The Sandman Reader XI: The Wake

How to follow up on the epic events of the prior story arc? Gaiman chose to present a six-issue prologue to wrap up all the loose ends. In truth, the bulk of that wrap-up took place in issues #70-72 with the last panel of issue #72 being what could have been an effective ending to the entire series. Issue #73 provided a nice epilogue, while issues #74 and #75 were standalone in the way that Gaiman jumped around in time with past stand-alone stories.

Michael Zulli, known in the later-1980s for his work on “The Puma Blues,” provided the art for issues #70-#72, and his work would be familiar to “Sandman” readers since he had previously penciled issues 13, 50, and 53. His detailed pencils were presented in an un-inked fashion due to Gaiman’s desire not to lose out on any of the pencil details.

Sandman #70: “Chapter 1, Which Occurs in the Wake of What Has Gone Before”

August 1995

Story Artist: Michael Zulli (penciler), No inker due to the art being composed of colors on pencils (inker)

Issue #70 dove headlong into the aftermath of Morpheus’s death, with the news being delivered to some of his family members via means that appeared to align with their natures.

The family members, minus Destruction, gathered at the Necropolis that readers might remember from a focus on it in issue #55. They had arrived in search of the cerements and the book of ritual, but they were warned by Sithcundman of the Necropolis that they would have to venture into the ever-changing catacombs of the city. Rather than going into the catacombs themselves, the family members crafted an Envoy that they named Eblis O’Shaughnessy into whom Death breathed life.

Eblis then went about his mission, retrieving the specified items from the catacombs. Astute readers would note that six cerements were hanging in the room that would relate to the seven Endless family members. Of course, it was not clear which of the seven did not have a cerement hanging in the room.

Back in the Dreaming, Morpheus’s former staff were getting acquainted with their new lord, Daniel. This was where things became tricky, since the new Lord of Dreams was not Morpheus and not entirely Daniel. He had a mix of deep past knowledge or experience and a certain naivety. While Abel was restored per the request of Cain, readers could tell that the result was not what Cain had expected. Mervyn Pumpkinhead was also restored but Fiddler’s Green decided to stay dead.

At the same time, Matthew the Raven spoke with Eve in her cave. Matthew was not certain if he would like to stay on Daniel’s staff. He talked of his regret over leaving Morpheus alone during his final confrontation with the Kindly Ones and questioned if he would honor an invite to Morpheus’s wake.

Nuala and Rose were next shown dreaming. Richard Madoc from issue #17 was also shown in that grouping. Lyta, Alex Burgess, and Hob Gadling were also all shown in brief panels. They appeared together in the Dreaming near the end of the issue. In the case of Burgess, he appeared in the Dreaming as a child rather than as the old man whom he had become.

Other key characters from the past were shown taking portals to the Dreaming. Those figures included the Faerie queen Titania, the angel Duma, and the cat-like Lady Bast.

The issue concluded with the Endless who had gathered earlier in the story going about the work of building a stone monument.

Sandman #71: “Chapter 2, In Which a Wake is Held”

September 1995

Story Artist: Michael Zulli (penciler), No inker due to the art being composed of colors on pencils (inker)

The stone monument being constructed at the end of the prior issue was a focal point of issue #71. Lucien and some of Daniel’s other staff were granted permission to attend Morpheus’s wake. The characters recognized the special nature of the occasion, with Cain not bothering Abel.

Readers heard from characters as they mingled among one another. A gathering of note involved four of Morpheus’s loves. Specifically, this was Calliope, Thessaly, Queen Titania, and the reincarnated Nada in a child form last seen in issue #28. Calliope spoke of her child with Morpheus and the ending of their relationship. Titania had a chance later in the issue to share her relationship story, but she declined that invitation. Thessaly would tell her story in a lengthy fashion near the end of the issue, finally filling in the details regarding her heretofore unknown romance with Morpheus.

Mervyn Pumpkinhead was shown speaking with a man about the schedule of events. Some have speculated that man to have been Eric Needham, who had offered Lyta a job at the Lux Club and who was last seen in issue #59. Matthew the Raven then had an amusing encounter with the drunk Mervyn before Matthew went to speak with Daniel. Daniel confessed to being nervous about meeting his new Endless siblings the next day.

