28 September 2013

The Kindly Ones

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 sex and revenge. Just so you know.

The Kindly Ones is the name (translated of course) that the Ancient Greeks gave to the Furies. Ancient Greek language had a habit of euphemisms, but rather than calling bad thing by good names to disguise their true nature it seems that they did this to appease the bad things. So, a dangerous sea was called the nice-to-strangers sea, and terrifying mythical forces of retribution and purification were called kindly.

The Castle (prologue)
Told mostly in first person POV, Lucien gives a dreamer a tour of the castle, believing he is an expected guest. Starting with his library, Lucien visits Merv, Nuala, Matthew and Abel, before Dream appears and says that this person is not his guest.

The Maiden, Mother and Crone -in their aspect as the Fates- are in a cottage, creating and commenting on lives (and stories). Lyta is a stressed mother with her friend Carla as her only support, Carla persuades Lyta to meet with her cousin Eric about a job. Meanwhile Matthew wants to know what happened to the previous ravens in the Dreaming and Morpheus starts recreating the Corinthian. Lyta meets Eric at Lux, a restaurant/club run by Lucifer, and is offered a job, she senses something is wrong and rushes home to find her son Daniel has been taken.
Lyta is blank as Carla calls the police and two detectives show up to ask questions about Daniel's disappearance. Cluracan visits his sister Nuala in the Dreaming, he steps off the path in Dream's castle and accidentally creates his own nemesis. He tells Nuala she is to come back to Faerie with him. Carla is sleeping on Lyta's sofa and is woken by Lyta screaming. She dreamed of three witches (the Maiden, Mother and Crone) who live her mind. Cluracan takes a reluctant Nuala to see Morpheus and request she is returned to Faerie, Morpheus agrees and gives her a gift.
Loki and Puck build a fire and put Daniel onto it. Hob Gadling leaves flowers at the snowy grave of his recently-deceased lover. He sees his old friend and they go for a drink, at the end Hob tells Morpheus he's worried about him, in his long life he's come to recognise the signs of impending death. Destiny, Desire and Despair behave oddly and Delirium realises she has lost her dog. Lyta is falling apart, she accidentally breaks Eric's arm, Carla gets angry and leaves. Lyta stays up all night waiting for Daniel's return. The detectives come back and tell her they found the burned body of an infant in the desert, it's Daniel. Lyta remembers the times Morpheus showed an interest in Daniel and she snaps.
The angel Remiel, reluctant ruler of Hell, visits Lucifer to suggest he return to his abandoned kingdom. Lucifer refuses and insults Remiel, who returns to Hell without discussing "the Dream King situation". Lyta wanders through a magical land and also the streets of LA, looking for the Furies, though the people/figments she meets warn her not to call them that. Carla visits Daniel's babysitter who lives downstairs, turns out it's Rose Walker, she fell asleep when Daniel was taken but she hasn't been visited by the detectives. Lyta wanders to the house of two sisters, who hope Lyta will stay and be their new sister. Morpheus recreates the Corinthian, using a fragment of the old Corinthian.
Lyta is in the home of the two immortal gorgons, who want her to replace Medusa, she's already growing snakes in her hair. Lyta leaves because she wants Furies. Rose visits her old friend Zelda, who is dying of AIDS and gets a message to return to where her grandmother slept to get her heart back. Morpheus sends Matthew and the Corinthian to find a child. Nuala returns to Faerie and must wear her old glamour. Carla goes to the police station, but they don't know what she's talking about when she mentions Daniel's disappearance or the two detectives she spoke to. She tries to talk to Rose about what's going on, but Rose is leaving for England. Carla is met by the red-headed detective, who turns out to be Loki. He kills her with fire.
Rose flies to England and is met by Jack, a young solicitor, who takes her to her grandmother's old nursing home. Rose doesn't find anything in Unity's old room, but she meets three old residents, one of whom tells her a rather nasty fairy story. Rose also meets Paul McGuire and his comatose lover Alex Burgess, and is invited to visit Paul in the manor house.
Larissa (formerly called Thessaly) finds Lyta in the street and takes her to her place as part of an agreement with old powers. Odin visits the Dreaming and accuses the Dream King of letting Loki go free, Morpheus explains that he came to an arrangement with Loki. Odin warns of what Loki is like, but he is disappointed rather than angry. Delirium visits Destiny to help find her dog and notices the statue of Dream looks sad, Destiny simultaneously tells her not visit Dream and to visit him. Larissa creates messy protections for the barely-conscious Lyta, who finishes her journey at the home of the Furies, called the Kindly Ones. Morpheus visits Fiddlers Green and speaks to Gilbert, the Dreaming hasn't been the same since Orpheus died. The Furies tell Lyta they cannot punish Dream for killing her son, but they can punish him for killing his own son.
Dream spends a week doing his duties, visiting all parts of the Dreaming and the palace, talking to the staff. He wanders the waking world too, visiting properties he owns there. Whilst reviewing treaties and agreements he is visited by Delirium, who asks him to help look for her dog. She mentions responsibilities besides the ones he talks about, and he sends her on the search with a helpful nightmare. Rose Walker updates her journal; she seduced Jack the solicitor and really likes him. The Corinthian and Matthew go to the morgue where Carla's body is, the Corinthian discovers Loki killed her. Ravens gather in the Dreaming as the Kindly Ones visit Dream's castle and kill his gryphon gatekeeper. They threaten Morpheus and leave. The Corinthian and Matthew close in on Daniel. Rose calls Jack and discoves he isn't single. A funeral is held for the gryphon.
Rose visits Paul McGuire at Fawney Rigg (the old manor house where Dream was trapped for decades) and is given a tour. She discovers a secret passageway to the basement and the glass case Dream was held in. She meets her grandfather, Desire, and rants about how terrible love is. The Corinthian and Matthew are in a Norse realm, Loki tries to trick them but the Corinthian breaks his neck and takes his eyes. In the Dreaming the Kindly Ones search for targets and kill Gilbert, Matthew is unwillingly pulled back to the Dreaming to join the other ravens. Dream visits Larissa, and we learn that she was the woman he was seeing before Brief Lives, she has protected Lyta so he cannot kill her to stop the Furies. The Corinthian finds Daniel.
The Corinthian breaks the silver cord that links Daniel to his body and speaks with Puck, who reveals that he and Loki burned away most of Daniel's mortality. Puck returns to Faerie, the Corinthian takes Daniel to the Dreaming and Loki is collected by Odin and Thor and taken back to his punishment. The Furies kill Abel. In Faerie Puck's return is upstaged by Nuala appearing without her glamour. Cluracan puts a glamour on her and lies to avert his Queen's wrath. Nuala is made to dance with Puck, who tells her the Dream King is in mortal danger. Merv Pumpkinhead tries to take on the Kindly Ones and is destroyed. Lucien criticises Morpheus for allowing them to kill the people of the Dreaming. Nuala runs into the woods and encounters Delirium, who tried to get Dream to leave the Dreaming. Rose Walker returns to the US and chats to a woman on the plane. Nuala calls Morpheus to her, to try and help him, and discovers that making him leave the Dreaming has only made things worse.
The Corinthian finds the Dreaming much changed on his return and goes to the Castle with Cain. Morpheus tells Nuala about the Kindly Ones, and Nuala thinks he wants them to punish him for Orpheus's death. Morpheus nearly tells Nuala that he realises his imprisonment did change him. Nuala reveals that she loves him and tells him to return to where he should be. Rose discovers that Zelda died while she was in England, and pays the final medical bills and funeral costs. In the throne room Lucien, Cain, the Corinthian and Daniel wait for Morpheus's return. In Destiny's garden there are many Destinies as a reality storm is created from conflicting realities. Morpheus returns to his castle, the Kindly Ones have taken the Dreaming and leave him with a scar. Lyta sees Daniel isn't dead and asks the Furies to stop, but they don't do rescues, only revenge. Morpheus prepares to do what he must.
Morpheus has an emerald dream stone, a lesser version of his ruby, which he gives to Daniel. Matthew declares he will follow him to his confrontation with the Kindly Ones. Delirium goes to Lux. Rose visits famous TV drag queen Vixen, who turns out to be her old friend and landlord Hal. She tells him Zelda died, but there was clearly some bad history between him and Chantal (who already died of AIDS) and Zelda, and Hal is incredibly unsympathetic. Delirium asks Lucifer to help her brother, he can't. Nuala decides she'll leave Faerie after a conversation with her brother. Dream faces the Kindly Ones. Death appears in the castle, looking for her brother. Dream sends Matthew back to the castle to give his helm and pouch to Daniel, and to tell his sister to join him.
Death joins Dream in a scene mirroring her first appearance. This time it is far too late for her to yell at him for not talking to her. In the throne room the survivors wait and the Corinthian keeps Daniel safe. Death tells Dream that she suspects he meant to get himself into the position he's in and points out that he's been through worse before. She points out that he could have left like Destruction. Dream says that he couldn't and Death realises that he's right. A quake shakes the roots of the Dreaming, Nuala flees, Loki realises he might have been manipulated, the ravens wait. Death sends the Furies away. She tells Dream he's been preparing for this for a long time without telling himself that's what he was doing. He takes her hand and dies.
Nuala is grudgingly allowed to leave Fearie. Delirium finds Barnabas on a street in LA. Lucifer decides to leave Lux. Rose goes to Zelda's funeral and is joined by a barely apologetic Hal, she reveals she thinks she's pregnant. Alex Burgess wakes from his nightmarish punishment. Lyta wakes from her catatonia in Larissa's apartment and is told to flee. Daniel hold's Dream's emerald and changes. He isn't Daniel now, he's Dream. In their cottage the Fates discuss what they have made and start on the next one.

