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  • Writer's pictureLinda Thackeray

The Sandman - Issue 4 - A Hope in Hell

RECAP: I won’t lie. A Hope in Hell is one of my favorite issues of the entire series. Once again, I entered the world of Neil Gaiman and Sandman without exposure to what would eventually become the Vertigo line-up. I was confident I was getting used to the mature edge content. A Hope in Hell showed me this ride was just getting started. Dave McKean’s cover work is now iconic, but Issue 4 is where it really grabbed me. It prompted me to go back and examine the previous covers more carefully because there are subtleties I missed. The cover for Hope in Hell still captivates me even now.

Now to the story. We find Morpheus in soliloquy about regaining his sand and how it falls from his hands, mirroring another fall he witnessed. It is fascinating to hear Morpheus ruminate about the Morningstar. Of all the names I’ve heard the devil being called, the Morningstar was one of the more obscure ones. It is referenced in Isaiah 14.12, but modern culture used the traditional Satan, Devil, get the drift. I dwell on this a bit because the use of Morningstar serves to remind or inform the reader that before they were humanity’s greatest villain, Lucifer was an angel.

Morpheus’s brief recollections about Lucifer plunge him feet first into his journey to hell. Once again, for newbies who have never read the comics, the Netflix version of hell is tame compared to what emerged from Gaiman and Keith’s minds. Hell is a place of torment that is visceral, gory, and downright horrific. From the gates made from the flesh of doomed sinners to the appearance of Squatterbloat, this is no shadow realm shrouded in mists. It’s a Cenobite resort town.

Squatterbloat does not look like a WWE wrestler but a grotesque creature that will never make you look at a plucked chicken in the same way ever again. His appearance is a preview of the monstrosities we are about to encounter. Even Demon Etrigan, who until this point looked more imp than a demon, loses his Comic Code Authority mask. In this issue, he is depicted as the denizen of hell he actually is. Etrigan warns Morpheus that hell has changed, and as Morpheus walks through the Wood of Suicide, he sees how much.

We arrive at a chance (or is it?) meeting with a woman imprisoned in a cave, and the readers get their first glimpse of the relationship between Nada and Morpheus. We learn that Morpheus still loves Nada but has not forgiven her. The reason is a mystery for now, but this is an important moment. Right now, our main character is still a cold, prideful entity, and he’ll have a long journey to become something better.

The visual imagery on the way to meeting Lucifer is a horror show, kin to H. R Geiger’s most feverish nightmares. Yet, in contrast to this is our first view of Lucifer Morningstar. Intentional or not, his resemblance to Bowie is unmistakable. What jarred me is that contrary to all depictions of the devil, Lucifer Morningstar or Samael, as Morpheus refers to them at one point, is beautiful. Exactly as we imagine an angel would be. Back in 1989, this really blew my mind. I dare say it did the same for popular culture as well since Lucifer was never portrayed in quite the same way again.

Morpheus and Lucifer exchange barely civil pleasantries, with Lucifer revealing the state of hell and the triumvirate of leadership, including Beelzebub and Azazel. Much like the Netflix series, Morpheus requests the return of his helm from the assembled host of hell only to be challenged by Chronozon, who, surprisingly enough, doesn’t differ much from his live-action counterpart. However, it is Chronozon facing off with Morpheus in the Oldest Game, in a club that looks ‘like that fucked up bar’ in Star Wars, with Lucifer watching closely.

It ends with Morpheus playing his Hope trump card and regaining his helm, much to Lucifer’s annoyance. Two demons, Agony and Ecstacy, cart Chronozon away, presumably to torture. Of course, when Morpheus attempts to leave, Lucifer threatens him with the demons of hell if he tries, citing dreams have no power in Hell. Morpheus, probably ready for this, wins the verbal joust with a response as perfect as Hope.

“What power would Hell have if those here imprisoned were not able to dream of heaven?”

Lucifer has no rebuttal allowing Morpheus to leave hell unaccosted, swearing vengeance. Side note - Gwendoline Christie’s performance in reaction to that question in the show was magnificent.

The epilogue reveals Ethel Cripps passing and John Dee getting the amulet she stole from Sykes for the trade of the helm. Things are about to get very dark...

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