Mad Hettie, last seen back in issue #3 but a major part of Gaiman’s “Death: The High Cost of Living” miniseries, appeared briefly to give brief mentions of her down-to-Earth run-ins with Morpheus.

Nuala was featured next, still distraught with feelings of guilt. Had she not summoned Morpheus to profess her love to him, she reasoned that he might still be alive. Nuala’s brother Cluracan gave her lackluster consolation and then found himself meeting up again with his Nemesis, whom readers might recall having made a brief appearance back in issue #58.

Daniel continued discussions with Matthew, the raven still trying to reconcile his place with the new Lord of Dreams. Matthew did take inventory of the return of Morpheus’s old staff members and learned that the Gryphon was not restored but was instead replaced by a champion from among his kind.

Rose appeared at the wake with her brother Jed in tow. Readers would recall Jed from “The Doll’s House” story arc, last seen back in issue #16. After telling Jed about her pregnancy, Rose had a disturbing run-in with Lyta. Lyta was still in deep mourning over the loss of Daniel.

Readers of the broader DC universe titles would not have had a hard time spotting a brief conversation between Clark Kent, Batman, and the Martian Manhunter, as each discussed an odd dream that Clark had shared.

The issue wrapped up with Matthew the Raven being persuaded to speak at Morpheus’s funeral. The Endless siblings then announced that it was time for the funeral to begin.

Sandman #72: “Chapter 3, In Which We Wake”

November 1995

Story Artist: Michael Zulli (penciler), No inker due to the art being composed of colors on pencils (inker)

With issue #71 having presented the wake, issue #72 presented the funeral. Matthew had mentioned in the last panel of issue #71 that billions of people would be attending the funeral.  Presumably, that number involved everyone in the state of a shared dream. Lest readers assume that the funeral attendees might awake with a memory of that dream, it was mentioned that the dream would be forgotten.

Morpheus’s cerement was laid out inside the mausoleum and an outline of Morpheus’s body appeared underneath it. Then, one after another, various characters from the series began to speak to the gathered crowd.

Destiny went first, speaking of how Morpheus fulfilled his tasks to the best of his ability. Bast spoke next about regret over things left unsaid while Jed and Rose discussed families from the audience. Desire gave a speech that delved into the nature of awkward family associations. Despair’s speech was appropriately full of despair.

The Golden Age-era Sandman Wesley Dodds delivered remarks that focused on the importance of Morpheus’s connection to his life. Dodds had been briefly referenced in issue #1 and then later met Morpheus in the graphic novel “Sandman: Midnight Theater.”

The angel Duma did not speak but instead cried a single tear that gave the attendees knowledge that everything had a purpose, including the attendees themselves. Delirium gave a characteristically odd speech about previously being afraid of Morpheus. More recently, she had simply been sad for him.

With Lucifer looking on, Matthew the Raven gave a powerful speech that summarized his complicated feelings from the prior several issues. He signaled that he would indeed stay on as Daniel’s raven, concluding that he felt sorrow but that dreams cannot be killed.

After Matthew finished, several speeches were shown but not heard. This included appearances from the likes of Odin and the Lords of Chaos member Shivering Jemmy from “Season of Mists.” The travel agent from “Brief Lives,” Mr. Farrell, also spoke, along with Alianora, the mystery woman for whom Morpheus had built the Land that was featured in “A Game of You.”

Intercut with the speeches was Destruction’s unexpected private visit with Daniel. Daniel’s staff seemed hesitant to allow Destruction within the castle, but Daniel allowed him inside. Destruction explained visiting to give Daniel his advice regarding his ability to leave the Dreaming behind. Daniel declined that suggestion and Destruction departed but hinted that he would see Daniel again in the future.

Death addressed the crowd as Morpheus’s body passed down a river, into the great unknown. Her words were not explicitly stated, but readers were assured that they gave meaning to those who heard them.

The later hardcover collection of this sequence included several pages that Gaiman and Michael Zulli added once they were free of the original publication’s deadline pressures. Sharp-eyed readers would have caught glimpses of other past characters paying respects to the boat carrying Morpheus’s body, including Anubis from Egypt, Thor, Orpheus, John Dee, and Paul McGuire.