This is possibly the Sandman graphic novel I've read the least (well perhaps it ties with The Wake and Endless Nights). At one point I'd read all the preceding volumes before reading a new one I'd bought, and so I think The Kindly Ones isn't as strong in my memory as the others.
Firstly I'd like to say that I've realised that something I put in my Worlds' End post, at the end of the foreshadowing bit, isn't correct. I didn't think that the barmaid at the end was Thessaly/Larissa, possibly because it hadn't even occurred to me on my first reading and I'd heard the theory separate to my reading of the series. Turns out, on rereading The Kindly Ones, that I was wrong. Larissa dreams about the bar, and the picture shows somewhere like the bar shown at the end of the previous volume. Plus in dialogue she makes it clear that she was in Chicago for a time between living in New York and LA.

Nextly I feel I should say, there are so many things. Just so many. Just look at the lists of reintroduced characters, and that's not even all the speaking parts in this collection.
I'm going to briefly mention some of the new characters and how they fit in with things. There's the unnamed LA tramp, who gives out flowers and begs for change. In the first issue he's threatened by Lyta for talking to Daniel. Later he tries to speak to Carla in the police station, he tells her that her mean friend "Got snakes in her hair. And she's not alone in her head anymore." At the end its turns out he's found/been found by Barnabas, and they've been having a good chat. He's wise enough to know that he already belongs to Delirium a bit and that it's best not to accept gifts from her. Then there are the three women in the English nursing home, Amelia, Magda and Helena, who briefly represent the triple goddess. Something not noticed by Rose, even though she has been researching the triple goddess in sitcoms. The one that seems most significant is Helena, whose last name is hard to say, who isn't English and who confesses to being driven by revenge and killing a man, before pretending she's joking. I suspect that she is in fact Hippolyta Hall's missing, Greek mother. Then on the aeroplane back to the States Rose talks about books with a British woman called Celia Cripps, who seems to be the niece of Ethel Cripps. Ethel Cripps was the former mistress of Roderick Burgess, who ran away to the States with her new lover, left him and became the mother of supervillain John Dee. Meaning this comfy woman, who doesn't like racy books, is the cousin of the terrifying and twisted antagonist of Preludes & Nocturnes.

When Cluracan visits the Dreaming he mentions that he spoke to Nuala and Morpheus while he was having trouble in Aurelia, which was the tale he told in Worlds' End. Both Nuala and Morpheus do not seem to recall this, though the topic passes quickly in conversation both times. Cluracan reported what he saw in the sky whilst at the Inn of World's End to Titania who refers to it as a foreseeing. I suspect that Cluracan actually has memories from a different version of reality, due to being caught in the reality storm. It was theorised that realities storms happen around big events and may be two (or more) different realities clashing until one remains. This is backed up by scene in which there are many Destinies, which represent many realities, until they disappear and only one remains - the Destiny of the extant reality. This means Cluracan was caught in the reality storm before it happened, or something like that.

Delirium isn't in this much, but she still gets some of the best lines. "Down the road I go. I am following my fishie. La la laaaa. Because my fish knows where to go."
To Mazikeen (Lucifer's loyal demon): "If you don't let me in, I will turn you into a demon half-face waitress night-club lady with a crush on her boss, and I'll make it so that you've been that from the beginning of time to now and you'll never ever know if you were anything else and it will itch inside your head worse than little bugses." It's the best threat ever, if it even is a threat.
She's also the one who points out to Dream that their existence deforms the universe. And at the end she says to Barnabas: "I think bad things have happened. I feel them in my socks." It's a great phrase, somehow made better because she's barefoot.

Other connections (but only some):
  • Whilst in the Dreaming Daniel plays with the toy versions of Wilkinson, Luz and Martin Tenbones from A Game of You
  • The chest with the old Corinthian's skull appeared in Season of Mists and holds various other significant things including the trapped demon Azazel and the bottled city of Baghdad
  • Morpheus visits the dreams of a small boy in Hong Kong, Nada was reincarnated as a boy in Hong Kong
  • The green faceless nightmare created in The Doll's House returns to its master with stuff it's found
  • Next to Alex Burgess's bed is a picture of Ethel Cripps that was addressed to his father and first seen in Preludes & Nocturnes, it is never specified whether she was his mother, but why else would he keep her picture, if she was then Doctor Dee was his half-brother. Alex also has what is likely to be the original Piglet toy from Winnie-the-Pooh on the bed next to him, possibly found by Paul as a child.
  • Lucifer plays Sit Down You're Rocking the Boat for a celebrating couple who will end the evening with him drowning in a boating lake, which we learn from a TV news report Lyta isn't really watching
  • Hal's new drag persona Vixen appears on Mary Gentian's TV show, Mary has featured previously on TV in Sandman comics
  • When seeing how Carla was killed the Corinthian also sees the death of Ruby (burned in a motel fire) from Brief Lives, and the tragedy of Nada (her glass city was destroyed by a fire ball sent by the sun), these are echoes from previous events, in which black woman are killed by fire
  • The rose-quartz dreamstone was given to Alianora, a former lover of Dream's who came to a bad end somehow and has a scar on her face from him, the stone and the woman featured in A Game of You; when Morpheus is scarred by the Kindly Ones he says Alianora predicted he would be scarred too
  • While visiting his properties in the waking world it looks as though Morpheus may have owned the Florida house Rose Walker, Zelda and Chantal, Ken and Barbie, Hal and Gilbert lived in in The Doll's House, though apparently Hal was the landlord but the suggestion is that he sold it after that night
  • Loki and Puck are clearly working for someone, and Puck quips that he could answer endlessly, suggesting one of the Endless, Loki seems bitter at being beholden to Dream but later realises he may have been manipulated where he thought he was manipulating
  • Lyta's memories of Morpheus are all ones from previous comics, suggesting that he never had that chat with Lyta explaining his interest in Daniel, its understandable that Lyta thought he was behind Daniel's disappearance and it seems she somehow has a link with the Furies from her mother
  • The nurse from the nursing is sadly reading a newspaper with a headline that seems to read "Local solicitor kills himself when gay lover walks out", the suggestion is that Jack came clean to his partner about his night with Rose and things went badly wrong
  • When Larissa tells Lyta to flee she s reading a book called When Real Things Happen to Imaginary People
  • When Morpheus walks in the waking world he listens to a woman playing her guitar and singing a song about a dream she had, although she's not pictured clearly I'm pretty sure it's Foxglove from A Game of You, who makes further appearances in the Death miniseries

The bulk of the art is by Marc Hempel and as you can see is a style distinct from the rest of the series. It looks simple, with blocks of colour and thick lines, however it is deceptive (like much of this book I'm sure), and conveys a wide variety of different scenes and moods with plenty of subtly and nuance. There's so much going on in the story and with the characters that it makes sense for the visuals to be clear and direct.

Desire leaves a heart-shaped lighter near Rose, but does not give it to her. Paul finds it on the floor and hands it to her, thinking it's hers. This is presumably Rose getting her heart back, which makes some sense as Desire (though her grandfather) doesn't relinquish things. Rose, fogged by her own sadness, doesn't seem to notice the significance of the moment and Paul would have absolutely no idea. The image is fairly different to the heart between hands images that have appeared previously.

