DEREK TSE, “ENTER SANDMAN’S WORLD.” , The Toronto Sun, 11-11-2001, pp S4.
So far, talented British comics writer Neil Gaiman’s crowning achievement has been his groundbreaking Sandman series.
Published by DC Comics from 1987 to ’96, The Sandman chronicled the adventures of the title character, the flawed, God-like master of our dreams. Also known as Dream, he’s a member of a powerful family called the Endless — the others are Death, Destiny, Delirium, Despair, Desire and Destruction — who represent many of our human compulsions and ideas.
Over the course of the series, Gaiman crafted a richly imaginative, cross-mythical saga that was essentially Dream’s coming-of-age story: He grows from a cold, detached entity contemptuous of humans to somebody who realizes — to his great alarm — that he shares far more of our humanity and complexities than he’d like to admit.
Season Of Mists is one of the most accessible chapters of the Sandman mythos, which was always more interested in matters of the human heart than wildly fantastical ideas. Season Of Mists tells how, thousands of years ago, Dream imperiously banished his human lover Nada to Hell because she rejected his offer to become his queen. But now, suffering from pangs of conscience, he undertakes a potentially deadly journey to Hell to free her from his sworn enemy, Lucifer. But Lucifer has his own plans — he abdicates his duties as master of Hell, freeing all of its tortured souls to roam the Earth again. But before he himself abandons his realm, Lucifer leaves Dream the key to Hell to do with it as he wishes.
Soon enough, a long line of suitors of diverse mythical pedigree — Thor and Odin from Norse legend, demons, Faeries, Japanese gods and others — line up at Dream’s doorstep, trying to convince him that one of them best deserves to inherit this prime piece of unreal estate.
But how does Dream decide who would be Hell’s best new guardian? And what about Nada, whose soul is being offered by a demon in exchange for the key?
Extraordinarily inventive and literate, Season Of Mists also boasts Kelley Jones’ splendidly sinister art style. But Gaiman’s masterful writing remains the book’s greatest joy. One of Season Of Mists’ best chapters takes a step back from Dream’s otherworldly, courtly debates. This creepy little tale is set at a lonely English boarding school, where a boy is tormented by the still-malevolent ghosts of bullies past.
The enormous popularity of Harry Potter and The Lord Of The Rings suggests there’s an increasing appetite for fantastic fare. Giving the Sandman series — and especially Season Of Mists — a try would be icing on the cake.
All eight issues of Season Of Mists are collected in paperback and hardback form.