The Sandman - Issue 6 - 24 Hours
Updated: Mar 4
RECAP: I'll be frank. Issue 6 isn't for the faint-hearted. It's a 24-page journey through a nightmare. For many, this is the issue that elevated The Sandman from a mere comic book to a literary masterpiece. It's a violent, brutal descent into madness with disturbing imagery and a frightening journey through the dark looking-glass of the human condition. Writers might find this one striking painfully close to the bone. Indeed, the first page of the issue touched me on a very personal level. Back in 89, I wanted to write but couldn't because life got in the way, so I get Bette Munro perfectly.
Bette works at the 24 Hours diner as an ordinary waitress with a secret. She's a writer who mines her customers for ideas and gives them all happy endings. There's so much to unpack in these first few pages as Bette observes the patrons who become the central players in this story. Bette transposes her imagination over their realities, turning Judy straight, seeing the oh-so-obviously distant couple, Garry and Kate, as lovebirds, or wishing success to the young man killing time before his interview. Even Marsh is seen through rose-colored lenses. Considering what we learn of their relationship later on, it's clear Bette's leading a half-life between her mundane reality and the fantasy of how she wishes it could be.
In that, she shares a lot in common with John Dee.
John watches the drama in the same fashion as Bette, but with Morpheus's ruby in hand, he can make the fantasy real. As the hours progress, we watch John exerting his influence on his fellow customers. First, he traps them in the diner because his play cannot proceed without actors. He keeps them in a microcosm of his own making while, at the same time, his power is influencing the outside world. In a nice bit of foreshadowing, Judy's conversation with friend Rose about her girlfriend Donna marks the first mention of two characters who will play a large part in The Sandman later.
By Hour Four, we can see the peril of the ruby when wielded by a deranged madman. On television, a show about a dinosaur puppet ends in gruesome horror (not unlike the real dinosaur show Barney). Inside the diner, his victims fight futilely against the power controlling their minds. However, any lucidity is brief before they become puppets again. In the meantime, John continues to leech off their experiences, showing the readers the dark desires simmering inside these seemingly ordinary people.
Outside, madness is spreading.
John peels back his victims layer by layer, exposing the monsters they can be. Gaiman leaves you wondering whether or not Marsh actually rapes poor Judy in the vile, misogynistic belief that all a lesbian needs is a proper man. When brutality and conflict fail to satisfy him, John uses the ruby to get their love, driving some to grisly acts of self-mutilation in worship. The television continues to show us what is happening in the greater DC universe, with the 'capes' nowhere in sight, although I think we need a spin-off with just Hershel and Betty.
The roller coaster continues, this time with the revelation of everyone's secrets. The spotlight on Kate at a funeral home is disturbing and explains her dysfunctional intimacies with Garry. Following that is an orgy John is happy to watch but does not participate. He then turns the three women into oracles, who may or may not be channeling some higher power. Either way, John likes what he hears.
After permitting his hapless pawns to regain their senses briefly and telling them in no uncertain terms, they cannot escape him, murder continues in the dark. Marsh makes some revelations that shatter Bette's fantasy world for good while reveling in a final explosion of pleasure and pain. The group is then reduced to a pack mentality, with Garry playing the part of the leader, exerting his alpha male status by tearing out the throat of a younger opponent while the females cower in fear. Still, John's not done yet, and he continues to toy with them, using their dreams as both poison and cudgel until no one is left standing.
Alone at Hour 23, John isn't sure what there is left to do. His ruby is wreaking havoc on the world, and his toys are dead. He contemplates what comes next.
Fortunately, John doesn't have long to wait before that question is answered. Morpheus has arrived, and our 24 hours are done.
If this recap feels shorter than usual, it's because much of this issue is a visual experience. The artwork is superb, with the facial expression of some characters chilling to the bone. I highly recommend you go read Issue 6. My recap does it no justice.
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