The Sandman Universe: Lucifer (spoiler review)

Out of the new Sandman Universe comics, this is my favorite. The Sandman Universe: Lucifer is on a tier close to the original Sandman and Moore’s Promethea. This is a great comic in general rather than a great Sandman story.

One reason is that, while the SU Lucifer shares the same cosmology as the Dreaming, what is happening is remote enough from the Dreaming for its relationship to be overlooked. Lucifer’s previous exploits in The Sandman provide context, but someone who has never read The Sandman can pick up these books and understand everything (albeit with the help of a close reading).

The shared cosmology with The Sandman, though, may be a subtle factor in another strength of this story. It employs subjectivity in a way that’s different from how The Sandman did. The key to that difference could lie in how Lucifer uses expectation as a structural and thematic device.

The first book, The Infernal Comedy, features fragments of a conversation between Lucifer and his son, Caliban, scattered throughout the story. This tempts you to wonder if it took place before or after the rest of the story. Later on, a story about an otherworldly, bleak village inhabited by Lucifer and the ghost of William Blake alternates with another story set in the 20th century, involving a detective whose wife has a brain tumor. Until the last few chapters, it is in no way clear whether the village story is happening simultaneously with the twentieth century story or if one preceded the other.

In the purgatorial village where Lucifer is, he repeatedly tries to dig up large statues and attacks spirits attempting to perform William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. If you were wondering what the biggest connections to the original Sandman were, this usage of The Tempest is one of them. The Tempest is deconstructed in a way similar to how the new Dreaming comics deconstruct the biblical story of Cain and Abel.

Near the end of The Infernal Comedy, we find out that the world containing Lucifer, Blake, other spirits and a mysterious caretaker are in a pocket dimension within the ancient skull of Sycorax. Sycorax, the Blue-Eyed Hag that occupied the island in The Tempest with her son Caliban and captive familiar Ariel, before the arrival of Prospero.

The story can be understood and appreciated without the context of The Sandman comics, but that context adds depth if you have read them. The second play that Shakespeare owed to Morpheus for the gift of inspiration was The Tempest. Sycorax, late in The Divine Tragedy, says that Morpheus commissioned the play in honor of her.

This matters because of the story at the end of The Wake. It contains, in Morpheus’ own explanation of why he wanted The Tempest to be written, the last explicit word on the angst that drove him to suicide. He says he wanted the play to be written because he may never leave his “island”, like Prospero. Shakespeare assures him “that can change. All men can change.” Morpheus says “I am not a man. And I do not change. I asked you earlier if you saw yourself reflected in your tale…I do not. I MAY not. I am Prince of stories, Will; but I have no story of my own. Nor shall I ever.”

Morpheus eventually let go because he was haunted by dreams of freedom beyond his responsibilities. If those were the feelings that caused him to inspire The Tempest, then SU Lucifer is telling us that the events of that play were modeled after Lucifer’s family. Sycorax says that Morpheus commissioned a play “about” her that doesn’t have her in it. Rather like how, in the background information provided within The Tempest, the father is never mentioned.

What is the “story” that Morpheus wanted to tell by it’s absence? Thessaly says “The Moon would have made you Queen of The Tides, but you chose Lucifer instead. Lucifer would have made you Queen of Hell, and you chose to be yourself, instead. Your story has resonated down the ages, you know.”

If ever there was a mission statement for the opposite of Morpheus, it would be that. Lucifer has a similar legacy: in The Divine Tragedy, Lucifer attempts to bargain with various afterlives of different mythic pantheons in order to save Sycorax from the wrath of the angels.

(Some context for that: Within the pocket dimension inside of her skull, Lucifer uncovered a buried statue of Sycorax, causing the caretaker to remember that she is Sycorax. At that moment, she “wakes up” from the “dream” of the pocket dimension and rematerializes in the physical world. Angels from The Silver City state that this resurrection is a blasphemous aping of the return of Christ and must be answered. Lucifer negotiates with the angels and buys Sycorax three days before they kill her. He then tries to find a pantheon somewhere that will shelter her.)

When Lucifer approaches the entrance of the Egyptian afterlife, Anubis weighs his heart against the feather of truth and finds that they balance. Lucifer says he expected as much, because “My heart is never heavy. I do as I will, and never otherwise.” To which Anubis says “Would that all had it that easy.”

