Neil Gaiman,
The Sandman: The Kindly Ones
(DC Comics/Vertigo, 1996;
collected from The Sandman
issues 57-69, 1993-95)

We knew it was coming. But we didn't know how Neil Gaiman would bring to a conclusion his extraordinary Sandman series. Well, this is it. While the final collection, The Wake, provides an epilogue to the tale, it's in The Kindly Ones where the powerful story reaches its climax.

A lot of loose ends from earlier in the series are tied up in this volume. Puck, equal parts mischief and malice, has been flitting free of Faerie since Shakespeare first penned A Midsummer Night's Dream, and he pairs up now with Loki, who escaped from Odin's keeping back when Lucifer abandoned Hell.

Daniel, the child conceived in a dream by a dead man and a live woman, is kidnapped by Loki and Puck, and Lyta, Daniel's vengeful (and, need I say it, vastly overprotective) mother, blames Dream. And she becomes the tool of Thessaly, the seemingly mild-mannered witch from that nasty piece of work with the Cuckoo in Barbie's dream world who, briefly a lover of Dream's, proves that a woman scorned is far hotter than Hell could ever be.

Nuala, the elf woman given to Dream by the Queen of Faerie, returns home -- carrying with her an unspoken love for Dream and the means to summon him for a boon. And the Corinthian, an evil nightmare from the convention of killers, is remade for a new purpose. No longer the terror he was, the Corinthian yet remains ... disquieting at best, if extremely loyal to his recreator.

Ravens begin to gather in the Dreaming.

And Morpheus, the star of the series, is depressed. Recent years, those covered by Neil Gaiman's series, have been a trying time for the Endless lord of dreams. He's escaped a lengthy captivity, lost loves, killed a son, rescued a former wife and lover, gained and lost the key to Hell, battled villains, found and lost a brother, fed some pigeons and ... well, lots of stuff. If you've been reading the series thus far, you know what he's been through. And now, he seems tired.

So he is perhaps easy prey for the Kindly Ones, a.k.a., the Furies and an aspect of the Fates, enlisted by Lyta in her quest for vengeance. Although they'll not revenge anything done by Dream to Daniel, they decide Dream is their rightful target for the sin of killing his son; it doesn't matter that his son, the Greek minstrel Orpheus, begged him to do it.

Their stalking of dreamland is intense, to say the least, and Dream seems powerless to impede them. One by one, familiar characters of the realm fall before their unforgiving march.

Things fall even further to pieces when Dream is summoned from his realm, allowing the Kindly Ones even more freedom to tear down his creations. Soon, there is very little left of the realm or its inhabitants. But as some things fall to pieces, other pieces fall into place.

So Morpheus takes the only course left to him, one that involves a heartfelt conversation with his elder sister which mirrors a conversation they had back near the beginning of the series. And the end, which seems in retrospective fairly inevitable, is powerful. And marvelous. And sad.

It's not an easy thing, to make readers care so much about a character in a comic book. With the tale of Morpheus of the Dreaming, Neil Gaiman has created something -- and someone -- truly wonderful.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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