03 July 2010

Faster than a DC Bullet: The Sandman, Part II: The Absolute Sandman, Volume Two

Comic hardcover, 616 pages
Published 2007 (contents: 1990-98)

Borrowed from the library
Read June 2010
The Absolute Sandman, Volume Two

Writer: Neil Gaiman
Artists: Sean McManus, Kelley Jones, Mike Dringenberg, Bryan Talbot, John Watkiss, Matt Wagner, Stan Woch, Coleen Doran, Duncan Eagleson, John Bolton, Malcolm Jones III, George Pratt, Dick Giordano, P. Craig Russell, Vince Locke
Colorists: Dave Vozzo, Steve Oliff
Letterer: Todd Klein

There's two big storylines collected in this volume of The Absolute Sandman. The first is Seasons of Mists, which opens with a meeting between Dream and the rest of the Endless. They suggest that Dream was a bit of a jerk for exiling his lover to Hell ten thousand years ago (described in a side story in Volume One), and that he should get her back. Apparently that's all it takes to change someone's mind, because Dream launches himself into Hell to reclaim her soul. Why? No one knows. Upon getting there, he finds out that Lucifer has opened the Gates of Hell and let everyone go because he's tired of the whole thing, and Lucifer hands the place over to Dream and promptly absconds, leaving Dream with the question of what to do with Hell. Various claimants come to petition Dream, and I was initially excited-- who Dream chose would give me some insight into his character surely, or even just watching him deliberate would-- but the whole storyline just stops with a literal divine intervention. Seeing Gaiman's depictions of the various claimants is fun, though; I think my favorites were Thor and the Lord of Order. His Loki is pretty underwhelming for the ultimate trickster, though. The best part of the storyline, however, is the side story about the boy left behind at a boarding school when all the souls are released from Hell.

The second story, A Game of You, is much better for the reason that it doesn't focus on Dream at all, but rather Barbie, a human who previously appeared in Volume One. Her dreams are starting to spill over into the real world and into the lives of those who share her apartment building. We see almost everything from the perspective of Barbie, her transvestite friend Wanda, the lesbian couple Hazel and Foxglove (one of whom is pregnant!), and a witch named Thessaly. Barbie soon becomes lost in her dreams, which are a little girl's depiction of a fantasy land, with herself as the princess, surrounded by a cast of goofy animal characters. Watching these characters try to make sense of the weird world they've been projected into, as well as their own personal lives, is great, and I was totally on board with every moment of it. The ending is a bit underwhelming, however, as Dream just shows up all of a sudden and takes care of everything. But other than that (and the epilogue), this was my favorite Sandman storyline yet.

There's also a quality side story about Emperor Norton I of the United States, which I just loved. A fun look at a fun historical personage.

My reviews of the first two volumes of The Absolute Sandman might make it seem like I'm down on the series, and I'm not-- I think the writing is usually sharp, most of the characters are fully-fledged people, the tone and atmosphere are great, the Dreaming is a fantastic mythology, and Matthew the Raven is pretty much awesome. But it's hard to get too enthused about a series whose protagonist leaves you so little to connect to, even at supposedly defining moments.

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