Lucifer clearly values his freedom as much as Sycorax values her own. But consider Thessaly’s wording: she says that Sycorax inspired generations of witches with this example. Thessaly also says that she, herself, would not have been brave enough to refuse the Moon or Lucifer and remain herself in preference over all else. What she is saying is that Sycorax embodied an ideal to aspire to. Perhaps not one that Thessaly or even most people could count on achieving, but an ideal worth striving for nonetheless.

When Anubis hears Lucifer claim that he never did a single thing against his will, he says “(w)ould that all had it that easy.” A life of absolute individualism is clearly not attainable for most of us. As if to emphasize this, Lucifer’s son, Caliban, attempts to follow him into the Egyptian afterlife. His heart fails the test and, when Lucifer finds him, he is wrestling with Apophis / Ammit.

In fact, Caliban may be the motivation for much of the plot in The Infernal Comedy and The Divine Tragedy. Early in The Infernal Comedy, Lucifer realizes that he abandoned his own son the same way that he himself was abandoned by God (as was as the universe, in his estimation). This similarity to the author or his misery is too much for Lucifer to bear, so he resolves to repair his relationship with his son. He begins by putting him back in touch with Sycorax.

By the end of the first two volumes, though, Caliban became my favorite interpretation of Shakespeare’s character. In literary criticism, Caliban is dogged by the need many feel to define him. Is he a racial caricature, a comment on colonialism, a psychoanalytic foil to Prospero, etc. The Tempest is one of my favorite plays from William Shakespeare but I don’t think I ever saw a version of it that didn’t give me at least a little bit of racist-cringe. Caliban is also unlucky enough to be…potentially…one of the only passive antagonists I ever encountered in fiction.

His mother, Sycorax, died two years before Prospero and Miranda show up. So his angst over losing her coincides with Prospero’s arrival. It’s like Shakespeare knew that he wanted Prospero to kill Sycorax but was afraid Prospero wouldn’t be as sympathetic if that happened. So he left enough information for a reader/audience member to make an associative connection without saying it openly. So his hatred of Prospero comes off as just pettiness.

Caliban, in the SU Lucifer comics, struggles with feelings of belonging, having lost both of his parents early. The angelic court tempts Caliban with an offer to embrace him as one of their own (being the half-angel spawn of Lucifer, after all). To be made an angel, if he sabotages his father. In the end, though, he decides that the unchanging nature of angels is too static and gossamer an existence for him. He even says, “I will die…as Caliban” and Lucifer says “You prove yourself, at last, your mother’s son.”

I sensed a connection between this exchange with Caliban and Thessaly’s last moments with Sycorax. Thessaly sees Sycorax as the mythic hero of all witches and all those who wish to be free from control. The difference between mythic, sublime freedom and the reality of human struggle is highlighted by Lucifer effortlessly passing the feather test and Caliban being forced to fight Ammit. But Caliban gets there in the end, in the eyes of his father. His words about dying as himself, Caliban, because angelic existence is too static for growth and discovery also seem to echo the sentiment repeated near the end of volume three of The Dreaming: the point is to feel. Process constitutes identity and belonging- it is not simply a means to get there.

The Dreaming, volume 3: One Magical Movement (spoilers)

It came through. Not without loose ends and weaknesses, but…there’s still no getting around it. Some things that have a distinctive authorial fingerprint should not be continued by another person. My affection and reverence for the original Sandman by Neil Gaiman made me extremely skeptical of the idea that any other writer could pull it off. But here we are now.

How exactly this happened can be seen in a few of the key plot resolutions. In volume two, Empty Shells, Dora was our main character. The framing of the story doesn’t always position her as the clear protagonist in One Magical Movement, but Dora continues to be one of the driving forces of the plot. The mystery of her origin, which was set up in the first two books, is revealed to be centrally important to the whole story. As do mysteries in general.

The fate of Cain, keeper of the House of Mysteries, is also connected to the man responsible for Dora’s lost memories: Hyperion Keter. This is the same Mr. Keter whom we saw briefly, unconscious in a hospital bed, at the end of Empty Shells. Also at the end of Empty Shells, we learn that Fawney Rig was the setting of this confluence of events.