Daniel then briefly met with Lyta, providing her with a mark of protection from anyone who might choose to do her harm. Matthew came to meet Daniel, and they moved forward together. Daniel also met with the child version of Alex Burgess, and he was sent back from the dream to wake up in the present. Others from the wake and funeral were also shown waking up.

The issue’s final page focused on Daniel meeting his Endless siblings for a meal. Nothing further was shown but there was a strong sense of closure to Morpheus’s story as the siblings looked expectantly at Daniel.

Sandman #73: “An Epilogue, Sunday Mourning”

December 1995

Story Artist: Michael Zulli (penciler), No inker due to the art being composed of colors on pencils (inker)

“Sunday Mourning” was the appropriate title for what served as a fitting follow-up to the prior issue. Morpheus’s longtime friend Hob Gadling attended a Renaissance Festival in the United States with his African American girlfriend. The story’s hook centered on the notion of Gadling, a man who had lived through the world that Renaissance Festivals glamorized, finding himself attending just such a festival to please his girlfriend.

While the girlfriend went off to join in the costumed merriment, Gadling became quite drunk and broke into a condemned building to find a quiet place alone. Death appeared to Gadling within that place; her sudden appearance was quite unsettling for the reader. She confirmed Gadling’s suspicion that Morpheus had died and then she offered Gadling the opportunity to die too. Gadling’s life had become increasingly lonely, and he was disenchanted by many aspects of the modern world.

Ultimately though, Gadling decided to remain living. His girlfriend found him passed out later in the afternoon and questioned him about a report that he had been seen speaking to a mystery woman while alone in the condemned building. Gadling mentioned that the woman was simply someone whom he happened to know from England, and he left the Renaissance Festival behind with his girlfriend.

Before Gadling got drunk, he had shared with his girlfriend the guilt that he felt associated with the slave trade between England, Africa, and the United States. Gadling’s girlfriend did not know that he had personally been involved in that trade at one point in his life and he had reason to feel guilty about it.

One other interesting note was the fact that Gadling ran into a bookbinder who had an old copy of a book that implied Gadling himself had created during his days as an early book publisher. Gadling held an amusingly low regard for the craftsmanship of the modern bookbinder.

Sandman #74: “Exiles”

January 1996

Story Artist: No penciler as direct inks were used (penciler), Jon J Muth (inker)

Issue 74 did not technically have a penciler and it was illustrated entirely in ink by the artist Jon J. Muth. The story initially presented mostly text over abstract images, but comic book conventions gradually emerged. The story had many elements of being a parable of sorts

That story encompassed both the reign of Morpheus and the subsequent era of Daniel as Lord of Dreams. Master Li, an advisor to the Emperor of China, was exiled after his son was discovered to be part of the White Lotus Rebellion. Li spent the bulk of the story traveling across a desert to the city of Wei, where he expected to live for his remaining years.

Along the journey, Li rescued a kitten and, later, had a conversation with what appeared to be the ghost of his dead son. Li’s son warned him not to enter a tent that had appeared on the horizon, but Li ventured to the tent and entered it anyway. Morpheus was inside that tent, and he explained that Li must have found a ‘soft place’ where he could cross over into the edge of the Dreaming. Morpheus shared a cup of wine with Li and readers would recall ties to the Marco Polo-centric issue #39.

After Li departed from Morpheus’s tent, the story took a surreal turn when Li came across a modern drop-claw amusement game that he played to fetch a toy bridge. Li then placed the toy bridge across a gorge in the desert such that the bridge expanded into a real-life bridge of a size large enough for him to walk across. On the other side of the bridge, Li encountered Daniel and the pair ran across a group of Roman soldiers who were lost on horseback. These horsemen appeared to be the same horsemen seen in issue #39. After Daniel seemed to grant the soldiers their wish to be returned to their proper place and time, he offered Li a position as his adviser. Li politely declined the offer and went on his way.

Readers saw that Li had then passed out in the desert, only awakening after his kitten bit him to wake up. Li was able to reunite with his guide and felt thankful to the cat for repaying the saving of its own life. Li continued to the town of Wei, Daniel’s offer still standing if Li decided to reconsider it. That said, readers were left with the impression that Li was satisfied to live out the last chapter of his life on his terms and remain loyal to the Emperor.

