The Sandman Reader IV: Season of Mists

The “Season of Mists” arc focused primarily on Morpheus’ quest to free his one-time love, Nada, from her banishment into hell.


 

Sandman #21: “Season of Mists – A Prologue”
November 1990
Story Artist: Mike Dringenberg (penciller), Malcolm Jones III (inker)

The prologue to “Season of Mists” began with the Endless siblings- Morpheus, Destiny, Desire, Death, Despair and Delirium but not Destruction – gathered for dinner at Destiny’s request. While providing a nice moment for dysfunctional family character interaction, the purpose of the meeting was intentionally kept vague by Destiny. Destiny’s only hint of its purpose to the group was that an inciting incident with major consequences would begin at the meeting. Proverbial dominos began to fall as Desire probed Morpheus regarding his love life, in particular referring to the banished Nada from issues #4 and #9.

Morpheus stormed away from the meal amid the probing and was comforted by Death, who pointed out that Morpheus was wrong to have sent Nada to exile in hell. Morpheus, accepting Death’s criticism, then vowed to free Nada from hell.

Readers, but not Morpheus himself, learned that Morpheus’s new mission was in fact the inciting incident that had been foretold by Destiny. In that way, Gaiman’s misdirection regarding the side conversation involving Death being the entire point of the story was quite witty.

A sense of dread loomed over Morpheus’s decision though, as Lucifer was still apparently upset about his ‘defeat’ at the hand of Morpheus back in issue #4.

 

Sandman #22: “Season of Mists – Chapter 1”
January 1991
Story Artist: Kelley Jones (penciller), Malcolm Jones III (inker)

While issue #22 was listed as the first ‘real’ chapter of “Season of Mists,” it continued to feel like a prologue. Rather than travel directly to hell, Morpheus returned to his home castle and prepared to confront Lucifer over Nada. The conventional wisdom was that Lucifer would likely destroy Morpheus in an epic battle.

While Cain was sent to hell to give a notice of Morpheus’s impending visit to Lucifer, Morpheus spent time visiting with Lyta Hall. Hall – last seen in issue #12 – had recently given birth to an unnamed son. The visit by Morpheus felt significant, given that he assumed he might soon be destroyed.

Not surprisingly given the bad terms on which Lyta had parted from Morpheus in issue #12, she wasn’t pleased to see him and ordered him to leave. Morpheus complied, but not before suggesting that the baby be named Daniel.

Morpheus also visited Robert “Hob” Gadling, his long-living friend from issue #13 in order to say good-bye in case of his demise. It was telling as to the future importance of those characters that they were Morpheus’ only related visits.

While Morpheus was making his visits, Cain was shown being mocked in hell. Readers learned about Lucifer’s background and his demon minions were prevented from killing Cain due to a mark from ‘the creator’ on his forehead. Although the series obviously didn’t fit into a traditional understanding of Judeo-Christian theology, a certain orderly hierarchy was still apparently present in the overall fantasy.

As an aside, The Library of Unwritten Stories mentioned briefly at the beginning of issue #22 was a goldmine for unfinished novel trivia fans.

 

Sandman #23: “Season of Mists – Chapter 2”
February 1991
Story Artist: Kelley Jones (penciller), Malcolm Jones III (inker)

Readers expecting a massive confrontation in issue #23 would end up being surprised. Par for the course, Gaiman defied expectations by having Morpheus confront Lucifer just as Lucifer appeared to be clearing out hell and shutting it down.

In fact, Lucifer had completely emptied hell by the time Morpheus arrived to ask for Nada’s freedom. Rather than fighting Morpheus, Lucifer gave him the key to hell and made him the realm’s new caretaker. Before departing, Lucifer had Morpheus cut off his angel wings as a sort of final action regarding Lucifer’s plan to move on.

This issue presented an odd turn of events to say the least, but the fallout of Morpheus being caretaker of an empty hell and the whereabouts of that realm’s freed ormer residents would propel the rest of the “Season of Mists” storyline.

 

Sandman #24: “Season of Mists – Chapter 3”
March 1991
Story Artist: Kelley Jones (penciller), P. Craig Russell (inker)

The repercussions of the events at the end of the prior issue were immediately addressed in issue #24, as hell was revealed to have a number of suitors interested in controlling it.

First amongst the suitors were the main figures of Norse mythology. Gaiman intentionally avoided evoking memories of Marvel’s “Thor” series when introducing Norse mythology into “Sandman.” Odin gathered both Thor and Loki to make a pursuit of hell, giving readers different looks at the trio than they might have been conditioned to expect.

Also interested in hell was former top-demon Azazel, who had pulled together many of hell’s other demons into an army. Adding to his case, he had Nada in his possession as a bargaining chip.