Dora, it turns out, is a Night Hag. A Night Hag is a regional variation of the Succubi/Incubi myth. One Magical Movement actually starts with a support group for ancient, supernatural creatures that are struggling to exist in the modern world. The forbidden pleasure they all share and revile (almost like recovering addicts) is to simply obey their nature without the consideration of a human brain. Nikki, a fey creature that got turned into a dragon by popular reinterpretation, barely stops herself from attacking an intoxicated night-swimmer she encounters in the ocean.

The support group decides to crash a Pride March, as it is constituted of mortals who wish simply to celebrate their existence and survival after a lifetime of secrecy. One of them, an ancient guardian spirit of sailors called The Gentle Goellan, wanders over to the radical Christian protesters. He begins to mutter an old sea shandy and instigates a brief riot. The Gentle Goellan felt a naked need to cause havoc within the protestors (apparently) and gravitated toward it like an oceanborn tempest, in which sailors would often invoke him. After the Pride Marchers come out unscathed, Nikki transforms into a literal draconic fairy.

The notion of following one’s nature in the face of adversity is central to both Dora’s arc and the story in general. Dora was doing exactly that when she first encountered Hyperion Keter: specifically, following her nature as a Night Hag. Hyperion- or Perry, as he is known to his intimates -simply chose to assert, in his loudest psychic voice, that she is not real.

This rid him of Dora but woke him up to an uncomfortable truth: humanity is dogged by too many unreal things to keep track of. Many of them, in their multitudes, are too dangerous to be borne. This realization moves Hyperion Keter to make it his life’s work to save humanity. He eventually learns that Dream, the embodiment of the intellect and imagination, had been magically trapped and held at Fawney Rig, in England.

This was done by Roderick Burgess in the very first Sandman comics and Hyperion decides to reverse-engineer Burgess’s spell. However, he does not use the magic in the same way: he does not want Dream trapped, merely exiled from the Dreaming. This creates a power vacuum that Hyperion fills with an alchemical AI. This AI has a consciousness whose subconscious hides an algorithm to systematically purge all irrationality from the Dreaming, which also removes it from the minds of all sentient beings.

This explains the appearance of Wan- the enigmatic moth deity -and the soggies from the first two volumes. The soggies were drones created by the AI to remove all superstition and irrationality and replace it with productive scientific and technological knowledge. Wan is the AI consciousness, unaware of its subconscious activities.

There is so much to unpack in these details, but I’ll start with a large commonality that might connect the finer ones. By this, I mean the nature of the Dreaming itself. In popular wisdom, we usually conceptualize dreams as taking place in our own heads, with no outside influence that did not originally come from waking experiences. Some people entertain the existence of a collective subconscious that all minds are equally connected to, but different individuals assert this with different degrees of literal or metaphorical meaning.

Those exceptions being accounted for, people commonly think of the space in which they dream as exclusive to themselves. In the world of The Sandman and The Dreaming, all dreams happen in the same place. Everyone has a mind of their own where their dreams are “born” into, but once you begin to dream, you take the contents of your mind into a universal space shared by all sentient beings. This model clearly has more in common with the collective subconscious than individual, mutually isolated minds.

This aspect of the world building is referred to and elaborated on throughout One Magical Movement. This is implicit in the beginning, with the struggling mythic creatures, and explicit at the end. It turns out ordinary modern skepticism is not the biggest threat to the fey, spirits and other magical beings.

Early in the book, Matthew the raven is picking up on a subtle but ever-present feeling that something is dying. He learns that he smells it everywhere because the world itself is dying. People everywhere are committing suicide because they are oppressed by a feeling of inescapable pointlessness, due to the soggies replacing all dreams with scientific knowledge. The motivation to go on living is missing without the irrational. One might say why was sacrificed for how.

While the story states that this is impacting mortals in particular, there are beings in the Dreaming who are similarly affected, such as Abel and Lucien. Abel, the keeper of the House of Secrets, is now struggling with life without his brother Cain, of the House of Mysteries (which might also be an imbalance between how and why). Lucien’s angst, meanwhile, stems from being cut off from his library of unwritten books, from which he frequently narrates. Irrationality is part of his why as well.

The three currently available Dreaming volumes all mention Lucien’s inability to narrate. They also conflate the omniscient third-person narrator with Lucien, Rose Walker and other characters. Meaning, a text box that initially appears to be a non-character narrator turns out to be Rose Walker, Lucien, etc.

