Review: Sandman: The Deluxe Edition Book Two hardcover (DC Comics)

Whereas the first deluxe Sandman volume (collecting Sandman’s first two arcs over 16 issues) was relatively straightforward, Sandman: The Deluxe Edition Book Two tends more toward the esoteric. As it has every right to — this book includes “Dream Country,” “Season of Mists,” and parts of “Fables and Reflections,” the first and last of these being short story collections. As such, there’s about 11 Sandman “tales” here, set beside the eight-part “Season of Mists” (esoteric in its own way). To finish is indeed to feel as though one has been dreaming, a melange of themes and images all overlapping and running in to one another.

Again, as with my “review” of Sandman: The Deluxe Edition: Book One, this is not a review — who am I to review Sandman and what can I say that assuredly has not already been said before. But reading it I am and quite happy to be doing so, because I’m well into areas I’ve never read before and only have a passing familiarity with — such that every once in a while I get that “I know what’s about to happen, it’s just on the tip of my tongue” kind of feeling that, too, evokes a little sense of dreaming. I’d still as soon a story set in a Florida hotel as the Dream King’s palace, but always are these pages living up to their renowned reputation.

[Review contains spoilers]

“Season of Mists,” issues #21–28, is the most traditional and forward-looking section of the book, in the manner of the first book’s “Preludes and Nocturnes” and “The Doll’s House.” That’s selling a variety of things short, however, in terms of how the stories in the rest of the book explicate things past or hint at things to come, not to mention Neil Gaiman’s apropos of nothing deviation in the middle of “Mists” to spin the origin of the Dead Boy Detectives.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

And though “Season of Mists” is a “traditional” story in the sense of one issue continuing from the next, I was impressed in the end with the way in which Gaiman defies story expectations. We are geared up, especially in “Mists”’ first part, to expect a war between Dream and Lucifer over the soul of Dream’s love Nada. But when Dream arrives to Hell, he finds no battle; instead, Lucifer has abdicated his throne and given Dream the key. What follows is relatively bloodless, more palace intrigue than pitched battle — Dream must hear and divine between conflicting offers for Hell’s final disposition.

Even then, the reader’s expectations are thwarted once more. It seems Dream must decide between various boons and threats, any of which had potential to send the story in an interesting direction. But two angels present God’s rightful ownership of Hell, and all is decided — Hell goes back to whom it belonged to before and things esentially return to the way they were. We are geared up twice for something big only for the story to take the easier path. It’s clear at the end that whatever one’s expectations for the story, the real point is just for these characters of myth and magic to be introduced through Gaiman’s lens and appear on the page together. “Mists” appears a story, like “Preludes” and “Doll’s House,” but to an extent it’s a non-story, a revue dressed up like an epic.

In that way “Mists” fits among the oddball lineup of “Dream Country” and “Fables” (including the Sandman Special and stories from Vertigo: Winter’s Edge #1–3). I can only speculate at this point what is or isn’t “relevant” (insofar as what “relevant” even means), but the stories here range from seemingly connected — the travails of Dream’s son Orpheus and more hints about the Endless' missing brother — to the wildly esoteric, the dreams of cats and the deathwish of DC characters confined to limbo.

The three “Fables” stories proper here (with the rest to be collected in the next book) each take up questions of “empire,”1 though from different directions. Artist Bryan Talbot carries an issue-long conversation between Roman Emperor Augustus and one of his subjects that ponders why leaders lead and why followers follow, and the strange alchemy that causes each to do each; ultimately Augustus torpedoes Rome’s perhaps-corrupt core simply by choosing not to expand its territories. In another tale, Dream creates a popular “Emperor of the United States” just by making the man believe it so.

In each of these, we find the boundaries of what is true and false to be nothing more than illusion; leaders are followed because followers believe they should be and nations exist at the boundaries that people believe they have. The first of the stories sees Johanna Constantine run afoul of the French Revolution, where mysticism is being stamped out simply by eliminating any trace of it. We see the contract here, the systems of shared belief that shape society, even reality. “Belief” is surely the realm of Dream; the mere exchange of ideas here is evidence of Morpheus' power.

I’m embarrassed to say I’m having trouble remembering all the names of the Endless, and I certainly wasn’t aware that the identity of one of the Endless was a mystery. We have Death, Dream, Destiny, Desire, Despair, and Delirium, but Gaiman has been slyly hinting there’s another brother, gone missing. Then, in the Sandman Special, we finally meet said brother, though Gaiman gives his name in Greek instead of the colloquial English. I’m not about to look it up and spoil it for myself, but on appearances alone — a big warrior type — maybe Destruction? I’m impressed Gaiman has held this back what’s over 25 issues now.

With Sandman: The Deluxe Edition Book Two, that’s two books down and three to go. I’m timing this, if you haven’t clocked it, to be ready to read the final deluxe edition right when it comes out at the beginning of February. So far the schedule seems good — here’s hoping I haven’t misjudged anything.

[Includes covers, “Season of Mists” contributors' notes, Sandman Special gallery]

  1. To put it mildly. Really questions of humanity itself.  ↩


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