Neil Gaiman, The Sandman: The Wake |
(DC Comics/Vertigo, 1996;
collected from The Sandman
issues 70-75, 1995)
You didn't really think Neil Gaiman would let Dream die (well, at least one aspect of him anyway), without giving everyone the chance to say goodbye, did you? The Wake is just that -- a goodbye -- and brings to an end one of the most successful and groundbreaking runs in comic book history. With stunning artwork by Michael Zulli, Jon J. Muth and Charles Vess and covers by Dave McKean, these last five issues tie up loose ends by following the funeral of Morpheus/Dream and the beginning rule of Daniel, the new Dream King.
Punning on the word "wake," the first three chapters serve as an epilogue to the climax reached in The Kindly Ones, with the third issue serving as an epilogue to The Wake itself. The last two issues round out the entire series from start to finish, emphasizing key themes. The graphic novel collection opens with a breathtaking color drawing by artist Michael Zulli, a realistic representation of Daniel, clothed in white and carrying red flowers (a recurring motif through most of the series) and an introduction by writer Mikal Gilmore.
Chapter one, "which occurs in the wake of what has gone before," opens with a messenger arriving in the domain of each of the Endless; their brother has died and they must gather the cerements for his burial. Traveling to the Necropolis Litharge, the five siblings (Destruction is still missing) create an envoy from mud named Eblis O'Shaunessey to obtain the cerements for them.
Meanwhile, back in the Dreaming, Daniel/Dream, recognizable by his white robes and the emerald around his neck, becomes acquainted with his subjects and demonstrates his ability to rule in Dream's stead. He recreates Merv Pumpkinhead and Fiddler's Green, although Gilbert refuses to come back to the Dreaming. In another part of the Dreaming, Matthew the raven sulks and grieves, upset that Dream is gone and he was left behind.
Visitors begin arriving in the Dreaming, come to pay their respects to the Dream King. With that, chapter two, "in which a wake is held," begins, and people begin to discuss the true nature of the Dream King. Many familiar faces, from both the DC pantheon and the Sandman universe, arrive in The Dreaming; some have pleasant memories of Dream, while others were hurt by him or hurt him in return. Abel reveals that they aren't mourning the death of a man but rather the death of a point-of-view. Indeed, as the new Lord of Dreams watches from his balcony, unable to attend the wake, we can see that although he is similar to the old Dream in many ways, he is also very different.
The night draws to a close, and mourners are allowed to file into the mausoleum to take their seats. Chapter three, "in which we wake," gives us speeches by each of the family (some of which are not so nice), while Daniel gets his own private meeting with Destruction. Of all the memorials and tributes presented in these pages, the most moving is that of Matthew the raven. His reluctance to accept the new Dream King comes as a result of his friendship with Morpheus; his feelings mirror that of many readers, I'm sure, who cried, "No way! He's not the old Dream! We want OUR Dream back!" But the story is about moving on, and although Matthew realizes that things will never be the same, he knows the "new kid" will need some advice. The story ends with a beautiful barge sequence, in which Dream is transformed into a bright star that shows in all the nightly scenes in the rest of the book.
"An Epilogue: Sunday Morning" takes us to a Renaissance festival, attended by Hob Gadling and his new girlfriend, Gwen. While Gwen works the booths and entertains festival attendees, Hob gets drunk in the beer tent and hides out in a condemned building. Death shows up and Hob, after a few questions, figures out who she is and wonders why she's there. He shares with her a dream he had, in which Dream died; Death informs him that his dream was true and asks if he would like to end his part of the bargain and finally die. Hob declines, basically saying that he would like to go on living, even though his reason for it has changed. In a final dream sequence, Hob meets up with Destruction and Dream on a shore (possibly the same one where Morpheus left Orpheus's head years ago) -- they share a good laugh and walk off into the sunset.
These three issues were published directly from artist Michael Zulli's pencils so that detail wouldn't be lost during the inking process. The issues feature large panels with lots of space and rounded panels, all drawn in a highly realistic style.
Artist Jon J. Muth then takes us into "Exiles," a sort of "Soft Places II," and uses an approach almost directly opposite to Zulli's style. Muth drew the entire issue using only inks, skipping pencils and watercolors, instead using various swatches of fabric and colored paper to create a heavily Eastern influence. Detailing the story of a man exiled from the court he served, "Exiles" reads like Chinese poetry, very vibrant and natural.
Master Li meets up with the new Dream King as well as the original Dream, thus proving the malleability of time in the shifting sands of the Soft Places. But it is a statement made by Master Li about a small kitten that provides a fitting epitaph for the entire series: "I have saved his life, as he saved mine, and am responsible for him. We cannot evade our responsibilites. That which is dreamed can never be lost, can never be un-dreamed."
The final issue takes us back to the deal William Shakespeare made with Dream; in exchange for his heart's desire to be a great playwright, Shakespeare agreed to write two original plays for Dream. A Midsummer Night's Dream was the first of those plays; The Tempest is the last. Gaiman brought artist Charles Vess back to illustrate this issue. Vess claims that he did lots of research on Shakespeare's life and where he lived in order to accurately draw him in the comic.
"The Tempest" is a look into where a writer comes up with the things he writes: both from his own life and the people and places around him, and from things in his life he wishes he could control. Gaiman imagines Shakespeare's relationships with his wife and his daughter; both of them regard him as strange, but they love him in their own ways. Family has always been an important element in the universe of the Endless. Ultimately, this story ends up being about responsibility, too; Shakespeare begins to question the choices he made in his life, especially the deal with Dream, wondering if it wasn't some type of deal with the devil.
Each of these stories are satisfying, in more than one way. They let us tie up loose ends and find out what happens to certain story arcs, but they also let us spend just a little more time in the Dreaming, that wonderful universe created by Gaiman. The Wake is written and drawn with emotion and intellect, which can be said for the entire series.