This means that the reader’s point of view of the story is equated with reading a book that does not exist. In this fictional world, Lucien would only be narrating- and exchanging narration -if this comic came from his library of non-existent books. To say nothing of the fact that it is literally true that these stories are fictional, they are even set in a fictional dreaming world that contrasts with a fictional waking world in which these events were never “written.”

The story never gets any more meta than that, though, which is fortunate. If it did, it would risk upsetting the balance between the authority of the story’s fictional premise and the authority of the author/narrator.

The reason why I’m spending so much time on this is because it reflects on Simon Spurrier’s reading of the original Sandman comics. He clearly read those stories closely and lovingly, as that is where many of these ideas first appeared. The personal versus collective dialectic of the Dreaming are explored frankly in The Doll’s House, A Game Of You, Fables and Reflections and The Kindly Ones. The dialectic is present throughout the original comics, but those books in particular have plots that involve it directly.

The importance of the dialectic in One Magical Movement is where nothing or non-existence is located. This is also precedented in the original Sandman: the perpetrator and method of the death of Morpheus is one of the most fun uses of the McGuffin I’ve ever seen. This teasing Easter Egg hunt is contrasted against Morpheus’s clear desire to commit suicide. In One Magical Movement, nothingness is used similarly as a McGuffin.

The subconscious is usually imagined as a repository for all the backed up information that enters through your senses but is not immediately relevant. Frued famously described consciousness as housing the smallest portion of the mind. With Wan, though, the opposite is true: all of the personality is contained in his waking self and his subconscious (the Dark Moth) is an empty, sucking void of destruction.

Dora, who feels deeply and lives in the moment, is haunted by a forgotten past. Later, when she recovers it, it is clear that the only thing she ever lost was a name and a description of the nature she follows anyway (Night Hag). She could feel, was troubled by the fear that feeling was not enough, and eventually learned that the lost information pointed back to feeling. Her experience in the Fulcrum, the former home of Destruction, points her in the direction of hope back in Pathways and Emanations. Destruction, Lucien tells us, is a frozen moment between ending and beginning.

Hyperion, after scattering Dora’s identity with his declaration that she doesn’t exist, unknowingly wages war on the chaotic and irrational subconscious which saps the motivation and life from existence. On several plot and thematic layers, where nothingness is located and what it is doing shifts constantly. Even the narration, which is implicitly coming from a non-existent book, participates in the implementation of nothingness.

Likewise, the absence of Dream creates a void that needs to be filled and the AI that eventually gave birth to both Wan and the Dark Moth can only occupy a single physical location. Something from the Dreaming had to replace the AI so the AI could fully mature in the Dreaming. (This also gives Cain a brief but delicious opportunity to become a supervillain) This same phenomena is echoed when Wan volunteers to absorb the new dream vortex to spare the life of Daniel once he returns.

Like I said, there are loose ends but nothing that threatens the overall integrity of the story. Particularly, the fate of Ivy Walker, who is trapped in the world of the Mundane Egg that Daniel used to create a new universe during his exile from the Dreaming. It mirrors the saga of Daniel and his mother Hippolyta, but doesn’t do much more. That could be something future Dreaming comics may elaborate on.

Love the usage of the Bowie quote and it’s roots in the Sefirot ❤️

DC/Vertigo The Dreaming reboot

Yes, they’re still in the sleeves after I read them. They’re just so pretty ^^

Warning: no reservations about spoilers

A continuation of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman story without Neil Gaiman is both shocking and irresistible at first glance. The original Sandman run along with Sandman: Overture were all authored by Gaiman and were such a meticulous and careful body of work that it barely seems advisable to have anyone else at the helm. Even if the right perceptive and empathic author came along, the original Sandman stories unmistakably bear the stamp of Gaiman’s authorship. They just feel so much like Neil Gaiman stories that another author, however talented or well-intentioned, just wouldn’t be capable of picking up the same thread that I and so many others had lovingly followed.

To say nothing of the fact that there weren’t a whole lot of loose ends that needed tying up. At least, none that really mattered in my opinion, and Gaiman handles implication so deftly that details that were not explicitly played out before the reader are still intelligible.

(Those being things like what exactly was Loki doing, what was going on with the angels, etc)

One day I’m sure I’ll write a big fat text brick about how Gaiman’s run on The Sandman employed empty spaces and implication. That’s not this text brick, though.

