The Sandman Reader II: The Doll’s House

Reprints of “The Doll’s House” storyline included issue #9, although that story tied in most directly to the prior eight issues of the series. Specifically, it served as a coda to issue #4’s visit to hell.

Sandman #9: “Tales in the Sand”

October 1989

Story Artist: Mike Dringenberg (penciler), Malcolm Jones III (inker)

Issue #9 told what initially was an out-of-context story involving a young man in an African tribe.

The young man was provided with a post-circumcision ritual story by his grandfather that eventually tied directly back to Morpheus’s former lover Nada. Nada had been seen briefly in issue #4 in hell, with Morpheus not having forgiven her for a past betrayal. This issue gave readers the missing context.

The grandfather’s story related how the desert inhabited by the tribe had once featured a glass city that was ruled by Nada. She fell in love with a mysterious stranger and, in a bid to connect with the stranger, consumed a magic fruit that transported her into the Dreaming. There, she met the stranger, who revealed himself as Morpheus. The two fell in mutual love with one another, but Nada knew that loving a member of the Endless would be problematic.

Nada tried to avoid Morpheus but eventually spent the night making love to him, a night in which all the world dreamed of love.

In the morning, the sun judged the union to be a bad one, though, and punished Nada by melting her glass city. An anguished Nada then threw herself from a cliff. Death claimed Nada, but Morpheus offered her the opportunity to be his queen. Morpheus warned her that he would punish her refusal by sending her to eternal damnation, but Nada worried about more problems arising from such a coupling and rejected Morpheus’s offer. True to his word, Morpheus banished Nada to hell for what he viewed as her betrayal.

The African boy, likely mirroring the opinion of many readers, disliked the harsh ending of the story. The boy’s grandfather instructed him to tell the story to his son someday but hinted that the version told to girls was a bit happier in the end.

Amid this dark fleshing out of the Nada story, it was worth noting that this was only the beginning of her tale with Morpheus and not the end.

Sandman #10: “The Doll’s House”

November 1989

Story Artist: Mike Dringenberg (penciler), Malcolm Jones III (inker)

“The Doll’s House” storyline formally began with issue #10. It opened by featuring a discussion between Desire and Despair about the impending arrival of a ‘dream vortex.’ That vortex would be in the form of a young woman, but the consequences of her arrival were not entirely explained.

Enter a young woman – the character of Rose Walker was then introduced to readers, and she would be a central character in the coming issues. Rose was not disconnected from past characters that readers had met though. Her grandmother, Unity Kincaid, had been seen in a coma during Morpheus’s imprisonment back in issue #1.

The notion of a dream vortex was again referenced while Rose slept on a plane ride to England to visit her grandmother, and she ended up visiting the Dreaming in her dream. In that dream, Rose overheard Lucien mention key figures still missing from the Dreaming, such as the Corinthian and Fiddler’s Green. Two other missing characters were Brute and Glob, who would factor into issue #11. Rose was mentioned by Morpheus as being the dream vortex, but she woke up soon after hearing that acknowledgment.

After landing in England, Rose and Ross’s mother Miranda both visited Unity at her care facility. The interactions between those women centered on Unity convincing Miranda that she was her long-lost mother. During that visit, Rose had a run-in with the Hecate Witches who had been seen back in issue #2. The Witches continued their brief appearances for observant readers, with Gaiman laying a subtle groundwork. In this instance, they did warn Rose about both the Corinthian and Morpheus.

As the visit with Unity was concluding, Unity advised Rose to move to an apartment in a Florida home that was filled with odd characters. Rose also received a ring from Unity as a gift, the same ring that she saw in her recent dream visit to the Dreaming and that connection worried Rose regarding what else from her dreams might come true. Morpheus was shown as monitoring events from amid Unity’s doll collection, but he refrained from directly interfering with the situation.

The Corinthian was first glimpsed by readers in Amarillo, Texas, at the end of the issue. Horrifically, he captured someone named Davy whom he appeared intent on torturing.

This issue bombarded readers with new information. While readers learned that Rose was the ‘dream vortex,’ the details of what that meant were still left to unfold in the coming issues.

This issue was technically the first appearance of Despair, who was Desire’s ‘twin.’

Sandman #11: “Moving In”

December 1989

Story Artist: Mike Dringenberg (penciler), Malcolm Jones III (inker)

A cast of new characters was introduced after Rose moved into the building in Florida, recommended to her by Unity in the prior issue. Those eccentric people included the cross-dressing landlord, Hal. There was also the oddly named Ken and Barbie, a couple who tried to project a certain normalcy. Zelda, with her morbid collection of dead spiders, and her lover Chantal, stood out as particularly unconventional. Finally, there was an Englishman, Gilbert, who was first encountered later in the issues under odd circumstances as Rose was taking the rear exit out of a club where she had visited with Hal.

