The Sandman - Issue 8 - The Sound of Her Wings
So here we are, at what we can consider the epilogue of Preludes and Nocturnes, the first volume of The Sandman. At the time of publication, no one could have predicted the seismic shift this series would create in pop culture. People have never seen Lucifer the same way again or Death for that matter, but more on this later.
The Sound of Her Wings opens with a view of Washington Square Park’s famous arch and fountain. After the tumultuous past issues, this first page sets the tone for this entry as Morpheus finds himself surrounded by humankind while ‘feeding the pigeons’. Like an island, he’s indifferent to life swirling past him, oblivious to its currents and eddies until it intrudes upon his solitude as shown by an errant soccer ball flying in his direction.
Death makes her glorious arrival in The Sandman.
Inspired by the late Cinamon Hadley, she is luminous from her very first appearance. While sharing Morpheus’s physical attributes, Death is nothing like her brother. This is one anthropomorphic personification who doesn’t exist as an observer, but rolls her black jeans to the ankles and wades into life, soaking it all in. Mike Dringenberg’s artwork breathes as much life into Death as Gaiman’s words. As we follow their interaction, it’s hard not to be charmed by their relationship, which feels no different from any siblings across the world.
Oh, and this is for all the detractors who had such a problem with Death not being portrayed by a Caucasian actress in the show. The differences between Death and Dream in terms of personality are so stark, colour is barely a consideration. Kirby Howell-Baptiste played Death how she should be played, like a beam of warm sunlight on a cloudy day.
Following a conversation about Mary Poppins and the word supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (I think I just broke my spellchecker), Death reveals the real reason she’s sought Morpheus. She’s worried about her brother. Like any big sister, she listens patiently to Morpheus giving a recap of his adventures of the last seven issues and his disappointment that his trials are now over. Morpheus feels rudderless despite regaining everything he’d lost since his incarceration and might have been expecting sympathy and understanding from his big sister.
Uh uh, not this Death. Death calls him out on more than just his self-pity. She calls him out on his continued silence even after his escape and not asking for help when he needed it. I’m assuming the binding spell placed on Morpheus by Roderick Burgess made it impossible for him to reach out to his siblings during his captivity or allow them to rescue him. Whatever the reason, Death isn’t happy that he’s forgotten he has people in his existence who care about him.
As she tells aspiring soccer player Franklin, “He’s my brother, and he’s an idiot”.
Sadly, we get only a little of this wonderful bit of character play because Death has a job to do, and she needs to get back to work. Morpheus, still at a loose end, accompanies her. What follows is a series of vignettes showing Morpheus and the readers that life is a vast tapestry, interweaving tragedy and beauty in every strand.
The death of Harry, the violinist, feels sadder on these pages than in the show. There’s no bright room for him, but a room that feels like the crumbling refuge of an existence dying around him. I loved that he got to say his peace before the end. Not so satisfying is the death of Esme, the comedienne whose watershed moment on stage does not end in any way she likes. Although to be fair, that Batman joke… oof!
Unlike Netflix, the Sound of her Wings does not spare us anything, even the death of an infant. We got a sanitised version on the show but in this issue, it’s a powerful and heartbreaking reminder that life is seldom fair and never more so when a child is taken before their time. Dringenberg’s single panel revealing the mother’s devastation and anguish as she’s hunched by the crib stayed with me long after I finished this issue.
And it continues as Morpheus follows Death, pondering Death’s meaning in our lives. As we see the flotsam of tragedy, relief, and violence told through snapshots across the pages, we learn death is many things to many people. For some it is an escape, for others, the untimely end of unfilled hopes and dreams or the satisfying conclusion of a life lived well.
Whatever the end, Death let us leave with a friend.
Morpheus’s journey with Death gives him food for thought and serves to remind him he has what so many mortals are denied — time. He walks away from the encounter, no longer as indifferent to his charges as before, appreciating that even on an island, the tide must come in.
Renewed, Morpheus is ready to rebuild his kingdom, but not before he feeds the pigeons one last time and hears the sound of her wings.
And there you have it - the end of Preludes and Nocturnes. Tune in next week as we start The Doll's House.
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