So…at least in my assessment, there was no real need for a continuation. If a new story was going to be attempted, it would be about Daniel experiencing a wholly new plot, sequentially distinct from anything that happened earlier.

So I was dubious, but I couldn’t help but be reeled in by the sheer ambition of such an attempt. I also have to admit to simply wanting more of The Sandman after so many years. Overture was a very welcome development but it held no promise of things to come: simply a chance for a new reading of the base story.

As it turns out, this isn’t a Sandman continuation per se, but a reboot of a separate series that was contemporary with it, called The Dreaming. This comic involved Gaiman as a co-writer and consultant and he eventually dropped out of it altogether: it wasn’t turning out to be the sort of long running, elaborative story that he wanted so much as a series of one-off episodic plots. It did not long survive his absence.

This current incarnation of The Dreaming retains the basic concept and little else: as the name tells us, this is a story about the place rather than a specific individual. This time, the premise is being implemented in the (almost) direct aftermath of The Sandman’s ending. If not a Sandman continuation, this is at least a sequel series.

The previous Dreaming comics were driven by characters that played minor roles in the source material and so is this. Now, though, this doesn’t seem to be an adjustment in perspective that simply excludes Dream of The Endless, but a consequence of his actual absence.

The blurbs on the back of the two collected editions currently available state that Dream appears to have abdicated, after the example of Destruction and Lucifer, and that a botched love affair was a factor.

This didn’t inspire my confidence. While The Endless- such as Dream, Death, Destiny, etc. – are eternal beings, they possess distinct, individual identities that can in fact die and be “replaced”. These identities are denoted by a name separate from their function: the Dream that the series was once about is named Morpheus. Del is the personal name of Delirium of The Endless.

The old Sandman story saw the end of Morpheus as a character and a being called Daniel currently occupies the title of Dream of The Endless. Morpheus wrestled with his duties as Dream and his closeness to the inner lives of all sentient beings seemed to engender a growing need for an individual existence. He frequently had problematic romantic relationships with mortals that always ended because he could not bring himself to abandon his duties however much he wanted to.

Morpheus needed something that was psychologically impossible for him which caused him to walk into his own demise, to be replaced by a new incarnation named Daniel.

I have an edition of Sandman: Overture that contains Gaiman’s script and notes wherein he states his belief that Daniel is a fundamentally different character than Morpheus. Gaiman’s notes say that Morpheus would never approach someone in a familiar way or casually lay hands on another person, while Daniel is a warm, approachable presence who is not afraid of touching. This contrast is emphasized in Daniel and Morpheus’s speech balloons: Morpheus’s balloons are black with white letters and Daniel’s are white with black letters (both have wavy boarders).

While Gaiman has not written nearly as much material about Daniel as he has Morpheus, he clearly intended him to be a very different character. We’ve already seen Dream wrestle with his responsibilities and a growing need to be his own person. That was the story of Morpheus, which is now over.

Daniel falling into Morpheus’s rut hardly sounds like the different character Gaiman had in mind, nor is it a strong vouch for the originality of the new writers. Since only two collected editions are currently out, the overall success or failure of this cannot be judged yet. In the meantime, though, we may concern ourselves with how this new Dreaming series handles the setting and the characters that were once at the periphery.

In the first volume, Pathways and Emanations, we spend a lot of time with two older supporting characters: Lucien The Librarian and Mervyn Pumpkinhead. In Dream’s absence, Lucien has assumed temporary leadership of The Dreaming. Since Dream (embodied in Daniel) and The Dreaming have an interconnected existence, separation is catastrophic. The Dreaming is coming apart at the seams and Lucien is at his wits’ end trying to hold it together. Mervyn is also picking up a lot of slack on his own end and both feel abandoned and afraid.

We are also quickly acquainted with some new characters, including a refugee from another world named Dora who was given sanctuary in The Dreaming by Morpheus. She is British, has amnesia and will undergo a monstrous transformation when she’s in the wrong mood. We also meet some beings that are traveling from dream to dream that suddenly plop down roots halfway through the story. By roots I mean a large wooden ship 😛

Along with the structural vulnerability caused by Dream’s absence, there are a number of external pressures. Featureless, mute mannikin-like beings are pouring into The Dreaming in large numbers and an infant divinity, not so different from the Endless, is gestating in a fissure outside of Dream’s fortress.