Maiden, Mother & Crone
Lyta Hall
Griffin, Wyvern & Hippogriff
Merv Pumpkinhead
The Corithian
Hob Gadling
Rose Walker
Queen Titania
Paul McGuire
Alex Burgess
Gilbert/Fiddlers Green

Did he jump or was he pushed? It seems that somehow Morpheus did both. The full motivations and machinations behind this collection are still murky to me, like staring into a body of water. You know there's depth, you know the surface you can see is only a tiny part of the whole, but you don't know how far down it goes and what's in there.* I reckon Morpheus set a lot of it up, include Puck and Loki, certainly those who'd threatened to destroy him seemed shocked/sadden by events unfolding. I don't suppose he was fully, consciously aware of what he was setting up as he went, and I'm sure he told himself he would remain in control all the way, and maybe he did. I'd be interested to hear other people's theories on this.

No foreshadowing this time, we don't need it any more.

Last time: Worlds' End
Next week: The Wake


* Which is why, in real life, you never jump into water unless you can see the bottom, or at least what's in there.

15 September 2013


Episode: s2, ep19

Ooo, a Lwaxana Troi episode, this should be funny.
Oh, she's horny and that's obviously hilarious because sexual desire in women of a certain age is such a laugh, or something. Hmm.
What Happens
Rarely-seen, purple emissaries are being transported to a conference on the Enterprise. A formal welcome party (and Wesley) greets them, even though they're in the self-induced coma their species uses for space travel. Wesley judges their odd looks and pokes about in their food containers. Worf thinks they're handsome (cos Klingons are weird, don'tcha know). Pulaski asks O'Brien to store them in the transporter room for a bit, like cargo. Troi senses her mother, as Worf reports a small ship approaching. Lwaxana interrupts her pilot's hail to announce herself, as Data receives orders from Starfleet granting her full ambassadorial status. Deanna begs her mother not to embarrass her, and Lwaxana announces to everyone that Picard is having naughty thoughts about her.
Picard and Riker greet ambassador Troi. Lwaxana is confused by transporters, calls the captain by his first name, comments that the purple emissaries look like food, and generally embarrasses her daughter (she's a diplomat, don'tcha know). She invites Picard to dinner and has telepathic conversation with Deanna in which she tells her daughter that she's sizing Picard up. Picard does his best to be formal. Riker, Data and Wesley gossip about ambassador Troi, and Picard tells them to treat her as an ambassador. The captain assumes others have been invited to dinner and goes in dress uniform, he's surprised and uncomfortable to discover it's just the two of them and Lwaxana is in seduction mode. At first Picard tries to make small talk, then calls Data and uses him as a distraction. Lieutenant Data, moment killer. Picard praises Data's after-dinner conversation, as a telepath Lwaxana should surely see past this. The scene is funny with Picard's discomfort, Lwaxana's frustration and Data's obliviousness all working well. Deanna tells Pulaski that her mother is going through a "mid-life" period in which Betazoid women become fully sexualised, it's parallel with menopause. Deanna wonders if she should warn Picard, but an amused Pulaski tells her not to and they joke about hunters and hunted. Deanna goes to Lwaxana's quarters, finds Data giving a slideshow presentation, and is gratefully greeted by her bored mother. Picard and Data leave, Picard breaths a sigh of relief and thanks Data. Deanna questions her mother about her condition.
Deanna and Riker tell Picard about the sex drive of the Betazoid female in mid-life. Picard decides to make himself scarce and hides in a Dixon Hill programme on the holodeck. The Dixon Hill game gets violent and Picard tries to edit the programme to be more relaxing, but the Computer doesn't understand - it thinks being threatened with a tommy gun is more relaxing than being threatened with a handgun. When Picard objects the Computer points out that the programme parameters are set by the original novels. It's as though 1940s noir isn't a relaxing environment.
Annoyed that Picard is unavailable on 'ship's business' Lwaxana tells Deanna she has a backup plan, which worries her daughter. In the transporter room Worf admires the comatose emissaries again, and Wesley attempts to reassure Worf about his looks and doesn't do it well. Lwaxana comes in and assesses both Wesley and Worf. Wes is too young and though Worf is appealing she's gotten used to human men.
In the Dixon Hill game Picard talks to Dixon's secretary, goes to a bar, talks to a bartender, and takes a while to grasp the period details. There's the suggestion of a plot within the programme, but we don't get to see that, just Picard bumbling in a trenchcoat.
The emissaries are transferred to sickbay (finally) and are slowly coming out of their comas. Lwaxana comes to the Bridge and Deanna has a warning telepathic conversation with her, but the ambassador blithely ignores her daughter's concerns. Lwaxana announces that she and Riker are engaged, even though Riker has barely spoken to her and had no idea. Deanna tries to object, but Riker stops her. He goes to tell the Captain and Data asks to join Riker in the holodeck. 
Picard is still chatting in the holo-bar when Riker and Data (in costume) arrive. Riker explains his predicament. Lwaxana asks the Computer where Riker is and it leads her straight to the holodeck. When she enters the holo-bartender, Rex, is impressed, he and Lwaxana flirt and she announces she'll marry him. Riker and Picard decide not to tell Lwaxana Rex isn't real straight away. Pulaski calls Riker away because the emissaries are fully awake, and ravenous. Picard starts to tell Lwaxana about Rex.
Lwaxana tells Deanna she's annoyed about the Rex situation. As they're all going to the same conference Lwaxana is told she can beam down with the purple emissaries. Lwaxana states that they're assassins, their minds are easy to read and their robes are lined with explosives. Data confirms it and Worf takes them away. Lwaxana seems hardly concerned about saving the conference and beams down.

Oh Captain, My Captain
They have the same hairdo
Picard's awkwardness at Lwaxana's attentions is amusing, and his use of Data as a diversion works well. His instinct to hide from Lwaxana seems unlike him though. Even though he's been told that Lwaxana will take rejection badly I would have thought he could speech his way out of it, that is his superpower. The Dixon Hill holodeck programme, based on a series of noir novels, provides a change of scenery and costume, but otherwise isn't interesting as anytime anything dramatic happens Picard freezes the programme and complains. I'm surprised Picard would go there to relax, especially since a crewmember was nearly/possibly killed last time.

Picard tries to keep things proper and formal with Lwaxana, treating her as a ambassador and awkwardly ignoring all emotional and sexual suggestion. It's a very British reaction... for a Frenchman.

Riker: lover, adventurer, middle-management
Riker is all very amused when Lwaxana's interested in Picard, and I suspect he joins Deanna's explanation of her mother's condition just to see the look on the Captain's face. Of course when he's told she's marrying him (like daughter, like mother, maybe) Riker stops Deanna from talking to her mother about it and hurries to join Picard in the holodeck. He tells Deanna that Picard should speak to Lwaxana. I can't say I understand his thinking there, Picard's been hiding from her and Deanna is her daughter. Deanna calls him a coward, which is fair enough here. Riker joins Picard in being very amused when Lwaxana is interested in Rex, it's partly relief I'm sure, but also they seem kinda smug about it too.

Counsellor Pointless
Troi is understandably embarrassed by her mother, concerned about her mother's behaviour, and less-understably angry at the way her mother is handling her mid-life condition. Troi tells Picard that the "only dignified option" for her mother is to focus on one man and make him her husband, which is what Lwaxana is doing - though one could dispute her methods. I am deeply confused about how this option is either dignified or the only one. I mean Betazoid society must be set up for this and have mechanisms in place for mid-life women who don't have partners. Betazoids seem open and accepting, and I'd gotten the impression that casual sex is perfectly acceptable in Star Trek, so why not for Lwaxana? Surely that's better than entering into a marriage based on sex-drive alone? I can understand Troi's embarrassment at her mother's scheming, but she's the one who suggested that Lwaxana is no longer capable of accepting rejection. I can see the humour in the situation, but it feels as though Lwaxana is being judged for her desire and sexuality, and I can't help thinking that the treatment would be different for a younger character. The saving grace is that Lwaxana seems utterly unaffected by any judgement, is never shown as vulnerable and retains an independent attitude.
The telepathic mother-daughter conversations show how weak Deanna's wishy-washy empathic powers are. I suspect that Lwaxana's telepathy is badly impaired, otherwise she'd know Picard was using Data as a distraction, she'd know Riker had no intention of marrying her and she'd know Rex wasn't a real person.

Security Breach
Lwaxana can't find Picard while he's in the holodeck because Troi and Riker cover for him. When Riker goes to the holodeck Lwaxana finds him by asking the computer, which not only tells her but guides the way. If a senior crewmember wants to avoid someone can't they just tell the computer not to give away their location. It's fairly harmless here, but what if someone came onboard to assassinate a crewmember, the computer leads them straight there. Speaking of which...
Shouldn't the transporters scan for explosives and stop potential assassins from bringing them aboard? It's lucky the B-plot was so half-arsed that Lwaxana could easily read the alien's intentions, despite her telepathic difficulties. If they'd wanted to blow up the ship they could have easily done so.

