Wednesday, August 12, 2009

"Puppets who can see the strings"


Following the promising premise of Preludes and Nocturnes, this second volume became one of my favorite installments.

I believe this is the book of The Sandman series that captured not only my heart but my imagination in varying ways I did not expect it could. This is also the first time that Gaiman explored the vitality and freshness of his material and the result was a provocative examination of the unconscious and often catastrophic desires of human beings that are caught up in fulfilling such dangerous things.

Before the actual central story begins, the volume opens with Tales of the Sand, a short narrative pertaining to an African queen Nada who falls in love with the Dream king himself. It was considered unlawful for mortals to develop a romantic affiliation with an Endless so she was punished for it. This story able to cast a light on the nature of Nada's significance to Dream (she was first seen in Preludes, trapped in Hell because Dream was unable to forgive her). Another separate self-contained story is Men of Good Fortune which introduced one of my favorite characters, Hob Gadling. He is a man who doesn't want to die and Death grants him a pass, curious and amused of his tenacity to live. His unlikely friendship with Dream was uneasy and fragile, but one that has humanized our titular hero in the end.

Now onto the central story: the readers are now able to familiarize themselves some more with the mechanics and inner workings of the Endless mythos with Dream (Morpheus) as their point of reference. We get to know him best through the performance of his duties and his revealing interactions with the staff of the Dreaming like Lucien, the librarian, the raven pet Matthew, Cain and Abel, etc. Dream may not be entirely likable--he can be painstakingly stiff and cold at times--but the colorful characters he surround himself with provide not only entertaining foils to his somber personality, but also plenty of receptive opportunities that readers can relate and sympathize with.

One of them is Rose Walker, a tortured teen who stumbled upon the secret of her heritage; and the extent of its destructive potency. There are two separate stories that are happening for this volume: one of our titular hero, and the other with Rose Walker. While Dream was preoccupied apprehending some of the tangible nightmares that got loose during his sabbatical, Rose was carefully weaved into the events until she found herself in the Cereal convention; a dark parody of comic book conventions; only instead of geeks and nerds, Cereal conventions bring serial killers together (or "collectors" as they proudly dub themselves). These twisted men are under the influence of one of the most unforgettable nightmares in the series: the dashing and sexy Corinthian. Dream was able to get the Corinthian under control in the end, and he also passed judgment onto the serial killers, one that has a very chilling resonance ("You shall know at all times, and forever, exactly what you are. And you shall know just how little that means").

Another significant event was Dream having a chance encounter with a replacement of his who fancied himself as a superhero who fights crime (a comical tribute to the original Sandman character that Gaiman reinvented). He met Lyta Hall, a woman who got pregnant while in the confines of the Dreaming (and whose child will eventually have an important role in the course of the series).

In addition to Death's appearance in Preludes, readers are delighted to meet another Endless sibling, Dream's younger sister-brother (for it is androgynous and gender-free) Desire. He-she-it is the paragon of self-love, destructive passions and haunting pleasures. Its own realm is called the Threshold which is a towering heart statue where Desire resides. Desire also has a complicated relationship with its brother Dream and it has been pointed out that they have done nothing but clash in the last centuries. Desire toys with Dream every chance it gets, and its latest invention has something to do with the conundrum surrounding Rose Walker.

The climactic events that follow the confrontation among Dream, Rose Walker and Desire are something to look forward to. Overall, the thematic angle of The Doll's House reconcile the tumultuous personal responsibilities that human beings have over their own lives, and that of the purpose of the Endless, and the duties that are profoundly etched in their existence. It would seem that the Endless are dolls of humanity, enhancing the traits that they are personifying as anthropomorphic entities; as well as exemplifying mortal insecurities all the while still transcending human experiences; and that of which will always possess a quality of brevity.

*A spellbound multi-layered storyline rife with philosophical and mystical elements; a most beguiling genesis of what is yet to come for the series' run.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

"Dream A Little Dream of Me"

Back in 2009, it was my second time to be a freshman in college (and my third course at that). To ensure that I stayed focused, I joined the student paper and there I met the associate editor who became my mentor in many ways than one; and he introduced me to Neil Gaiman's The Sandman series. I felt his excitement when he started to share this piece of literature with me, and I was greatly touched. I then ventured on with the knowledge that this is the first time I will ever consume the medium in a graphic novel form (that being collected into a single edition as oppose to monthly individual issues which I was more accustomed with in high school--I read a lot of X-Men back then). I have a pretty limited view of comic books before this; my doses of the medium are all about superheroes. So when I encountered this first volume of The Sandman, I was not expecting to find a delectable juxtaposition of gothic elements, cultural folklore, and historical fiction. But it's exactly what I got and it changed the way I appreciated comic books.

Preludes and Nocturnes was not immediately an impressive volume, however. It was a straightforward adventure-mystery that featured the mythos of the Endless--seven anthropomorphic representations of enduring concepts, and that titular character is the surly and enigmatic Dream, lord shaper of stories (who will be known as Morpheus in later issues). He was imprisoned for 75 years by a cult, thus screwing up most people's sleep and dreams for the next few decades. It was a great premise, filled with potentially exciting directions, narrative-wise. And it was indeed a thrill to journey on. Dream escapes and begins to gather his personal items across the murky metropolitan streets, the hellish landscape of inferno and within the tapestries of a psychotic mind.

I was familiar with some facets of the DC Universe while reading the volume, so seeing Doctor Destiny was something that made me crack a smile--and then it completely disturbed me because Gaiman utilized his character in an incomprehensibly horrific way. The presence of John Constantine was another bonus treat, because I was also between my readings of his own Hellblazer series right around that time.

The plot of Preludes was simplistic enough to follow and yet still fascinating to encourage any new reader to keep going. I managed to finish everything in two hours during a random afternoon at home. I was drawn to Dream fairly quickly (who doesn't love tall, brooding men?), and by the end of the Doctor Destiny storyline, I was already enthralled. But it was in the final story The Sound of her Wings which transformed that endearment into full-blown intoxication.

In that story, we are introduced to Gaiman's enduring version of the reaper: a bubbly, raven-haired lanky beauty who is the personification of Death, and also the older sister to our brooding hero. Gaiman has indeed found his voice when he wrote this installment; Death was instantly likable; she understood her duty as the mother of endings, and she showed Dream that with death comes possibilities as well. No longer swayed by fleeting morose moods, Dream then accepted that he too has an obligation as the guardian of dreams and stories; and he will once again earnestly build his empire in the Dreaming now that he has a renewed sense of purpose.

Truly, Preludes and Nocturnes is a great start for this series and opens more doors for its author and fans. One can see why this series is praised for its creativity and originality, and has definitely become a worthy legacy that only someone of Gaiman's caliber can achieve.

* A remarkable premise that is about to get better from here on out. Teeming with creative potential, Gaiman's work is bound to be the timeless classic as it had become by now.