The being that hatches from the fissure is part of a bigger, mysterious plot thread that simply isn’t finished yet. The faceless manikins, called Soggies by Mervyn, soon reveal an unfortunate weakness. Mervyn Pumpkinhead is in charge of the nuts and bolts of The Dreaming running smoothly, which is also the bedrock that many dreamers and traveling minds interact with. The Soggies get in the way without guidance so Mervyn is tasked with giving them things to do. Mervyn now has a burgeoning staff that is too numerous to govern effectively and too difficult to communicate with. Soon, he starts sounding off about the necessity of strong borders and invasive newcomers upsetting a perfectly good status quo. This goes exactly where it looks like it will.

Neil Gaiman hasn’t always been great at social commentary, but the original Sandman was never this blunt or awkward. It doesn’t compromise the integrity of Pathways and Emanations, but it is an eyesore. Luckily this use of Mervyn ends almost immediately when a new character, a nightmare called Judge Gallows, is introduced.

Nightmares have always been an interesting background detail in the world of The Sandman. In the past, Morpheus seemed to have a special passion for crafting them. They also belong to the species of dream that are actually sentient individuals, like Fiddlers’ Green, Brute, Glob, Cain, Abel, etc. Naturally, some of them are named characters, like the Corinthian and the Borghal Rantipole.

Morpheus appears to be driven by a rough idea while crafting a nightmare but the nightmare might not embody it completely at all times. The Corinthian, described by Morpheus as a “black mirror”, is designed to reflect everything about humanity that it chooses not to accept. However, the Corinthian, upon being recreated after his death, seems to have a patient and arguably benign personality.

As of the end of the Empty Shells book, Judge Gallows does not seem to have had much influence on the story that outlasts his destruction. This is the tricky part of reading things that aren’t finished yet. The real force behind the plot seems to be Dream’s disappearance, the person who accidentally forced him into it and the being that hatched in Daniel’s absence. If Judge Gallows turns out to be more than a bit character, that would be neat.

Mostly though, he just keeps the plot moving while the newborn deity gestates and allowing other arcs to develop. He creates a chance for Dora to recover her lost memories through forced closeness with Lucien and the sword of Destruction. This matters because Dora is the protagonist of the next book which gets into the more fundamental plot, regarding what specifically happened with Dream and what specifically is the entity that appeared in his absence.

Which brings us back to the problem of how Daniel is being handled. The Dreaming is ostensibly about the location and the characters that were in the background of The Sandman but it still uses Dream/Daniel to hold it together. Unfortunately, it also brings us back to how Daniel’s behavior looks a lot like Morpheus’s.

The unwelcome sense of repetition isn’t helped much by the prevalence of call-backs, particularly at the World’s End Inn with the different stories with different art styles and lettering. Those visual motifs are only used long enough to establish a plot point but it doesn’t go well with the lack of originality regarding Daniel.

Another possible thematic reason for the Worlds’ End callback is subversion. In the older frame story called Worlds’ End, each story was complete and would take over the foreground for its’ duration. These storytellers tell incomplete stories that cannot seize the foreground because they go in circles while more interesting stuff happens at the same time. This could be an attempt at deconstruction, signaling that the new Dreaming stories will break their consistency with The Sandman. That would be my preference, but as with so many things in these new stories, it’s too early to tell for sure.

The reason that I’m dwelling on what might be tiny details is because things that look like callbacks are rarely done on accident. Their presence alone begs you to wonder why. And the problem with things that occupy your attention that are meant to signal a break in continuity is that you inevitably wonder why not simply…break the continuity in a way that’s plainly visible?

Season of Mists, for example. That book starts in a way that barely resembles any other beginning in The Sandman and it’s simply allowed to speak for itself. I would love to be wrong about these nit-picky little worries but naturally it remains to be seen.

This reminds me of the other details that call back to commonplace motifs from The Sandman. Near the end of Pathways and Emanations, the baku from Japanese mythology that made an appearance in Dream Hunters are brought back. In Empty Shells, Dora uses the baku to sniff for Daniel’s scent trail across worlds. The search leads her to Hell, where a new demon character named Balam leads Dora and Matthew to the very bottom of the cosmos where lies the primordial serpent that surrounds the world. You know, like Jormungand. On their way to the serpent, the panels twist around until you are forced to hold the comic upside down.