Future Fashion
I like that Starfleet dress uniforms are actually dresses.

Staff Meetings: 1
Troi -joined by an amused Riker, who probably just wants to see Picard's face- explains her mother's mid-life condition to the captain. She explained this to Riker when they were going out, but softened it so as not to scare him (female sexuality being a very scary thing). They warn that not only is sex drive quadrupled (at least), but Lwaxana will be deeply hurt by any rejection as human logic doesn't apply here (hormonal women are crazy, don'tcha know). Troi explains that in her mother's condition the honourable course of action is to focus her energies on one man who will become her husband. When Troi first mentions the "dignified" option Riker immediately suggests isolation. Hmm... maybe Troi should remember this attitude for later. Or is it just the single and sexually charged mid-life women who should be removed from society? Though if mid-life Betazoid women are so irrational and concerning to other species, should they be allowed to be ambassadors? 

The End
"I didn't find a mate, but I did save the conference, as well as your reputations. All in a day's work, I suppose." Lwaxana seems hardly concerned about foiling the assassins, probably because it required little effort and wasn't fun. I'm glad she has the upper hand at the end though. As she beams away she accuses Picard of more naughty thoughts.

9 September 2013

Worlds' End

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 corpses and corruption. Just so you know.

Worlds' End is a collection of stories, illustrated by different artists, told within the framing narrative of a group of travellers swapping stories as they wait out a storm in the Worlds' End Inn.
The first issue starts the narration of Brant Tucker, which is illustrated by Bryan Talbot and Mark Buckingham, who illustrate the various sequences in the Inn. Brant is driving across the US with his colleague Charlene Mooney. He gets so tired he doesn't think it's odd when it starts snowing in June. A weird creature runs in front of the car, causing Brant to swerve off the road and hit a tree. He gets himself and Charlene out of the car and carries her to an olde-worlde-looking inn full of strange people sheltering from a reality storm outside. The unconscious Charlene is tended to by a centaur, Chiron, and Brant is given a drink and goes to sleep. When he wakes he is given food and joins the revived Charlene at a table where people are swapping stories. Mister Gaheris tells his story:
A Tale of Two Cities
Illustrated by Alec Stevens
There once was a man called Robert, who lived in a city all his life and commuted between suburbs and the centre for work each day. A dreamy fellow, he spent his lunch breaks wandering the city taking in its sights. One evening he left work late and caught a sleek black train, the only other passenger was a pale man with dark hair and eyes. Robert realised he didn't know where the train was going and got off at the next opportunity. He found himself in a strange station, in an area he did not know. He ran and ran and saw no one, except for shadowy shapes at windows and briefly flickering people who vanished. The sky when from dark to light, but there was no sign of a sun or moon. For an unknown length of time Robert wandered empty roads past unfamiliar buildings, unable to find anything he knew or anyone else. On a bridge over a river he met an old man, who was also trapped in that place and reckoned they were in the dreams of the city. The old man spotted something he recognised and raced towards it, hoping to be restored to the real world. Robert spent the rest of his time there searching for something familiar. In a roof garden he met a woman and beyond her he saw a door that he had passed each day on his way to work. She asked his name and reached out to him, but he raced past her and rushed through the doorway. Blinded by sunlight he emerged, ragged and disheveled, on a street in his city. Mister Gaheris met Robert in a small village in the Scottish isles where he told his tale. Robert no longer lives in cities, he fears what will happen when they wake up.

Brant meets a corpse-looking man in the gents and in the tavern the fairy Cluracan offers to tell the next story:
Cluracan's Tale
Illustrated by John Watkiss
Cluracan was summoned by his Queen and sent as envoy to Aurelia, one of the greatest cities of the plains, in order to stop an alliance. He saw Aurelia had decayed since his last visit and was guided to the palace. He met Innocent XI, the spiritual leader of the Aurealian Church, and Carys XXXV, the ruler of Aurelia; they were the same unpleasant man. That evening he snuck invisibly out of his rooms and sent a message to Queen Titania. He met a nobleman who explained the current situation. The roles of ruler and spiritual leader used to be held by different people, but a treaty said the positions could be held by the same man, which coincidentally happened just after the ruler's heir was killed in a brawl. The nobleman wanted a spiritual leader who believes and a ruler who wants the best for the city. Cluracan attended a boring meeting, felt a prophecy come upon him, and recited a threatening rhyme to the spiritual leader/ruler. Cluracan was clapped in irons, the Aurelians had learned how to deal with fairies since he was last there, and thrown in a cell. In dreams he saw his sister Nuala, who he was meant to visit in the Dreaming, and told her of his situation. Later Lord Shaper appeared, he doesn't care what happens to Cluracan, but Nuala is a faithful servant and implored him to help. He released Cluracan and took him into the city. Cluracan used various guises to go around Aurelia spreading rumours and swearing all sort of terrible things about the spiritual leader/ruler. The people rose and the spiritual leader/ruler took refuge in the tomb of previous rulers. Cluracan removed his glamour to reveal that he is the cause. One of the corpses in the tomb rose (nothing to do with Cluracan) and threw the disgraced spiritual leader/ruler out of a high window. Cluracan left the city, got caught in the reality storm and came to the inn.
Cluracan is questioned about his story and gets annoyed when his sister is brought up. He suggests someone else tell a story.

The next story is told by a lad called Jim, who wants to know where they are. The landlady explains that the Worlds' End is its own place. An exterior veiw shows the Inn on a cliff surrounded by rocks. Jim was on a ship, and there shouldn't have been any land there, and the lad wonders whether it's all a dream or a hallucination. Brant says it's June 1993, but Jim says its September 1914. Jim is told to get on with the story:
Hob's Leviathan
Illustrated by Michael Zulli and Dick Giordano
Jim was born to a widow in Sydney in 1899, and from his father inherited a fascination with the sea. When he turned 13 he borrowed old clothes and ran away to sea. Jim served on a few ships before the Sea Witch. A rich gentleman called Mr Gadling came aboard in Bombay as a passenger, though the Captain disapproved of passengers on a working ship, and Jim was told to steward for him on top of his other work. The ship had sailors from many countries and it's clear Jim loves working on a tall ship, though steam ships are becoming more popular. 5 days out of Bombay a stowaway was found in the hold, a small Indian gentleman. The Captain wanted to kick him off at the next port but Mr Gadling paid for the Indian gentleman's passage to Liverpool. One evening the two passengers talk with Jim. The Indian gentleman tells story about the fickleness of women:
There was an Indian King who loved his wife more than life itself, and when he obtained fruit that would bestow immortality he gave it to his wife. She gave the fruit to her lover, the Captain of the Guard, and he gave it to courtesan he was infatuated with. She wasn't sure of the fruit and wanted riches, so she went to the palace and offered it to the King. He had her rewarded, and ordered his wife and her lover killed without torture. Then he dressed in rags and left the city, eating the fruit as he went.
Jim thinks the story is stupid and Mr Gadling agreed, pointing out that it's people who are unfaithful, and menget more opportunity to mess around than women. When a storm hit Jim spent more time with Mr Gadling, who tried to tell the secret of not drowning, though Jim thought it was a joke. Jim found an old tin picture, which must have been of Mr Gadling's father. After the storm the ship was becalmed and then bombarded by thousands of fish swimming past. The ship lurched on swells as an enormous sea monster appeared above the waves. After it descended no one on the crew would talk about it. When they docked at Aden Jim discussed it with Mr Gadling, who suggested getting a newspaper correspondent to come and ask around the ship in order to find the truth. After returning to the Sea Witch from shore leave Mr Gadling guessed that Jim didn't tell anyone about the sea monster, because she didn't want to draw attention to herself. Jim is shocked that Mr Gadling knew, her real name is Margaret, called Peggy by her mother. She overheard that Mr Gadling owns the Sea Witch, and he told her that when he's in Liverpool he'll tell the company that his Uncle Bob died and he has inherited the shares but wants to sell them. He threw the tin picture into the sea. Mr Gadling won't tell her secret and she last saw him on the dock in Liverpool.

She ends her story by saying that he was the only person in all her travels who ever realised she wasn't a boy. She worries that she's getting too old to keep passing, and will have to take on a new life and a new name.