Soon after moving into the building in Florida, Rose set about tracing the whereabouts of her missing brother Jed. She had a dream involving Jed being in a basement and having a connection to the superhero Hector Hall and his wife Lyta. Morpheus’s missing demons, Brute and Glob, were also mixed up in the situation.

Rose had tracked Jed to having lived with their father in a lighthouse until the father’s death. Jed had then lived with their grandfather, Ezra Paulson, for a time. Unfortunately, he had gone missing after that point, but a private investigator Rose had hired eventually reported in with a lead regarding Jed’s whereabouts in the state of Georgia.

Also of note with Rose was her finding herself frequently visited by a raven who was spying on her on behalf of Morpheus. That raven was Matthew, an important fixture in the series. He was based on a character of the same name from Alan Moore’s “Swamp Thing,” having been a human who had died in a car crash after driving drunk. Instead of heading for the afterlife though, he had become Morpheus’s raven.

Following Rose’s encounter with Gilbert, the duo teamed up to journey to Georgia to find Jed. However, they were not alone on that travel trajectory. The Corinthian continued his murder spree, this time in Alabama while en route to Georgia.

What would everyone find in Georgia? Readers knew that it was where Jed was located, locked in the basement of a second cousin’s home. The cousin had been claiming state funds for sheltering him.

Morpheus was concerned about Rose’s safety since her status as a vortex meant that she would attract Morpheus’s still-missing demons. He was right to anticipate this problem, as he also discovered that Brute and Glob were hiding inside Jed’s mind. Morpheus then committed to help resolve the problems that his escaped demons had caused.

Readers should note that Gilbert physically resembled the real-life figure, G. K. Chesterton. The character would play a larger role in the immediate and then longer-term plans of the series. While his link to Morpheus remained shrouded in mystery, Gilbert’s presence hinted at a deeper connection waiting to be unraveled.

Sandman #12: “Playing House”

January 1990

Story Artist: Chris Bachalo (penciler), Malcolm Jones III (inker)

Issue #12 brought readers the series debuts of even more key characters, a couple of whom would have major impacts on the conclusion of the entire series.

In terms of immediate logistical matters, though, it turned out Brute and Glob were not the only characters hiding in Jed’s mind. The lesser-known DC heroes Hector Hall and his pregnant wife Lyta were living there as well.

Hector had a truly complicated history, having died as a result of unrelated matters in the contemporary DC Comics continuity. His soul had been living in the Dreaming though, with Hall serving as a lackey to Brute and Glob. During Morpheus’s earlier absence, Hall had been manipulated by that pair into thinking he was to be the new King of Dreams.

Hector’s wife Lyta, her pregnancy seemingly ‘frozen’ while living in this odd situation with her husband, was unhappy. Here she was with her distracted and seemingly dead husband, all of them trapped in some manner of a crystal ‘house’ inside the mind of Jed.

When Morpheus finally tracked down Brute and Glob, they dispatched Hector to face him. The resulting conflict was mismatched, though, and Morpheus easily subdued him.

Morpheus then brought an end to the charade that had been going on in Jed’s mind, banishing Brute and Glob to ‘darkness.’ More problematic, though, Morpheus sent Hector to the land of the dead. That action enraged Lyta, as she was still in denial about her husband’s death.

It did not help matters that Morpheus told Lyta that he would visit her again to claim her unborn son. Not surprisingly, Lyta’s anger toward Morpheus was a key point to keep in mind. She and her son would go on to play major roles in the series.

Amid all that action, Jed had been pulled from his basement prison by his second cousins (who were serving as his guardian) for a visit with a welfare inspector. The second cousins needed to prove that Jed was being given appropriate care, and they needed Jed to cooperate during the inspector’s visit. Rather than doing so, Jed escaped from the scene after everyone who had been living inside his mind was freed by Morpheus.

Jed fled by hitchhiking, and unfortunately, he was picked up by the demonic Corinthian. Unity’s role as a ‘vortex’ that attracted Morpheus’s demons had helped to justify the timeliness of his appearance.

Rose Walker’s journey to Georgia continued with Gilbert but was put on pause when their rental car broke down. They checked into a hotel that was otherwise booked up for a bizarre ‘cereal’ convention. The specifics of the convention would be revealed in issue #14.