Stuff like that was commonplace in The Sandman. Overture made the reader turn the book upside down a few times, used implication to guide unconventional panel progression and even had fold-out pages with events that follow the outside depicted on the inside. What I liked most about the panel experimentation were the ones that implied movement at dramatically significant moments. In Brief Lives (possibly my favorite Sandman book), there is a page that has several thin panels that are mostly empty except grass with more and more flowers in each. These panels show space behind Morpheus and, when they catch up with him, they are so thin that his body is contained in more than one of them. In these, we see that Morpheus’s hands are covered in blood and, as it drips onto the ground, it is turning into flowers.

These innovations all felt organic in the original Sandman and they often snuck up on you. The really imaginative ones were paired with jarring, unusual events and were often used to convey disorientation. The panels slowly turning upside down in Empty Shells is a bit of a one-off. In those first two books, nothing else like that happens- almost as if the script was trying it out to see how it went.

My only other thought concerns another concept first used in The Sandman (in Brief Lives, actually). Destruction tells Dream and Delirium that each of the Endless embodies both their function and it’s opposite. Destruction is also creation, Desire is also hatred and Dream is also reality. The newborn god that appears in the Dreaming- referred to erroneously as a new Endless -initially defines itself as clarity and that nothing hurts worse than to be “solved”.

The crack that this being is forming within is first found by Cain and Abel. Cain pushes his brother into it on a whim and emerges without his stutter- he even fakes the stutter a few times to keep Cain at ease. Cain himself then descends into the fissure to ask the unknown presence what ze did to Abel and if ze can change him back.

Cain introduces himself as the personification of murder itself and the new presence disagrees. Ze tells Cain that jealousy has always been at the heart of his story and reminds him that the sacrifice preferred by God was the livestock blood sacrifice of Abel. Cain was driven to kill Abel when his own sacrifice of vegetables was ignored. When the new presence says that Abel’s “hands were red long before yours” ze’s saying Abel’s murder was an act of both possessiveness and emulation.

The new center of the Dreaming says that it solves things, above all else. This implies that the new creature hatching in the absence of Dream embodies the opposite side of Dream’s coin mentioned by Destruction: reality. This encounter also has deep implications for the function of Cain and Abel within the Dreaming.

Since the beginning of The Sandman, we’ve learned that Cain lives in the House is Mysteries and Abel lives in the House of Secrets. They also hold dominion over those respective things: all mysteries belong to Cain and all secrets belong to Abel. What secrets and mysteries are within this story is touched on in a short piece in Fables and Reflections called The Parliament of Rooks.

Near the end, Abel tells Eve, Matthew and Daniel what rooks are actually doing when they form a circle around a chirping rook and then kill them. It turns out that this is a mystery and therefore belongs to Cain. Cain then kills Abel in the ineffectual and somewhat slap-stick way that he often does. (Cain frequently killed Abel in The Sandman although he never stayed dead- the brothers behaved rather like sitcom characters with Cain randomly killing Abel being a repeating gag).

Mysteries, according to Cain, may not be revealed. Abel, to whom all secrets belong, is less protective. When Abel is asked where ravens end up near the end of The Sandman, he says he doesn’t know because the answer is not a secret. Abel also goes on to ferret out secrets for Judge Gallows when he takes over the Dreaming.

This tells us that secrets may be known but that mysteries may not. The hatchling in The Dreaming embodies clarity, the opposite function that Dream embodies simultaneously with stories, and it is a clarity that abolishes mysteries and, for a while, allows secrets to be exploited.

Secrets and mysteries, it seems, are fundamental to the side of Dream that deals in stories and symbols. Stark clarity, perhaps, has no use for symbols and immediately reduces them to tangible values. This interpretation of Cain and Abel and their role within the Dreaming never occurred to me before reading these new comics and I’ll be interested to see what happens with it later, especially since, by the end of Empty Shells, the hatchling is less of an opposite of Dream than ze initially appeared to be. Especially since a few characters see a ghostly flicker of Cain’s old home, The House of Mysteries, after Abel kills him (and Cain, unlike his brother, seems to actually stay dead). As if Secrets and Mysteries need each other and one half will soon bring back the other.

If the function of Secrets and Mysteries are tied up in the eventual fate of the hatchling, I wonder how that will be impacted by the bombshell at the end of the second book where we learn that the hatchling has a symbiotic relationship with a human on life support in the Fawny Rig manor.