21 August 2011

Faster than a DC Bullet: The Sandman Spin-Offs, Part XI: JLA: Strength in Numbers

Since Neil Gaiman took over The Sandman, the character has been pretty well confined to the Vertigo portion of the DC universe. But from time to time, he manages to break out and interact with the rest of the DCU. The JLA and JSA stories here have aspects other than the Sandman ones, but I'm going to ignore all of them, since someday I'll reread these tales in their proper contexts:

Comic trade paperback, 223 pages
Published 1998 (contents: 1998)

Borrowed from the library
Read August 2011
JLA: Strength in Numbers

Writers: Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Christopher Priest
Pencillers: Howard Porter, Arnie Jorgensen, Yanick Paquette
Inkers: John Dell, David Meikis, Mark Pennington, Walden Wong, Doug Hazlewood, Mark Lipka
Colorists: Pat Garrahy, James Sinclair
Letterers: Ken Lopez, Janice Chiang, Kurt Hathaway

Grant Morrison's "Return of the Conqueror" marks one of the first-- if not the first-- appearances of the new Dream, the former Daniel Hall, outside Gaiman's own Sandman series. Dream makes contact with the Justice League when the Star Conqueror hijacks the Dreaming, putting almost the Earth's entire population to sleep in preparation for an attack. Dream actually isn't very fussed by the whole thing; at the end of the story, we learn that he's primarily acting to return a favor, since early in The Sandman, the Justice League helped his predessor locate one of his artifacts of power.

Superman, Wonder Woman, and the Green Lantern travel into the Dreaming to stop the Star Conqueror, where only one dreamer remembers the superheroes that exist in the "real" world. The Dreaming lets Morrison explore themes he would later return to in All-Star Superman, volume 2: the notion that in a world where Superman didn't exist, it would be necessary to invent him. And just like in All-Star, the world without Superman is the false one, the world with him is real, but I think this notion worked better in All-Star. The Dreaming is a seemingly more appropriate venue for this premise than a simulation in Superman's Fortress of Solitude, for what are superheroes but dreams given human form? But the nature of "Return of the Conqueror" means that the superhero-less world is destroyed when Superman and company save the day (a little too easily given the scale of the threat), whereas our own world continues to persist. We can imagine that we reside in the Superman-less world of All-Star, that one level up in reality, Superman is real, whereas "Return of the Conqueror" precludes us from imagining that we could wake up some day and be in the world where Superman exists.

There are some nice moments, though: I loved the conversation between the Green Lantern and Dream, and the true nature of Michael Haney was good, too. On the other hand, Morrison's Dreaming is much more muted and prosaic than Gaiman's, but I suppose that's the nature of the corner of the Dreaming we're in. "Return of the Conqueror" feels conceptually flawed in the end: while superheroes seemed to fit into Gaiman's world just fine, Gaiman's character is too big to fit into the world of the superheroes without losing what makes it special.

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