Thursday, 22 January 2015

The Sandman, Volume 2: The Doll's House Review (Neil Gaiman, Malcolm Jones III)

What do you do when you encounter a run of bad comics? Return to the ones you’ve read and loved before for a re-read! So it’s doubly disappointing when a comic you thought you enjoyed way back when turns out to be kinda crappy – even more so when it’s an acknowledged classic like The Sandman! 

Morpheus has returned to the Dreamtime after being imprisoned for 70 years (see the first volume for how that came to be and how he escaped). He begins putting things to rights and sets off to round up his Nightmares who have escaped to Earth – among them is his most lethal creation, The Corinthian. Meanwhile, young Rose Walker discovers her grandmother is Unity Kincaid, the woman who slept most of her life in a side story from the first book. What Rose doesn’t know is that she’s also the Vortex – a being that could potentially destroy Morpheus’ Dream kingdom. And, to save his world, Morpheus must kill the Vortex… 

The first chapter sets the tone of this book, ie. rambling and overlong. A pair of African tribesmen go into the desert where the younger of the two is told the story of Morpheus’ forbidden love with an African queen. It does have a point but, my goodness, does Neil Gaiman take his sweet time in getting there! In the meantime we’re told a very banal fairy tale to fill the void. 

From there the story plods its way through, primarily focusing on Rose Walker. Rose isn’t a particularly interesting character but we spend an inordinate amount of time with her anyway. Rose goes back to America to look for her long-lost brother, Jed. She rents a room in a house that feels like a prototype for the house Gaiman will use in his later book, Coraline. Rose meets Gilbert aka Fiddler’s Green and they bizarrely team up. Her whole storyline was so boring and it takes up so much of the book! 

Morpheus and the Nightmares’ storyline seems straightforward but it’s teased out to be extra-long because that’s Gaiman’s style. The Corinthian repeatedly kills young boys and pulls out their eyes, and there’s way too many sequences where Rose’s brother Jed is abused in the basement of a house. That’s the other thing that really bothered me about this book: how utterly dark it was. Gaiman in this book is still doing the Alan Moore thing of “dark = art” and I hate it. 

I do understand why it’s there: to show the dark side of Dream’s world presenting a more rounded view of it, while also highlighting humanity’s savage side. The Endless are, after all, there to serve living beings like humans, not influence them to do anything (though they sometimes do regardless!). This aspect of the book just comes down to a matter of personal taste – seeing mutilated dead young boys felt like a bit too far, especially in an otherwise whimsical comic. 

After too many chapters Morpheus rounds up the Nightmares except the Corinthian who he eventually gets around to during the Cereal Convention, which is a disguised serial killers’ convention - which seems like a funny idea at first but makes no sense when you think about it. Why would serial killers have a convention?! They’re all loners by nature – that’s part of what made them serial killers to begin with! Even this concept is run into the ground by Gaiman and FINALLY the Corinthian gets his when Morpheus appears. 

But wait, there’s MORE! Honestly, this book goes on and on! The “real” ending follows when Morpheus has to kill Rose Walker - what a cop out! I was expecting a tough decision to be made that would change the character but a deus ex machina takes Morpheus off the hook. 

There was one chapter in the book I liked when we’re introduced to Hob Gadling. As we already know about Death and Dream, they’re both kinda playful at times despite being Endless and they overhear Hob boasting that he doesn’t believe in Death therefore he’ll live forever. An unspoken agreement is made between Death and Dream as she allows Hob to live an eternal life and Dream meets up with Hob in the same pub in the same spot every 100 years. Seeing the ups and downs of history mirrored through Hob’s extended life is fun and I like that it opens up Dream’s character more – that someone of the Endless could be friends with a human. 

One good chapter though out of many – that’s not a great ratio! So much of this book is padding that it makes for the most laborious of reads. The storylines could’ve been tighter and Gaiman’s numerous ramblings curtailed to much better effect. 

I had it in my head that the first book was mediocre but the second book was where the series began to take off – but that idea is at least 10 years old. Re-reading it now, I found the second book much less driven than the first – and the first didn’t feel that fast-moving either – nor is it as engaging. A Doll’s House is Gaiman at his overindulgent worst.

The Sandman, Volume 2: The Doll's House

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