The divine structure of the “Sandman” mythos was further revealed with a glimpse of The Silver City that had been mentioned in the prior issue as a place where angels dwelled. A point was made that this city wasn’t Heaven, but the series would treat it as a proxy for that place. A couple of angels from the city – Duma and Remiel – joined those interested in hell, but they initially appeared to simply be observers.

Finally, a late introduction of further suitors was made that involved the Egyptian gods, Anubis and Bast, and the Japanese god Susano-o-no-Mikoto.

As had been a pattern in Gaiman’s work, this issue ended up being about pushing character chess pieces into position with a promise of inter-character payoffs still to come. Those interested in hell had independently ventured to Morpheus’s castle where he offered them lodging and a promise to discuss the situation the following day. That discussion didn’t take place in issue #26, leaving the next issue to be the beginning of its own thread.

 

Sandman #25: “Season of Mists – Chapter 4”
April 1991
Story Artist: Matt Wagner (penciller), Malcolm Jones III (inker)

Issue #25 diverted from the main storyline by showing a glimpse of the consequences of hell’s closure. Thirteen year old Charles Rowland was sent to the St. Hilarion’s School for Boys. His mother was deceased and his father was an Iraqi army prisoner in Kuwait during the 1991 Gulf War.

Charles began to notice strange occurrences at the school, as former residents of hell appeared in their past incarnations at the school. Numerous strange characters were spotlighted, with most hinting at or explaining how they had ended up in hell after dying. At one point, Charles was beaten by a group of bullies but rescued by a dead boy of similar age named Edwin Paine.

When Charles eventually died of his injuries, Death – wearing an oddly all-black aerobics outfit – arrived to claim him. Charles didn’t want to leave without Edwin, but Death explained that Edwin had already been claimed. After some debate, Death let Charles be for the time being. She was too busy dealing with the consequences of recent events to argue with the boy.

Although Charles remained dead, he was able to interact with the real world in soul form. Charles and Edwin left the school together, venturing out onto what was an unknown path for both boys. They would later be known in the series mythology as the ‘Dead Boy Detectives,’ but their next steps wouldn’t be known to readers until 1993’s “The Children’s Crusade” crossover event. That was Vertigo’s first and only crossover event, with the boys appearing in two large-sized issues that bookended an otherwise modest seven-part storyline.

 

Sandman #26: “Season of Mists – Chapter 5”
May 1991
Story Artist: Kelley Jones (penciller), George Pratt (inker)

Issue #26 picked up the main storyline at Morpheus’ castle, with the faerie kingdom’s emissaries Cluracan and his sister Nuala joining the already-large group of suitors for hell. Unbeknownst to Nuala, her brother offered her as a gift to Morpheus in exchange for keeping hell empty. This deal would ensure that the Kindly Ones could cease making ritual sacrifices to hell in the future.

A dinner party amongst the suitors went badly for many involved. Former hell demon Choronzon was seduced by the spider-queen (and fellow demon) Merkin, but that romance went bad after Choronzon ended up bound as a ‘gift’ to Morpheus by the demon Azazel. Keep in mind, Choronzon was the demon who stole Morpheus’ helmet prior the beginning of “Sandman” #1 and the presumption was that Morpheus would want to take revenge on Choronzon in some manner. At the very least, he wasn’t going to help Choronzon.

After dinner, Morpheus announced plans to meet with his various guests in private, whereupon each would present their case for ownership of hell. A magic flame was used by Morpheus to summon the guests one after another to his room.

Odin was first, followed by the Lords of Chaos member Shivering Jemmy. Jemmy had a very childlike demeanor that some have said was based on Gaiman’s then-child daughter. As one might expect from an immature being, she threatened Morpheus and that tactic resulted in her dismissal. Another odd encounter came when the Lords of Order offered Morpheus the dream essences of the newly dead, something that he said that he could have collected himself were he interested.

A visit with the gods of Japan, represented by Susano-o-no-Mikoto, resulted in a notable artistic style change. There was a bit of parody to that meeting in that the gods of Japan were apparently interested in ‘expansion’ and would pay whatever Morpheus asked. In our ‘real world,’ Japan was in the midst of buying up assets around the world amid related controversies at that time.

The Egyptian god Bast offered information to Morpheus in exchange for hell. In particular, the location of Morpheus’s missing brother Destruction. Destruction had been an enigma in the series and would remain so for the time being, given that Morpheus didn’t take Bast up on the offer.

Azazel paid what was perhaps the most impressive visit, not only offering the captured Choronzon but also Morpheus’ beloved Nada. If Morpheus didn’t agree to turn over hell to Azazel, he threatened to devour Nada’s soul. This would seem to have been a compelling offer in that the entire storyline had begun with Morpheus seeking to retrieve Nada from hell. Rather than taking the deal at that time though, Morpheus insisted that he would give his answer the next day.

One interesting minor story thread involved a man and woman who Morpheus drafted as dinner servants. They were merely humans asleep on Earth, sucked into the crazy scene. The man fell for the woman during the course of their duties, but the dinner ended and the dream ceased before the pair could formally connect.