Brant describes his stay in the Inn, it was bigger than it first seemed and he listened to stories all night, which seemed longer than it should. As the storm raged outside the innkeeper showed him to a room upstairs and he slept for a time. Trying to get back downstairs he came upon an alcove filled with books, sitting in the middle was an Oriental man who isn't sheltering from the storm and asks him where he's from. Brant answers Seattle and the man asks which America, then asks him the order of recent presidents. He is not impressed with Brant's answer and tells the story of the person he follows:
The Golden Boy
Illustrated by Michael Allred
In the USA a woman gave birth to a blond boy and called him Prez - short for President. Prez lived in Steadfast, a town famous for its many clocks, which all ran at different times. At 13 Prez was found by his mother at the town hall, impressing the city leaders by discussing civics. When he was 16 Prez adjusted every clock in town to the correct time. That year 18-year-olds were given the vote and voted themselves into the Senate and Congress. Prez was visited by Boss Smiley, prince of that world, who told him he would make him president, as long as he remembered who he owed it to. Prez turned down the offer, wanting to be president on his own terms. Prez worked hard on his political career. One night the current president visited Prez in his room and told him that presidents don't get to make a difference. Prez disagreed. On election day there were various omens and Prez was elected president aged only 19. Prez started Middle East peace talks, averted the energy crisis, reduced the deficit, appeared on Saturday Night Live. Prez also stopped the arms race and remained popular. In his third year Prez was visited by Boss Smiley, who appears in no files and advised him not to run again. Prez, who appears to be neither Democrat nor Republican, was re-elected and in his second term he reduced pollution, sorted out trade agreements, received a Nobel peace prize, and got engaged to his high school sweetheart Kathy. Kathy and Prez were shot by a deranged woman who was obsessed with boxer Ted Grant. Kathy was killed and Prez injured, the young president visited the shooter and offered her clemency but she still went to the electric chair. After that Prez stayed in the White House more, but was still loved. One night Boss Smiley appeared on Prez's TV and offered to return Kathy to him, Prez ignored this. Prez left office quietly though people suggested he should have another term, a lifetime presidency or even be made Emperor. Prez retired to Steadfast and repaired clocks in seclusion. The new President sent people to ask for Prez's advice, but he refused all offers and one day he disappeared. There were stories and sightings of him travelling America, none confirmed. One day Prez died. No one knew how and there was no body, though there were various theories, but the whole nation went into mourning though no one could say how they knew he was dead.
The Oriental man describes the next bit as what happened after Prez died, it is his personal belief:
Prez met Death, who was interested in his situation but handed him over to 2 grim-faced angels, who represented not the Creator, but the guy who runs the local franchise. They took him to Boss Smiley, who was clean and bright on an enormous throne in the clouds. Prez said he never worked for Boss Smiley, but the big yellow face disagreed, and revealed that there are many worlds and Americas. Prez refused to stay and wanted to help the other Americas, Boss Smiley tried to stop him leaving but Morpheus appeared and said that as Prince of Stories Prez is under his jurisdiction. Morpheus sent Prez through a door that led to other worlds. Prez explained how he repaired his first clock, a pocket watch that belonged to his dead father. He gave it to Morpheus and went out across the worlds.
The Oriental man tells Brant that he seeks and follows Prez, spreading his word.

Brant eventually finds downstairs and the landlady tells him that the interior of the inn can be confusing. He sees Klaproth again. He joins Charlene's table, where there have been more stories, though Charlene looks alarmed when Brant asks if she's told a story. A young, pale man called Petrefax asks Klaproth if he is allowed to go next, Klaproth is his master and features in his story:
Illustrated by Shea Anton Pensa and Vince Lock
Petrefax describes being an apprentice and sitting in his schoolroom in the Necropolis Litharge. When he didn't seem to be paying attention Klaproth questioned him on types of burial and sent him to observe and report on an air burial happening that evening. Petrefax rushed across the city to the mountains and met Master Hermas and his two apprentices, Mig and Scroyle. Petrefax watched as they carefully and professionally dismembered the body of the client, describing the process for him as they went. They threw the pieces to the birds, and ground down the bones to be mixed with barley. This done they sat, ate sandwiches and told stories, as is the custom in the client's land. Mig goes first:
He tells of the land where they hang criminals and had trouble finding hangmen, especially in small communities. Billy Scutt was due to be hanged for body snatching, but was offered the chance prolong his life by working as hangman, so long as he was hanged before he died. He was a good hangman, but when he fell ill he told his wife that he wanted to die in his bed. When the Sheriff's men, hearing Billy was ill, came to hang him they found him standing and proclaiming his good health. After they left Billy's wife cut down the rope that had held him up and he was able to die in his own bed, and the town lost the right to have a hangman. He was Mig's grandfather.
Scroyle tells his story next:
He was sent to the Necropolis when he was eight, accompanying his father's body on a barge down the river. He had been pledged to the Necropolis in return for his father getting a grave there. As an apprentice he has learned funerary arts and skills from many lands, he has cared for clients according to their own beliefs and cultures, and he has done the things apprentices do. One day he saw a traveller, a rare sight in the Necropolis, who sat with him and observed that Litharge hadn't changed much since he was last there. Then the stranger told the story of the first Necropolis, before Litharge:
That Necropolis is no longer named and it went bad because they regarded what they did as a job and worked without care, love or respect. They disposed of bodies -not clients- and said no payers for the dead. The place decayed as no one cared for it. One day six strangers came to the city, their sister had died and they had come for the cerements and book of rituals. The Necropolitans laughed and called them mad because there was no body and no offering. The eldest raised his head in his grey cowl and declared their charter revoked. A great wind came down and the city died, swallowed by the earth or crumbled to dust. The village of Litharge was given a charter to be a Necropolis.
The traveller finished his tale and his food and left.
Petrefax asked if that is how Litharge was founded and Master Hermas said the histories go back over 80,000 years. Then Master Hermas told a story himself:
When he was a child he was 'prenticed to old Mistress Veltis, along with Petrefax's Master, Klaproth. She was very skilled at her worked, her skills all the more impressive because her right hand was withered. One night the boys were woken by a storm and Mistress Veltis came and told them old stories from her childhood and she told them her own story:
When she was a girl she had smashed a flask of embalming fluid and fearing punishment she had fled deep into the catacombs and got lost. She had found a huge room with six silver cerements hanging in the darkness and a huge book. A voice asked her: Which of them is dead?Not knowing what it meant she explained how she had gotten there. The voice said the embalming flask was fixed as though it had never broken and her Master would not notice her absence. The girl asked how could she know the voice spoke the truth, and as punishment for her lack of faith the voice provided proof by withering her right hand. The girl went up and found everything as the voice had said. Over the years she searched the catacombs but never saw the room again.
When Mistress Veltis was close to death Hermas and Klaproth escorted her to the catacombs and waited by the entrance for a day and night. When the old woman returned she died and they laid her out so that all Litharge could pay their respects, and no one commented that her right hand was whole again.
Petrefax was offered the chance to tell a story, but he didn't think he had one. He revealed that he wanted to do well as an apprentice and become a journeyman, but he also dreams of travelling lands beyond.
He says that now he's become a journeyman he has learned more, but is viciously interrupted by Klaproth, who warns him that he is saying too much to outsiders. Jim and Brant object, saying Petrefax should be able to tell them anything he wants. Brant reckons they're all dead anyway, but Klaproth points out that he knows death. Brant wants an explanation, the landlady says she has one.

Worlds' End
Illustrated by Bryan Talbot, Mark Buckingham, Dick Giordano, Steve Leialoha, Gary Amaro and Tony Harris
Brant, Klaproth and Jim all demand a explanation from the landlady. She explains that they are in the Inn at the End of All Worlds. None of them was brought there, they were all travelling and got caught in a storm, and were lucky enough to find refuge. Charlene asks what a reality storm is. The landlady says that when big things happen they echo and create ripples in the fragile fabric of reality, which often manifest as storms. Brant angrily disagrees that reality is fragile, but when challenged he can't explain how he got there. The landlady tells them that the Inn is what's left when real worlds end, behind her the formerly cramped space becomes huge, spreading out as far as they can see, full of people. She assures Jim that they are not dead, though sometimes dead people visit. She cannot tell Petrefax what event caused the storm, just that it is very big. The landlady leaves to break up a fight that's brewing. Charlene asks why all the stories are boy's stories with no women in them. Jim points out that hers was a woman's story, but Charlene carelessly states that the point of Jim's story was that there weren't any women in it. She goes on to say that there were no real women in any story she heard, just pretty figures in the background. The centaur asks her what her story is. Charlene angrily explains that she doesn't have a story. She talks about her life with disappointment; an OK job, a bad apartment, an ex-husband, loneliness, lack of talent, dull routine. She embarrasses Grant by talking about a drunken incident at an office party, and as she describes how she doesn't really need other people she gets sadder and runs off in tears. Awkwardly Brant tries to save face, but makes things worse.  The storm destroys a tree just outside, its getting closer, or worse. Someone calls everyone to the window.
Brant sees the sky is full of colour, when it clears he sees enormous figures walk across the sky. He doesn't know who they are but readers recognise Destiny. Then a coffin is carried by familiar figures. A group of mythical figures follow, including Merv Pumpkinhead, Wilkinson, Queen Titiania, Despair, Bast, a raven, an angel, Odin, Emperor Norton I, Thor, Martin Tenbones and others. Finally Delirium and Death walk across the sky and though Brant doesn't know who she is he catches the sadness on Death's face and falls in love with her.
Back in the Inn the mood is sombre and the storm has passed. The landlady says everyone can leave. Cluracan, abruptly sober, must report to his Queen. Petrefax refuses to go with Klaproth and leaves with Chiron, to his Master's annoyance. Charlene says she won't leave, she'll stay and work at the inn. The landlady says she herself came there on a jounrey and stayed, as she speaks her shadow has extra arms. Charlene says goodbye and Brant leaves.
Brant is sitting in a bar, telling a barmaid that he found himself in Charlene's car in a McDonald's car park. The car was fine and all the papers were in his name. He can't find any trace of Charlene's existence and he never returned to Seattle. The barmaid asks if he imagined it. He often thinks that he did, but he remembers how he felt when he saw the funeral in the sky and knows it was real. The barmaid closes up,  Brant thanks her for listening, then walks into the night.