The entire living arrangement by Hector, Lyta, Glob, and Brute inside Jed’s mind had been accomplished via living in a ‘dream dome.’ That scheme fell apart when Jed realized that something was afoot inside his head after Morpheus brought order to the situation. Glob and Brute had planned to fashion their own ‘dream king’ in Morpheus’s absence but that plan did not work out.

Oddly enough, Jed had revisionist character ties back to Jack Kirby and Joe Simon’s short-lived 1970s series “Sandman.” In that series, he had been living with his abusive Aunt and Uncle, following the death of his grandfather.

Sandman #13: “Men of Good Fortune”

February 1990

Story Artist: Michael Zulli (penciler), Steve Parkhouse (inker)

The main storyline took a one-issue detour with #13. This issue instead focused on the multi-century life of Robert “Hob” Gadling, a man whom Death and Morpheus had once overheard bragging that he had no intention of dying. Death and Morpheus granted him that wish starting in 1389, with Hob promising to meet Morpheus at the same bar every one hundred years.

As planned, Morpheus kept tabs on Hob during every century that passed. In being part of these visits, readers experienced Hob’s ups and downs amid different eras. For example, Hob became involved in both the early printing trade and the slave trade. His fortunes rose, fell, and rose again. He lost a wife and a son after experiencing a peak in prosperity.

Hob eventually told Morpheus that he suspected Morpheus agreed to their regular meetings because Morpheus was lonely. Insulted, Morpheus stormed off while Hob announced that their next meeting would occur strictly because they were friends. Hob proved correct in making such observations, though, with Morpheus turning up in 1989 and stating that it would have been rude to keep a friend waiting.

This detour story felt at times like it might end darkly. However, it concluded on a bright note, with Morpheus coming to terms with needing the companionship of others.

Some historical figures or situations were also touched upon, from William Shakespeare to Jack the Ripper. Mad Hettie also made an appearance circa 1889.

Johanna Constantine made her first appearance in this issue when she tried, without success, to expose the identities of Hob and Morpheus in 1789. She would later factor more significantly into issue #29 and into the “Hellblazer” mythology. Hob would become a semi-recurring character, appearing again more regularly in the latter half of the Sandman series.

The crossing of paths with Shakespeare would pay dividends for readers when Gaiman revisited that story thread in issues #19 and #75.

Sandman #14: “Collectors”

March 1990

Story Artist: Mike Dringenberg (penciler), Malcolm Jones III (inker)

Readers returned to the ‘main’ storyline with issue #14, an extra-long issue that focused on the ‘Cereal’ convention inside the hotel where Rose was staying with Gilbert.

Rose was unwittingly stuck at the hotel after being ordered to remain there while the police sorted out the situation with Jed that unfolded in issue #12.

Rose and Gilbert crossed paths with the Corinthian while making their way around the hotel, oblivious to the goings-on at the convention. Gilbert seemed to recognize him, but the Corinthian was momentarily distracted by the rooting out of a fraudulent serial killer among the other convention attendees. After identifying this threat, Gilbert did have the foresight to write Morpheus’s name on a piece of paper, and he gave Rose instructions to speak the name in case of trouble.

When Rose later drew the attention of a child molester who was attending the convention, he tried to assault her inside her room. Remembering the instructions that Gilbert had given her, Rose spoke Morpheus’s name and he arrived out of thin air to save her.

Morpheus stuck around the hotel to witness the Corinthian become the convention’s guest of honor in front of all the convention’s attendees. Morpheus eventually took control of the situation by angrily annihilating the Corinthian after explaining that he had become a failed project. Morpheus then altered the minds of the serial killers at the convention so that they finally understood their horrible actions.

Unbeknownst to Rose, Jed spent nearly the entire issue in the trunk of the Corinthian’s car. He was alive but obviously in peril. Gilbert eventually came to Jed’s rescue, and he was taken unconscious to the hospital. Gilbert also came to know that Rose had summoned Morpheus and readers were left with a hint that Morpheus being summoned would lead to further complications.

The entire backdrop of the convention was quirky and morbid, allowing Gaiman a sly way to write a parody about fan conventions. The result was not unentertaining, as Gaiman populated the scene with a wide variety of characters. At first, it was not hard to be amused by these horrible characters. Later, readers sobered up to the reality of the attendees being killers who did not deserve sympathy.

Right before Morpheus destroyed the Corinthian, readers glimpsed the creature’s creepy mouths-for-eyes that had been hidden behind its standard sunglasses. This was a terrifying creation, and it would not be the last that readers heard from him.