Other tidbits of note involved a brief reference to the Golden Age Sandman, Wesley Dodds. Dodds was shown to be fighting inside a bubble universe that Odin had created to store the Norse mythology’s apocalyptic battle of Ragnarok. Dodds was part of the Justice Society of America and that group had ended up in Ragnarok during the 1986 “Last Days of the Justice Society Special” issue #1. The Justice Society wouldn’t be freed from their situation until “Armageddon: Inferno” issues #3-#4 in 1992.

 

Sandman #27: “Season of Mists – Chapter 6”
June 1991
Story Artist: Kelley Jones (penciller), Dick Giordano (inker)

Despite Morpheus’ promise to have an answer regarding hell’s future the next day, he still wasn’t ready with an announcement by the beginning of issue #27. Instead, the answer was basically forced upon him by ‘the creator’ (the proxy for a supreme being in heaven). The angels Remiel and Duma delivered the message that hell must exist as a reflection of heaven. They also reluctantly learned that they would be tasked with watching over hell after returning its demons and related status quo.

Predictably, the decision didn’t go over well with the suitors who had been Morpheus’ guests. The prickly demon Azazel again referenced devouring the soul of Nada, but Morpheus had new perspective on that situation. He entered Azazel’s mind, quickly finding both the demon Choronzon and Nada.

Azazel tried to trap Morpheus inside his mind, but Morpheus escaped after revealing that such power wasn’t possible while technically inside Morpheus’ ‘Dreaming’ kingdom. To punctuate this point, Morpheus captured Azazel in a bottle that was then put into storage.

All of the invited guests departed except for the Faerie siblings and the Japanese god Susano-o-no-Mikoto. They instead sought further discussions with Morpheus. Before those meetings though, Gaiman teased readers by having Morpheus request a dinner with his now-rescued, beloved Nada.

 

Sandman #28: “Season of Mists – Epilogue”
July 1991
Story Artist: Mike Dringenberg (penciller), George Pratt (inker)

Issue #28 was referred to as an “Epilogue,” but it actually contained the resolution to some of the main story points that were likely of most interested to readers. Foremost was the story of Nada.

Before getting to that situation though, readers dropped in on the restoration of hell. Things appeared to be getting back to ‘normal’ after the angels Remiel and Duma were placed in charge. There was also a hint of more-than-friendly affection between those angels, but that suggestion was not built upon any detailed facts.

The delayed departure of the Faerie siblings was also shown. At this point, Cluracan formally revealed his sister Nuala was intended to be left behind as a gift for Morpheus. She was shocked by this revelation but seemed to accept her fate.

Morpheus was not ungracious, although he expected Nuala to present herself in her scruffier Faerie form rather than the beautiful blonde whom she’d been presenting to be during the previous gathering. It has been pointed out by some that this request was intended by Morpheus to put Nuala in her place as a subordinate and not a guest within the Dreaming kingdom.

While meeting with Susano-o-no-Mikoto, Morpheus revealed that he knew that the Japanese god was actually Loki in disguise. Loki had wanted to avoid a sentence of internal torment by pulling a classic switcheroo. As a way to smooth over the situation, Morpheus suggested creating a dream image of Loki to take Loki’s place so that both Susano-o-no-Mikoto and Loki could be free.

Elsewhere, readers curious about Lucifer’s fate learned that he had been lounging on a beach in Perth, Australia. As much as it might go against Lucifer’s nature, he was admiring the beautiful daily sunsets and begrudgingly attributing them to ‘the creator.’

Finally, Morpheus and Nada met in what was a predictably awkward discussion. Morpheus initially offered a lackluster apology for Nada’s lengthy stay in hell. After Nada expressed her displeasure, he gave a better apology that she then accepted.

Ten thousand years after their first meeting, the couple’s central problem remained the same. Nada wasn’t interested in being with an immortal and Morpheus wasn’t interested in being mortal with her. Instead of being with Nada, Morpheus had her reborn as a baby to a family in Hong Kong. Curiously enough, she was shown as having been reincarnated as a boy.

Destiny then provided a theatrical bookend to the story, literally closing the book on the tale that she had helped begin.

 


Overall, “Season of Mists” had several interesting hooks that would keep readers moving through the material. The dinner party scenes were particularly rich in utilizing the various mythology references.

How well readers would enjoy the ending depended on how choreographed it might have felt to them. That the ownership of hell would be resolved via intervention from ‘the creator’ bailed Morpheus out from having to make a particularly difficult decision.

In terms of impact on Morpheus, the Nada storyline was undeniably the story’s emotional centerpiece. Unfortunately for romantics, the resolution was likely not what some readers might have desired. However, it was fitting within the context of the greater tale being told and was respectful toward the nature of the stalemate between the lovers.

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