In the introduction Stephen King points out that a lot of the stories are nested like Russian dolls. Stories are told within stories, within stories, and at the very end we discover that the whole thing is a story Brant is telling. There is one place in Cerements where we see a glimpse of possible circularity, among the old stories that Madame Veltis tells the boys Hermas and Klaproth is one "about a coach-full of prentices and a master, swept away from Litharge by dark magics, who took their refuge in the tavern, where the price of haven was a tale." This is clearly a description of the Worlds' End, in which Petrefax is sitting, recounting the tale of the time he heard Master Hermas tell of that story. Whether the story is about what happens to Klaproth, Petrefax and their companions that has reached back into the past, or whether it is from a similar event that happened long ago, doesn't really matter. It's the resonance that gives this throwaway reference it's power, just as happened with a lot of the dialogue in Brief Lives.

The theme of cities reappears. A Tale of Two Cities is eerie and it's suggestion of cities as entities that can dream and might one day wake is unsettling, in a similar way that A Dream of A Thousand Cats in Dream Country was unsettling. Cluracan's Tale featured Aurelia, which looks rather Roman when Cluracan remembers its glory days, and is shown to have decayed and become squalid over time. The man who should represent the spiritual and physical realms of the city is corrupt and it seems that Cluracan becomes an agent of what's best for the city itself, which luckily corresponds with his mission. Cerements tells us about the Necropolis Litharge (and its unnamed predecessor), a city entirely devoted to the dead and organised entirely around this principle. All the inhabitants are in the funerary profession, they wear the clothes of the dead, are fed on offerings, look rather like corpses and learn a huge variety of skills as part of the function of the Necropolis. Cities were also important in Fables and Reflections, with San Francisco, early Imperial Rome and medieval Baghdad all being important settings. Plus in A Game of You contemporary New York played an important role as the setting for most of the real world scenes, with opinions of the city and life there mentioned regularly.

There are lots of references to other things throughout Worlds' End, I doubt I spotted all of them. Chiron the centaur is a character from Ancient Greek myth. The landlady seems to be the Indian goddess Kali. One of tasks mentioned in Cerements is guarding clients to stop witches stealing their faces and tongues, an obvious reference to Thessaly's treatment of George in A Game of You.
The story with the most references I noticed was the Golden Boy. The mention of Saturday Night Live is significant because in Prez's America Jim Belushi lived into old age, and his shock that Prez did all he did while sober seems to have inspired him. Ted Grant the boxer, also known as Wildcat, is a character in the main DC superhero universe (or was, I don't really get how the DCU operates).  The "joke" campaign for Prez to be elected Emperor starts in San Francisco, and is clearly a reference to Norton I, though it's not clear whether that gentleman actually existed in the world Prez came from. The yellow smiley face symbol of Boss Smiley has resonance with Alan Moore's Watchmen (Moore and Gaiman are friends and Moore's work was influential in getting Gaiman into comics) where it was the symbol of the Comedian. There's also the fact that Prez fixes clocks and watches, clockmaking was an important part of the back story of Dr Manhattan. In fact as an alternate history of 20th Century America it has perhaps the opposite tone of Watchmen, presenting a bright utopia with a slightly supernatural feel to the story. Of course the biggest reference in Golden Boy is basically the American, civic version of Jesus. A bright star is shown in the sky at the time of his birth. At 13 his mother loses him in town then finds him impressing civic leaders, much like a young Jesus did with learned men in the temple. During the missing years of Prez's story there's this image above (a blond Jesus picture if ever there was one). It doesn't say how old Prez was when he died, I wouldn't be surprised if he was 33.

Morpheus appears in most of these stories and those he doesn't appear in have other familiar characters. He is the pale, silent stranger Robert sees on the mysterious train.
Cluracan of course already knows Lord Shaper when he is rescued from the Aurelian dungeon, though Cluracan does not seem to explain his rescuer to his audience.
Hob's Leviathan features Morpheus's centuries-old friend Hob Gadling, as a wealthy ship owner who is having to move into another new life. Hob never appeared in Brief Lives, despite the focus on people and entities with long lives, but Hob is full of life and didn't really belong in that more morbid story arc. The Indian stowaway is clearly telling his own story when he mentions the King who ate the fruit of immortality, this is made clear when Hob says there aren't many people like them around.
Death appears in Golden Boy, she tells her brother about Prez's situation and Morpheus takes Prez from Boss Smiley and allows him to continue with his mission. Both Boss Smiley and Morpheus recognise Prez as a powerful narrative symbol, but where Boss Smiley wants to add Prez to his own glory, Morpheus allows Prez to continue his story.
In Cerements Scroyle's travelling stranger is Destruction. It isn't clear at what point in his journey Scroyle encounters him. He isn't accompanied by Barnabas and he carries a similar handkerchief-on-a-stick to the one he made for himself at the end of Brief Lives, suggesting it could be after that. However it's likely that this encounter happened years earlier, in Petrefax's timeline at least. Of course Jim and Brant's comparison of dates shows that people are there from different times, as well as different worlds. Destruction's story concerns events that happened after the death of the first Despair and shows that the Endless have their funerary rites too, which is backed up by the tale of what happened to Mistress Veltis as a girl.
The giant funerary procession in the sky features lots of familiar faces, probably more than I can identify/name, from across the span of the series. Destiny leads. A coffin is carried by pallbearers, one of whom looks like Desire. Despair walks among the mass of mourners. Delirium and then Death are in the rear. This, it seems, is the big event that caused that storm.

Charlene's anger at all the boys stories is great, because it's true and not only does her outburst acknowledge this, it points out why it's a problem. The women are pretty background figures and not people (though unlike Charlene I'm willing to give Jim a pass as I enjoy female cross-dressing stories). Sandman story arcs alternate genders. Most of the masculine books are about Morpheus and have his POV, so the story-gender isn't surprising. Worlds' End is the first masculine story that doesn't feature him, and so there's no reason most of the characters, narrators and POVs should be male. The fact that they are, and this is used to make a very valid point about literature in general, is brilliant. Sometimes it's hard to believe this was being written 20+ years ago, few current works seem this self-aware about gender representation. I also note that there are a lot of main female characters in the feminine story arcs. In fact there are a lot of ordinary, relateable female characters in Sandman, which I suspect may be part of the reason why I've never got into superhero comics so much.

As in earlier collections there are different artists illustrating different stories. In this case there's the framing narrative of the Inn, which means that different artists' work can appear on the same page, especially at the beginning and end of the stories.

All the inn scenes have black gutters, as does any scene from Brant's point of view, including the bar at the very end. Otherwise the only black gutters appear during Mig's story and parts of Master Hermas's story in Cerements.

The Tale of Two Cities story has very stylised art combined with its broad white gutters, it is a huge, airy contrast to the dark gutters earlier in that issue. The words are in the white spaces, there are no speech balloons or dialogue boxes. The pictures and the words seem more separate than is usual in comics, informing each other without actually sharing the same spaces on the page. The pictures are mostly small, showing fragments and glimpses of the action. Growing larger only to emphasise a character in an important moment.