Sandman #15: “Into the Night”

May 1990

Story Artist: Mike Dringenberg (penciler), Malcolm Jones III (inker)

Issue #15 shifted the focus back to the inhabitants of the house that Rose had first encountered in issue #10. Readers learned about the various roommates inhabiting Rose’s rental house through their dreams.

Ken and Barbie each had quite different dreams. Ken’s dream focused on money and sex, while Barbie’s dream was set in a fantasy world that would be featured in the later “A Game of You” storyline.

Elsewhere in the house, Hal’s dream focused on Hollywood superstars who became drag queen icons. This led to his later revelation of desiring a man named Robert, who did not otherwise appear in the series. Chantal dreamed about a love of writing, while her lover Zelda dreamed about childhood and her family’s lack of acceptance of her sexuality.

All these dreams eventually became intertwined around Rose. She found herself brought into the Dreaming by Morpheus. Morpheus had continued to remain coy on the specifics of Rose being the next ‘vortex,’ but he did imply that she could cause complications within the dreams of others.

Meanwhile, Rose’s brother Jed was still recovering in the hospital, and he was visited by Gilbert. During that visit, Matthew the Raven met up with Gilbert. He had been sent by Morpheus to bring Gilbert back to the Dreaming.

That meeting between Gilbert and Matthew led to the issue ending on a cliffhanger that hinted at a dark finale to “The Doll’s House.” As readers had long since known, Gilbert learned from Matthew that Rose was a ‘vortex.’

Gilbert was responsible for finally cluing readers in on the fact that a vortex could destroy the Dreaming. That threat could be extinguished if Morpheus were to kill the physical form of the vortex. Given that he was allowed to do so in the Dreaming, it appeared that he had lured Rose into his domain for just that purpose.

Sandman #16: “Lost Hearts”

June 1990

Story Artist: Mike Dringenberg (penciler), Malcolm Jones III (inker)

The conclusion of “The Doll’s House” arc came in issue #16 and this issue did provide what felt like a momentary conclusion to various story threads from within the series’ first sixteen issues.

Rose continued to be with Morpheus in the Dreaming, and she soon learned that her being a vortex meant that her life was at stake. The vortex concept was explained as an anomaly of unknown origin that periodically appeared as a threat to a given world’s inhabitants. The vortex could manipulate dreams so that they all merged, and the resulting crashes were destructive. Morpheus explained to Rose that he had failed to stop a vortex in the past and the result brought an end to those living on a world in another universe.

Gilbert returned to the Dreaming with Matthew the Raven in hopes of offering himself in place of Rose. Unfortunately for Gilbert, such a deal was simply not possible. Rather, Morpheus ordered Gilbert to retake his place inside the Dreaming as the living embodiment of a dream known as Fiddler’s Green.

Just when it seemed that Rose was doomed to die, Unity appeared in a younger form to offer herself as the rightful vortex. That role had been passed on to Rose while Morpheus was imprisoned and Unity in a coma in issue #1 but Unity had been the rightful vortex all along. With Unity about to die in the physical world anyway, that trade was accepted by Morpheus. Rose was spared and Unity died soon thereafter.

The story then moved forward six months, with Rose living a reclusive life alongside her recovered brother Jed and her mother in a home in Seattle. Jed had been awakened from his coma by Morpheus as a sort of thank-you for the family’s role in diffusing the vortex situation. The concept of the ‘doll house’ was then elaborated upon for readers, with Rose wondering if she might be simply living the controlled life of a doll every day.

Elsewhere, Morpheus wondered the same about his existence. He confronted Desire about her part in causing the vortex role to improperly transfer to Rose in the first place. It was Desire who raped Unity while she was in a coma and Rose was eventually born as a result of that act, thus over-complicating the situation. After Desire confessed, Morpheus threatened to not let her live through a similar act in the future.

This was not the last time that Desire would throw a wrench into Morpheus’s life. She initially accepted his warning, but then quickly discarded it after his departure.

With that coda, “The Doll’s House” came to a satisfactory conclusion. Given the lack of an identity in the early “Sandman” issues, one could say that the series really ‘arrived’ with this arc. The grand potential of the overall series was much more apparent.

Although many of the early issues were initially confusing to follow, by the time readers reached issue #16, several of the lingering plot threads were nicely tied up. Characters were more fully explained and the ‘rules’ of the series made more sense. In summation, a diverse canvas had been established on which Gaiman could launch into future work.

D.S. Christensen
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