Friday, September 23, 2016

Morpheus, Prince of the Dreaming, is STONE COLD

I’ve been re-reading Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, partly for a forthcoming essay on the series’ politics, partly out of nostalgia. I began reading the comic in college, around issue #13, and my memories of the story arcs intertwine with those of my undergrad and early grad school years. Gaiman’s cast of deities, superheroes, transcendent Endless, and other arcana, all with their own schemes and flaws, provided a welcome diversion from the mundane forces (parents, professors, a bad economy) that controlled and deformed my own small world.

Reading the original comics reminded me, too, of a time when Sandman wasn’t a wildly popular graphic novel series with a global following, but a comic book, marketed to a relatively small and predominantly young-male audience. Here are two images from issue 27 ("Season of Mists" Part 6), one sublime and one ridiculous, that make this point.

The first image was a left-hand page showing a turning point in the story and the larger mythos. Lucifer has abdicated and given Morpheus the key to Hell, whose demons and damned souls he had peremptorily expelled. Now the Supreme Being has decided that Hell must reopen under the control of his loyal Angels. The Kelley Jones paintings on this page capture the anguish of Angel Remiel as he begins to realize the fate in store for him.

The second image, which appeared on the facing page, advertises the kind of movie Gaiman’s readers presumably liked and planned to watch: a schlock action picture with an ex-football player, a reactionary tough-on-crime message, a Nazi biker gang (to pre-empt charges of racism, I assume), and a heaping helping of violence. I confess I had to look up Brian Bosworth, whose acting career never took off, and I don’t remember seeing Stone Cold in theaters. In fact, I don’t recall seeing it mentioned anywhere outside of Wikipedia. (Though it apparently co-starred Lance Henriksen, who always deserved better roles than he got.) 

The Sandman became one of the more influential fringe-cultural artifacts of the 1990s, influencing comics, goth culture, even music videos. The sensibilities of its publishers, for most of the series’ run, remained anchored in the 1980s*, when comic books were for adolescent boys and their readers ostensibly liked football, violent movies, and video games. Cultural change always takes more time than we think.

(Photos above by the author, and, yes, they are deliberately low-res and grainy.)

* Seriously, just look at that hair.

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