Cluracan's Tale has more stylised art, contrasting to the inn scenes, but in  a very different way to the story that preceded it. It makes bold use of colour and is set out in a more traditional page layout. Cluracan is probably the most changed character, looking entirely different (and more human) within his story than in the inn scenes, in most other cases the different artists seem to have agreed on the look of characters. Of course Cluracan is a fairy and therefore is changeable. Compare the long-haired, pointy-eared blond here with the short-haired, round eared brunette up the page
Hob's Levithan is drawn in a very naturalistic style, which makes the inn scenes look a little cartoonish by comparison, though the inn sections appear more naturalistic than both Cluracan's Tale and A Tale of Two Cities. This fits with Jim's real life, historical story and makes the overblown supernatural element all the more ridiculous.
Golden Boy is very bright and clean cut, much like it's protagonist.
Cerements has a looser art style, but the characters that reappear at different ages are recognisable and those that appear in the story and the inn are drawn to look the same though by different artists. Compare the picture of Petrefax just above with the one further up the page.
Worlds' End is drawn by several artists. The regular inn scenes continue to be Bryan Talbot's expressive and realistic (if not naturalistic) art. The procession in the sky and the final two pages are darker and more moody, with the last panel only picking out the highlights against a black background.

Foreshadowing is underneath the cut as ever and includs me speculating on timelines, and possibly over thinking it.

Next: The Kindly Ones*
Last week: Brief Lives

* As the Kindly Ones is the biggest collection, over twice the size of most of the others, I may take longer to read, write up and post about it.

1 September 2013

Brief Lives

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 nudity. Just so you know.

Andros, an old Greek, is guardian of the miracle, his family have been guardian-priests for millennia. Their charge is the severed head of Orpheus. Delirium sits in a doorway with an old homeless woman. She decides she misses her lost brother and wanders into a fetish club. She thinks she sees Death, gets upset when she realises her mistake and makes a scene. Desire arrives and takes her back to its realm. Delirium wants to find their missing brother, Desire refuses to help. Delirium visit's Despair's grey realm and asks for her help, but Despair also refuses, Delirium thinks its because she doesn't want to upset Desire. Delirium leaves with the intention of asking Dream next. Despair remembers when she was last alone with Destruction, during a plague. He was nice to her and kissed her cheek, no one else does. Next time she saw him he was leaving. Desire contacts Despair, worried about what Delirium is doing and that their elder siblings will get involved. Despair doesn't answer. This is the first time we see Desire worry about family.

Dream's lady has left him, he stands in the rain for weeks while the inhabitants of the Dreaming get wet. Merv Pumpkinhead complains about his boss's melodramatic nature and the work it causes. Nuala is sad, Lucien is resigned and Matthew tries to get a reaction from his boss but fails. Delirium's arrival interrupts the rainy moping, being a good host Dream offers her food. She works up the courage to ask him to help find their brother, though Dream's cold manner upsetting her in the process. Dream speaks to Desire, wary of a trap, but Desire swears it had nothing to do with Delirium's idea. Delirium remembers that once she realised she was changing she was no longer Delight, and she stood with Destruction until she managed to stop giggling. Dream surprisingly agrees to go travelling with his youngest sister. He tells Lucien it is just a harmless diversion with no meaning and no chance of success.

Bernie Capax, mostly a lawyer, is remembering the smell of mammoths when he is killed by a falling wall. He's disappointed but reckons 15,000 years is pretty good, Death tells him he got the same as everyone, a lifetime. Dream and Delirium visit a travel agent in Dublin where they freak out a receptionist until they can see Pharamond, a god Dream knew millennia ago, who now oversees transportation. Delirium has a list of Destruction's old friends they can visit. Etain makes her morning coffee and before she knows what's happening she dives out of her window and jumps off the fire escape, as her apartment explodes behind her. Destruction paints a landscape, and is criticised by his talking dog companion, Barnabas. A pool in his back room bubbles, signalling trouble. Dream and Delirium are on a trans-Atlantic flight. Dream tells a little girl true things about getting lost in dreams. At the airport they meet Ruby, who is to guide them and takes them out of the airport without passing any checks and chauffeurs them in a classic car.

In the arctic circle the Alderman discovers a death is coming for him. He turns into a bear and chews off his shadow, forcing it to take his place. In suburban US Dream and Delirium go to the home of the lawyer, Bernie Capax, to discover he died yesterday. His son is freaking out because he found weapons, drugs, bullion and blank passports in his dull father's basement office. Ruby insists they stop at a motel. Delirium traces the people on her list: the lawyer is dead, Etain has gone elsewhere, as has the Alderman, she finds the Dancing Lady and briefly inhabits her friend Tiffany. We learn more about Ruby, who is a devoted Catholic, aspires to be super rich, and is a virgin because she doesn't want to have sex until she's married. Dream checks on the Dreaming, then remembers a meeting with his brother. It was the seventeenth century and Dream took the Corinthian to the waking world, Destruction showed them a natural philosopher dissecting an ape. Destruction was concerned about the theories of a man called Newton, humans were starting to use reason as a tool, and he'd seen where this goes many times before on many worlds. His time will come with explosions and flames. He tries to talk to his brother about what he's thinking, but Dream doesn't seem to understand. The memory is interrupted by a firefighter trying to get an unconcerned Dream to move out of the motel fire, which started in Ruby's room. Dream suspects Ruby's death is no accident considering the trouble they had with the lawyer.

Delirium drives disastrously, a cop stops them and she punishes him with imaginary bugs. Strippers Ishtar and Tiffany talk about life and men as Ishtar helps Tiffany get ready for work. Dream asks Matthew to give Delirium driving instruction. Ishtar and fellow-stripper Nancy tell Tiffany about ancient Middle East temple prostitution, it's clear Ishtar is the original goddess. Dream, Delirium and Matthew go to the strip club (called Suffragette City). Dream talks to Ishtar, who was Destruction's lover. Dream never approved of her and both are cold, though Dream warns Ishtar of danger coming her way. After they've left Ishtar dances her final dance, a powerful dance she hasn't danced in millennia. Tiffany runs naked into the night as Ishtar's power blows up the club in a combination of lust and destruction. Desire stands outside, reveals how much Ishtar loved Destruction, and gives the confused and frightened Tiffany a coat.

Destruction writes a poem. Dream announces their search is over and leaves, Delirium unhappily returns to her realm. Dream locks himself in his throne room, creates a desert, visits Bast in her dreams and asks where his brother is. Bast admits she was lying in Season of Mists and suggests he uses an oracle. Merv Pumpkinhead again tells Lucien about their boss being flaky, Dream overhears this and Mervyn goes quiet. Lucien points out that Delirium's picture in the gallery has gone black. Dream calls Death, who ignores him to talk to Lucien about getting a book. Lucien is dismissed by his master, and Death tells Dream she's angry at him because he's upset Delirium. Death more or less orders Dream to go and talk to her. Dream goes to Delirium's multi-coloured, chaotic realm. He finds his sister, apologises and patches things up with her by agreeing to resume their quest properly.

Destruction prepares to cook a fine meal. Using a fairground maze Dream and Delirium go to Destiny's realm. Delirium sees an old image of herself as Delight, Destiny greets them and tells them to give up and go home. Destiny tells Dream that he needs an oracle. Dream says that no oracle can tell of their family, but Destiny points out that Dream has already thought of one who is family. Dream falls apart and Delirium becomes coherent enough to tell Destiny that she knows things that aren't in his book. She encourages Dream to keep going, because it hurts for her to hold herself together. After they leave Destiny flips through his book visiting scenes from other times: when Destruction left and how each sibling reacted; Dream's triumph and exhaustion just before he was captured; when Death spent a day as a human; the bloodied, trembling Corinthian is spoken to by the Dream King, clad all in white. Dream and Delirium arrive at a Greek island, and confront the human guardians of Orpheus, who let them pass. Delirium eats cherries while Dream speaks to his son. They are taken by boat to the neighbouring island where Destruction lives. He's been expecting them and invites them in for food.

Over dinner, which no one really eats, Delirium recounts their journey and Destruction asks after the rest of the family. We learn that Despair is an aspect that reassumed the position after the original had been destroyed, it was the first time that had happened. Destruction says that's partly why he left, he didn't want to leave another version of himself in the same mess. Destruction reveals that the danger that followed their quest was set up by him before he left to stop anyone finding him. Dream asks Destruction how he could leave, and Destruction points out that his leaving hasn't stopped destruction from happening. Outside under the stars they talk and Destruction tells of a conversation he had with Death on another world, she said that everyone knows everything but just tells themselves that they don't. Destruction says that he won't come back as Delirium hoped and packs up his sigil (a sword) and his scrying pool. He leaves Barnabas to stay with Delirium, says goodbye to everyone and walks up into the stars. Dream announces he must kill his son.

