributes we look for rather than the specific likeness; Lyta's white hair, the superhero's costume, Thor's hammer, Herakles' lionskin - this way of looking at art has been going on a really long time.
The detailed drawing style works well for the funerary issues, where there is formality and ceremony, as well as partying and a huge host of weird beings. The style also works for Sunday Mourning, a far more mundane setting full of humans. What's interesting is that the fineness of the art, and that fact that what we are viewing is a picture same as the other pictures we've seen, makes the Renaissance Fair costumes look as authentic as the scenes in the series that were actually set in the past. We know the Fair is full of fakery, but that fakery isn't shown in the drawings it's in Hob's reaction to it. That's another thing about art, everything in a picture can have the same level of reality, it depends on how the artist shows it.

Exiles is rather beautiful, mostly black and white, ink and paper, with colour having all the more emphasis when it appears. Inked and colored by John J. Muth it has no pencils, that would go against the Eastern aesthetic. It is interesting that here Morpheus' speech is not indicted in it's usual heavy white-on-black word balloon, possibly the only place in the series where this happens. Instead he and Daniel speak in the same font, black-on-white or white-on-black depending on the background colour.

The Tempest is pencilled by Charles Vess, Bryan Talbot, John Ridgway and Michael Zulli, inked by Vess and coloured by Danny Vozzo. Charles Vess is the artist of the previous Shakespeare issue, A Midsummer Night's Dream, which appeared in Dream Country, so it is fitting that he returns. In this issue there are levels of reality, of course the historical sections are real -for all that this is fiction and imagined by Gaiman- or exist in a real time and place, Stratford-upon-Avon in 1610. The sections in Dream's castle are real as far as the series is concerned, and real to Will, but could also be described as a dream (though of course the series teaches us that dreams aren't the same as the not-real). Then there are the scenes from the Tempest, clearly Will's imagination, these panels are done by Vess. These could be said to be the least real, and yet it is clear that Will's work, the products of his imagination, are real to him, perhaps realer than the world he actually occupies.

Last week: The Kindly Ones
Next week: Endless Nights

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