Sandman #75: “The Tempest”

February 1996

Story Artist: Charles Vess (penciler), Charles Vess (inker)

The final issue of Gaiman’s “Sandman” series served as a curtain call rather than an additional conclusion to previous storylines. It was a chance to provide a sequel to the critically acclaimed “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” from issue #19. Similarly, Charles Vess provided the highly detailed illustrations.

The opening focused on William Shakespeare at home with his wife and daughter. After a debate with his wife over how they should go about encouraging their twenty-six-year-old daughter to find a husband, Shakespeare ventured off to his local pub.

Men came into the pub to show a body to those who paid a small fee. Shakespeare did not pay the fee and seemed to disregard the men, but he did notice them later in the night as drunks who were stumbling down a road. Sharp-eyed trivia buffs would be amused to note that the pub in question was modeled after the Red Dragon sign.

Shakespeare met up with his friend Ben Jonson and insisted that his current play would be his last one. Jonson was critical of his work. Their later interactions would suggest that the two men produced a rhyme that would become well-known in England in remembrance of the November 5, 1605, plot to blow up the Parliament building.

Shakespeare’s daughter Judith criticized his decision to travel to London for playwriting. She was courting Tommy Quiney, whom her father knew from his time in London as having spent his money on whores. Historically, Judith would go on to marry Quinney, but Shakespeare’s will made it clear that he was not trusted. Gaiman also remarked that the marriage was not a happy one.

Morpheus came to Shakespeare as he was still struggling on his final play “The Tempest.” It was revealed that Morpheus had requested “The Tempest” as a play to fulfill a deal that Shakespeare had made with him for two plays. The first play delivered as part of that deal had been “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “The Tempest” would be the second play.

As Shakespeare struggled with the play, a church patron visited him, prompting him to consider the consequences of dealing with a demon. The church patron suggested that such a deal was liable to land someone in hell unless they renounced such an association. Shakespeare had been hired by the church to smooth out the English translation of some of the Bible’s Psalms.

Upon completing “The Tempest,” Shakespeare recited a speech from it to his wife, much to her displeasure. Her relationship with Shakespeare seemed cold, chilliness built on years of frustration that Shakespeare had not been mentally and physically present in addressing his family’s current needs.

Morpheus visited Shakespeare again to confirm that “The Tempest” was completed. Shakespeare confirmed that the play was done and was granted a request to visit Morpheus’s castle. During his visit to the Dreaming, Shakespeare received more than he bargained for. Morpheus pointed out that experiencing his realm was like venturing behind the stage of a play.

During this visit, Shakespeare asked Morpheus about their deal. Morpheus indicated that he had opened a door inside Shakespeare from which his plays would come out. When Shakespeare asked why Morpheus had chosen him for their deal, Morpheus responded that Shakespeare had wanted it more than others. Shakespeare reflected on his life choices, persuading Morpheus to reveal that an alternate life path would have made him money, but he would have been unhappy. Shakespeare prodded about how his choices would have affected the death of his son Hamnet but backed off from that question. Morpheus gave Shakespeare assurances that he was not involved in witchcraft, nor would Shakespeare be banished to hell because of their deal.

Before departing, Shakespeare questioned Morpheus about the essence of “The Tempest.” Morpheus pointed out that he lived on a metaphorical island, unable to change, and that he had no story of his own. Readers knew differently, but that was beside the point. Morpheus admitted that he wanted a graceful end to the story and that answer seemed to resonate with how the entire “Sandman” series concluded with this issue. Gaiman gave a bit of biographical history on Shakespeare in the issue’s final panel that referenced his death a few years after finishing “The Tempest.” “The Tempest” was Shakespeare’s final play, but “Sandman” issue #75 would not be Gaiman’s last go-around with the characters from the series.

D.S. Christensen
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3 thoughts on “The Sandman Reader XI: The Wake

  1. You are incorrect about issue 72. Everything after the wake itself did not appear in that issue–it was exclusive to the bound collection.

      1. Ha, thanks for the reminder to fix this post – I thought that I’d edited the issue #72 summary a couple of years ago but that wasn’t the case. I’ve now addded a quick reference to the bonus pages that appeared in the hardcover collection (and “The Dreaming” #8).

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