Sunday, March 26, 2017

Review: The Sandman, Vol. 4: Season of Mists

The Sandman, Vol. 4: Season of Mists The Sandman, Vol. 4: Season of Mists by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m starting to run out of excuses for not loving Neil Gaiman – as so many have told me I would and as I fully expected. (I wouldn’t have bought the first eight volumes of The Sandman if I didn’t expect to love it the way so many others do.)

I was disappointed in volume three because I found it a series of disconnected, one-off stories. This time, there is a full arc: Morpheus comes into possession of hell, and he has to decide which of several claimants he wants to give it to.

There’s cleverness throughout this – Gaiman is always clever – but I sometimes get the feeling it’s cleverness for the sake of cleverness. I enjoy seeing the gods from different pantheons come together (it’s especially fun to get a Thor who is the anti-Marvel version – a buffoon who eats and sexes himself into near stupor), but after a while I get frustrated that there’s no cosmology that underlies their shared space. Odin can be powerful in one sense – he is still the all-father – but in another he is just a guy standing alongside Egyptian or Miltonic figures. The importance of each seems to rise and fall with the attention Gaiman wants to pay rather than with anything intrinsic to the story.

That becomes especially clear at the end. (I hesitate to call it a climax because, as I often complain about stories crafted into single-issue comic episodes, there’s not all that much to build up to it. When that chapter comes, it feels almost like a new start to the story we’ve been reading.) When the demon Azazel threatens to destroy Nada, Morpheus has a showdown with him. It’s all on Morpheus’s terms, though – which feel like all on Gaiman’s terms in the sense that he’s after the splendor of the moment rather than pay-off for the story he’s been building up – and the final conflict falls flat in many ways. It starts, and then it’s over.

All that said, there do remain some touches I deeply admire. Two of those comes at the very end. First, while the Azazel showdown leaves me wanting, the concept of it brings me back. It really is beautiful to consider the demon as trapped somehow in dream. By giving vent to his own desires, he ventures into the space of pure dream, pure creation, and that renders him a plaything in Morpheus’s hands. I want Morpheus to be more of a stable hero, and I want Gaiman either to step entirely outside the story or more directly into it. Still, Morpheus as the story-maker of the story – Morpheus as Gaiman – is compelling at the end.

And, at the very end, Gaimain gets off one of those moments that really moves me, that makes me frustrated that I only like this rather than love it. That’s because I love the idea of Nada reborn as an infant without memory. It’s a beautiful instant, one that gives me hope that I’ll finally be able to click with what Gaiman is doing.

On to volume five with an open mind…

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