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  • Writer's pictureLinda Thackeray

The Sandman - Issue 1 - The Sleep of the Just

I came to this series after a friend gave me Volume 2 of The Sandman - The Doll's House. I won't go into too much detail, but its arrival caused a seismic shift in my life. I was still forming my voice as a writer (a work still in progress), and other than Stephen King; no author influenced my journey as much as Neil Gaiman. I say this now to explain why I never review these comics, merely offering recaps because my love for them is so great I can never be objective enough to write a critical essay. These recaps began for a fansite on Facebook, but I think those who are familiar with my works may also enjoy this.

So here we go with Sleep of the Just.

RECAP - The first page is a gothic novel's prologue, and that's what this issue feels like, a gothic horror from start to finish. The tone is set from the very first panel, where Dr. John Hathaway arrives at Wych Cross Manor, a man clutching a book of good intentions, fully aware he's on the road to hell. Hathaway, blinded by grief, delivers to Roderick Burgess, one of the series's finest villains, even with his one-issue appearance, the Magdalene Grimoire. Using Hathaway's raw anguish, Burgess convinces the hapless curator that no one will ever need to die again.

While Netflix adapted Vol. 1 and 2 beautifully, much was sacrificed to bring Gaiman's vision to live-action. What I missed most was the snapshots we got of the dreamers throughout the issue. Unity Kincaid survives the cut because of the importance she plays later on. Still, others like Ellie Carson, Daniel Bustamonte, and Stefan Wasserman do not fare as well. Stefan's one-panel introduction is gut-wrenching and reflective of what many young men who fought in The Great War must have felt.

Meanwhile, at Wych Cross, Burgess prepares for his ritual and introduces us to his son Alexander, one of the more tragic characters in The Sandman. At this point, Alexander is a boy enthralled by a father with no moral restraint, as evidenced by Burgess's callous intent to blackmail Hathaway into infinitum. Once again, we get a scene straight out of a Hammer horror film, with black-robed figures performing a ritual of dark magic, with Burgess doing his best Lord Summerisle impersonation. The spell climaxes, and a figure with an insectoid head and a dark cloak materializes before its stunned practitioners.

Burgess, whose plan was to trap Death, realizes his error immediately but doesn't linger long on his failure. He promptly steals his captive's belongings, a ruby, a pouch of sand, and the insectoid helmet, leaving the figure naked and trapped in the binding circle. The effect of this captivity has swift repercussions on the dreamers, who are just as trapped as Burgess's victim.

Once awake, our titular hero is content to wait out Burgess, giving the man nothing.

Hathaway, realizing he has been duped and extorted beyond endurance, commits suicide, penning a note to expose Burgess's villainy. It's a note no one ever sees as Burgess, using magic, destroys it before discovery. Meanwhile, 'Sleeping Sickness' spreads across the globe. Some fall asleep, never to wake up. Others like Stefan never sleep. His story ends with a suicide at age 16.

Ten years pass and Alexander learns that his father's captive is not Death but Dream. Since his captivity, Dream remains silent, refusing to engage with Burgess on any level. Burgess's right-hand man, Sykes, flees the Order with his lover Ethel Cripp. He takes all of Dream's tools with him. Sykes trades the helm for an amulet of protection to safeguard himself from any magical reprisals. Unfortunately for Sykes, when Ethel finally leaves him six years later, she takes what remains of Dream's tools still in his possession and the amulet. This allows Burgess to exact his revenge finally.

The dreamers continue to sleep. Unity is raped by an unknown assailant and falls pregnant. The child is adopted with Unity being mercifully oblivious to it all. Elsewhere Wesley Dodd (a nice bit of connective tissue to the original Sandman) combats his condition by going out at night to fight crime. As Gaiman writes, Wesley Dodds sleeps the Sleep of the Just.

Burgess reaches the end of his life, never achieving his ultimate goal, leaving Dream in the hands of a new jailor. The dreamers continue their half-life, just as lost to the world, although their condition now has a name - Encephalitis Lethargica.

The years hurtled by, and the burden of his father's legacy begins to weigh on Alexander. In some ways, Alexander is just as trapped as Dream and sees no way out of his predicament. In their last meeting in the waking world, Alexander, now old and immobile, insults Dream but fails to notice he has inadvertently weakened the binding circle with his wheelchair.

Dream escapes his prison with the oldest escape plan in the book (seriously!). Using the sand from a guard's dream, he opens a portal and escapes into his realm in one of the most iconic scenes in the series. I love the Netflix series for recreating this so beautifully on the show. It almost makes up for Jessamy - I'm still not over that yet! Damm you!

Across the world, the dreamers begin to awake.

In Alexander's dream, he and Dream, aka Morpheus, share their first real conversation. It doesn't take him long to realize how truly screwed he is. Like all damned men, he pleads for mercy. Unfortunately, the Lord of Dreams is not in a forgiving mood. Morpheus spends just enough time with Alexander to learn the fate of his tools and the purpose of Burgess's original spell.

Before Morpheus leaves, he rewards Alexander with the gift of Eternal Waking, which anyone who has read the comic knows is quite horrific. Doomed to always awake to a new nightmare, Alexander is trapped in the realm he denied so many others.

And that's it - sorry it was longer than usual, but you have to agree there was a lot to unpack in this one. I hope you continue to tune in. NEXT: Issue 2 - Imperfect Hosts

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