The Sandman Reader IV: Season of Mists

The “Season of Mists” arc focused primarily on Morpheus’s 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 (penciler), 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 offering a pleasant moment of dysfunctional family 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 dominoes began to fall as Desire probed Morpheus about his love life, specifically mentioning 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, discovered that Morpheus’s new mission was, in fact, the inciting incident 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.

However, a sense of dread loomed over Morpheus’s decision, fueled by Lucifer’s ongoing anger over his apparent ‘defeat’ in issue #4.

Sandman #22: “Season of Mists – Chapter 1”

January 1991

Story Artist: Kelley Jones (penciler), Malcolm Jones III (inker)

Although issue #22 was labeled as the first ‘official’ chapter of “Season of Mists,” it still felt 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 destroy Morpheus in an epic battle.

While Cain delivered Morpheus’s arrival notice to Lucifer in hell, Morpheus visited Lyta Hall. Hall – last seen in issue #12 – had recently given birth to an unnamed son. The visit by Morpheus felt significant, since he assumed he might soon be destroyed.

Not surprisingly, due to the bad terms on which Lyta had parted from Morpheus in issue #12, she was not 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, to bid farewell in case of his demise. It was telling as to the future importance of those characters that they were Morpheus’s only related visits.

As Morpheus made his visits, Cain was depicted 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. Despite deviating from traditional Judeo-Christian theology, the series hinted at an underlying order within its fantastical elements.

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 (penciler), Malcolm Jones III (inker)

Readers anticipating a grand showdown were taken by surprise in issue #23. True to form, Gaiman subverted expectations, pitting Morpheus against Lucifer as the latter abandoned hell.

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 final gesture related to Lucifer’s plan to move on.

This issue presented an unusual turn of events, to say the least, but the consequences of Morpheus becoming the caretaker of an empty hell and the whereabouts of the realm’s freed former residents would drive the rest of the “Season of Mists” storyline.

Sandman #24: “Season of Mists – Chapter 3”

March 1991

Story Artist: Kelley Jones (penciler), 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 several suitors interested in controlling it.

Primary figures of Norse mythology were first among the suitors. Gaiman intentionally avoided invoking memories of Marvel’s “Thor” series when incorporating Norse mythology into “Sandman.” Odin gathered both Thor and Loki to pursue hell, giving readers different looks at the trio than they might have been conditioned to expect.

Former top-demon Azazel, who had assembled many of hell’s other demons into an army, was also interested in hell. To bolster his claim, Azazel held Nada captive as leverage.

The divine structure of the “Sandman” mythos was further revealed with a glimpse of The Silver City, mentioned in the previous issue as a place where angels dwelled. A point was made that this city was not 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 were simply observers.

Latecomers to the claim included Egyptian deities Anubis and Bast, alongside the Japanese god Susano-o-no-Mikoto.

As was a pattern in Gaiman’s work, this issue ended up involving the strategic positioning of character chess pieces with a promise of inter-character payoffs yet to come. The claimants for hell converged on Morpheus’s castle, where he provided them with quarters and promised a discussion the next day. However, that discussion did not take place until issue #26, leaving the next issue to catch readers up on concurrent events.

Sandman #25: “Season of Mists – Chapter 4”

April 1991

Story Artist: Matt Wagner (penciler), 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 enrolled at 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 noticed strange occurrences at the school, where former residents of hell manifested in their past incarnations. Numerous peculiar characters were highlighted, with most providing hints or explanations about how they ended up in hell after death. At one point, Charles was assaulted by a group of bullies but saved by a deceased boy of a similar age named Edwin Paine.

When Charles eventually succumbed to his injuries, Death – clad in an oddly all-black aerobics outfit – arrived to claim him. Charles did not want to leave without Edwin, but Death clarified that Edwin had already been claimed. After some consideration, 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 deceased, he could 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 become known in the series mythology as the ‘Dead Boy Detectives,’ but readers would not learn about their next steps until the 1993 “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 (penciler), George Pratt (inker)

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

A dinner party among the suitors went badly for many involved. Former hell demon Choronzon was seduced by the spider-queen (and fellow demon) Merkin, but that romance turned sour after Choronzon ended up bound as a ‘gift’ to Morpheus by the demon Azazel. Remember that Choronzon was the demon who stole Morpheus’s helmet before the beginning of “Sandman” #1, and the presumption was that Morpheus would want to take revenge on Choronzon in some way.

After dinner, Morpheus announced plans to meet with his various guests privately, during which 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 the 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 he could have collected himself were he interested.

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

The Egyptian god Bast offered information to Morpheus in exchange for ownership of hell. In particular, Bast was offering 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 did not take Bast up on the offer.

Azazel paid what was the most impressive visit, not only offering the captured Choronzon but also Morpheus’s beloved Nada. If Morpheus did not agree to turn over hell to Azazel, he threatened to devour Nada’s soul. This might have been a compelling offer considering the entire storyline had begun with Morpheus seeking to retrieve Nada from hell. However, instead of accepting the deal at that time, Morpheus insisted that he would give his answer the next day.

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

Other tidbits of note included 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 Ragnarök. Dodds was a part of the Justice Society of America, and that group had found themselves in Ragnarök during the 1986 “Last Days of the Justice Society Special” issue #1. The Justice Society would not 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 (penciler), Dick Giordano (inker)

Despite Morpheus’s promise to have an answer regarding hell’s future the next day, he still had not prepared an announcement by the beginning of issue #27. Instead, the answer was 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 restoring its demons and maintaining the previous status quo.

Predictably, the decision did not sit well with the suitors who had been Morpheus’s guests. The demon Azazel again mentioned devouring the soul of Nada, but Morpheus had gained a new perspective on the situation. He entered Azazel’s mind, quickly discovering both the demon Choronzon and Nada.

Azazel attempted to trap Morpheus inside his mind, but Morpheus escaped after revealing that such power was not possible while technically within Morpheus’s ‘Dreaming’ kingdom. To emphasize this point, Morpheus captured Azazel in a bottle that was subsequently stored away.

All the 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 (penciler), George Pratt (inker)

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

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

The delayed departure of the Faerie siblings was also shown. At this point, Cluracan formally revealed that 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 had been presenting to be during the previous gathering. Some have pointed out 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 Loki in disguise. Loki had wanted to avoid a sentence of internal torment by pulling a classic switcheroo. 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 admired the beautiful daily sunsets and begrudgingly attributed them to ‘the creator.’

Finally, Morpheus and Nada met in 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 was not interested in being with an immortal and Morpheus was not interested in being mortal with her. Instead of being with Nada, Morpheus had her reborn as a baby in 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, 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 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 not what some readers might have desired. However, it fit within the context of the greater tale being told and was respectful toward the nature of the stalemate between the lovers.

D.S. Christensen
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