Orpheus looks towards his uncle's house and sees a shooting star going up into the night. By morning his father and aunt return, Delirium pops in briefly. Orpheus and his father talk, Orpheus thinks his father has changed, but Dream doubts it. Orpheus is scared, but he has wanted death for a long time and asks his father to help him die. Dream kills him. Where Orpheus's blood falls from Dream's hands red flowers grow. Despair turns up and regrets that she didn't come and see Destruction. Dream leaves, Delirium leaves and Despair takes one of the new flowers to her realm. There the twins discuss what has happened, Desire should be happy that Dream spilled family blood, though it didn't cause it, but in fact both Desire and Despair are scared. Dream returns to the Dreaming, makes plans to tie up loose ends from the journey and retires to his rooms. He washes his son's blood of his hands. Andros buries Orpheus's head as instructed.

There are various echoes within the collection - situations, scenes and dialogue that reflect each other or provide contrast.
The collection starts and ends with Andros. He climbs the stone steps that have been worn down by generations of his family, and he leaves a flower at the grave of Johanna Constantine, we are told this has been done for generations, though there is no pile of flowers. Towards the end Dream leaves a flower on her grave too. At the very end Andros buries his charge, his task is done, the routine finished, and he knows he will not live much longer.
Dream meets little Chloe Russel on a plane. Later Bast receives a prayer from a young female whose cat has been hit by a car. Towards the end we learn that Chloe has been given a new kitten by her mother's current boyfriend, who ran over her previous cat, an old stray.
Towards the beginning Delirium gets into fetish club by telling the bouncer that she has an invitation and she is dressed correctly. Later Dream gets himself, Delirium and Matthew (a raven) into the strip club by telling the bouncer that they are correctly attired, male humans. Delirium actually points out that "I did that. What you just did. I did that in the beginning." A wonderfully meta/self-referential moment, that is included without particular emphasis and works the better that it seems to be a throwaway line. Of course a lot of Delirium's dialogue seems to be random or nonsensical, but has greater meaning.
When Dream remembers meeting Destruction in the 17th century he harshly punished a pickpocket, causing Destruction to suggest his actions were unnecessary. When Delirium harshly punishes the cop that pulled her over Dream comments that her actions are unnecessary, but Delirium is able to counter that he has done worse many times. Destruction points out that Dream's feelings of responsibility for Ruby's death are very different to his previous attitude towards humans, though Dream of course will not acknowledge this. Just as he later refuses to acknowledge Orpheus's observation that he has changed, even though he is now doing something he swore he would not do.
Former-stripper Tiffany (now with glasses and pearls) goes on a talk show to describe her narrow escape from her life of sin. When they were talking at the strip club Nancy described her plan to write a book about her experience as a stripper and go on TV, of course she never got the chance to.

You Can't Live Their Lives For Them
Ishtar thinks this about Tiffany as she worries about her. She compares worrying about humans with falling in love with a kitten: "one day you'll have to put an old cat to sleep." Considering Dream later meets with Bast in dreams, and the cat goddess is feeling her age in waking, I suspect this is another line that is not the idle thought it first seems.
Destiny tells his younger brother Dream that he would live his life for him if he could, after Dream doesn't listen to his advice about abandoning the quest.
After killing his son a shaken Dream tells Delirium "If I could have... lived his life for him... what then?" Dream also points out that Orpheus died a long time ago, when his body was destroyed, and Despair makes her entrance by commenting that he died earlier, and suggesting different points in Orpheus's story.It is probably no coincidence that Despair appears just after her brother has killed his son.

Old Gods
Pharamond (now called Farrell) was losing worship when he spoke with Dream in Babylon -which Babylonian period isn't specified, but it's likely to be pretty ancient. Dream advised him to diversify (to change, in fact) and that's how he's survived and thrived over the millennia. I don't actually know which god he's supposed to be, maybe that's a mystery, though if anyone knows do tell me.
Ishtar is probably from a similar Middle Eastern pantheon/period as Pharamond. She has adapted with the times in a small way, and survives but little more. Where Farrell is really rich she ekes out an existence in the modern equivalent of the niche she used to fill.
Bast hasn't changed with the times, of course having a cat head would make it difficult for her to live the life of a mortal. The dream version of her is healthy and more sensual than the thin, weakened cat goddess who wakes. She compares the time when worship was plentiful with what is now a time of famine for her.
Ishtar states that gods start in dreams, step into the waking world drawing worship and power, until the worshipers are gone and they return to dreams for their final journey into the unknown. I suppose that might mean that Dream is their equivalent of Death, though it clearly doesn't work in quite the same way. Perhaps this is how Dream is able to grant death to Orpheus after Death said she wouldn't take him, because by then Orpheus, as a legendary story, is more of a myth or dream than a living being.

It's interesting to see the ways the Endless react to each other, a family of disparate entities who are nonetheless siblings. Delirium describes Dream as scary and stuffy to the twins, and at first she finds him intimidating. She's convinced he's making fun of her and has bought in to the air of superiority he projects. Dream seems to find Delirium confusing and a bit trying, but as they travel his affection for her grows and he concedes, in his formal way, that he does like her. When Dream breaks downs, Delirium pulls herself together enough to face Destiny and get him back on his feet. Death talks to Dream about Delirium as though she's a messed up kid (which I guess she is by their standards). Death is concerned for her youngest sister, wary of what she's been through already and determined that she doesn't leave as Destruction did.
Desire's acerbic attitude drops when it speaks to Despair. Despite the uncaring facade Desire is worried about the family, and seems to have an understanding of the problems that come from seeking Destruction. Despair also knows about this too, but was tempted all the same due to her fondness for her lost brother. We learn that Despair was destroyed before though, and Delirium suggests she's under Desire's thumb. Towards the end Desire describes why it dislikes Dream, but rather than being happy or triumphant about how things turned out it feels sorry for him. Both twins are scared about what comes next.
The brief scene between Death and Dream is great. With Death initially giving her brother the silent treatment, then making him fix things with Delirium. As in Season of Mists, it seems that Death is probably the only one who can get past Dream's pride and tell him how it really it.
Destruction has some affection for his family (especially his younger sisters), but couldn't stand the position he was in being one of them. He tries to tell Dream things, but understands that his brother's nature won't allow him to listen to certain truths. Destruction reminds Dream that he left of his own will, and though it was hard it did not create major problems for the universe. Destruction can see the cage of responsibilities Dream has constructed around himself and suggests a possible escape, though it has clearly always been hard to get his brother to listen. Its cool that Destruction seems to spend most of his time creating things, even if he's not that good at it.

Jill Thompson is penciller for the entire collection and the art doesn't vary much, giving a strong sense of a continuous narrative. There are a lot of people in this collection and they are drawn well with a sense of keen observation and understanding. While there are supernatural entities, and historical folk, what you mostly see is a diverse range of modern humans, in different situations. Some have few or no lines, some are there for short scenes, but there's none that look unrealistic. They all look like people you might meet, reacting and emoting in ways that people do, and when Thompson gets the chance to focus on a character you see some great nuances in the art.

Dream's appearance remains reasonably stable, perhaps to compare to Delirium's changing hair and outfits. Destruction and Despair do not change much either, but the latter usually looks the same, especially as she doesn't wear clothes, and the former is no longer an embodiment of anything. As well as seeing Delirium's changing look, we also see a couple of images of her as Delight, emphasising the change she went through.

 On the top row: Delirium at different stages of the quest.
Bottom left: Delight becomes Delirium. Bottom right: Dream and Delirium see an image of Delight.

The scenes inside Suffragette City, the strip club are drawn differently. The colours are different and the panels seem to have more black than white, though my knowledge of art isn't great so I couldn't tell you how that's done. It creates a real contrast between that location and everywhere else we see.
Nancy, Ishtar & Tiffany outside Suffragette City
Tiffany, Ishtar & Nancy inside Suffragette City

Delirium's realm was written to be surreal, and certainly looks the part. If you though the Dreaming was weird then you ain't seen nothing. Bright colours, random patterns combined with text invoking nonsensical images in your mind.

I noticed that when Delirium is blowing bubbles in the motel, one of them is shaped like Totoro (from the Studio Ghibli film My Neighbour Totoro). I didn't notice before as I don't think I'd seen the film last time I read this.

  • Merv Pumpkinhead - a builder/maintenance guy in the Dreaming, a  regular Joe who tells it like it is, unless the boss is listening
  • Barnabas - Destruction's talking canine companion, who is wonderfully sarcastic
Destruction was technically introduced in Fables & Reflections, though we didn't get his Endless name until now.

Some looking forward and backward in the foreshadowing under the cut.

Next Week: Worlds' End
Last Week: Fables & Reflections