Mark Reads ‘Sandman’: 1×01 – Sleep Of The Just

In the first issue of Sandman, stuff happens? I DON’T EVEN KNOW YET. oh my god I am so excited. If you’re intrigued by this, then it’s time for Mark to start a new series: Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.

I’ve actually wanted Mark Reads to expand to graphic novels and comic books for some time now, and a lot of that is for a very specific reason: I’m tired of them being written off as disposable, shallow, and worthless. I think it’s truthful to say that I grew up reading them, but it was only in a limited capacity. Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford them much myself, but I sure as hell borrowed a whole bunch over the years. Hell, I still do that. (I actually borrowed my favorite series/storyline, House of M, while I was watching LOST and can we all please have a conversation about how at one point I thought the answer to LOST was in House of M?)

I loved superheroes. I think I found myself more attracted to a lot of the Marvel characters, but there was a beautiful form of escapism for me in comic books. It wasn’t until I was in my early twenties that I began to explore graphic novels, though. I was so used to reading stories in bits and pieces, whenever I could get my hands on a new issue, that it was a bizarre idea to me that the entire story could be in one book. I think Alan Moore (and particularly Watchmen) was the first author I read extensively, and soon, I was obsessed with Black Hole and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Persepolis and From Hell and Ghost World and oh my god you really need to stop me.

There’s something a graphic novel can do that a regular novel can’t. (The reverse is generally true, too.) I want to write about that. Reviewing the Serenity comics within the Mark Watches Firefly book was a sort of test to see if I could actually do it, and I should have known it wouldn’t be that much different than what I already do. I figured that revisiting Neil Gaiman was a fantastic idea because of ALL THE FEELS I had during American Gods, and most of my friends worship this novel in particular. So this is a new adventure for me, and I always love the excitement that comes with starting a new project on Mark Reads!

We’ll be going issue by issue through the series, and I’ll be reading all of the extra/special/ancillary material as well. (I believe there are three or four additional books and collections associated with this series, so I’ll make sure they’re scheduled in, too.) As usual, the normal rules apply, so don’t spoil me. Actually, that’s very crucial here because of what I know about Sandman.

A List of Everything Mark Knows About Sandman

  • .

Yeah, there we go. I don’t know anything. I don’t know any characters. I don’t know what it’s about. I don’t know themes, motifs, what any of this looks like (I’ve never even seen a character drawing or fandom art, as far as I know.) Like, at least I had an idea what Lord of the Rings or His Dark Materials or even American Gods might be about. I have no frame of reference and not one single spoiler about this. So, yeah. Don’t spoil this for me, lest you ruin the pained suffering I go through as I discover this fictional world and have my mind blown just for your entertainment. Think of the children, won’t you? Wait, I hope I don’t regret saying that because it ironically ties in with some future plot. Ugh, this is the worst! I know exactly 0.0001% about this series, and that’s only because I know Neil Gaiman wrote it. HELP.

“Sleep of the Just”

I’m a fan of fictional narratives that have an ambitious scope. It’s one of the reasons I’ll always love LOST, why I’m so open-minded about the end of Battlestar Galactica, and why The X-Files will forever be my favorite show of all shows that ever have or will exist in all of eternity, hyperbole intended. (I’m dead serious. Nothing will ever top The X-Files and I don’t expect Mark Watches to find something to replace it.) It’s true that sometimes a story can be too ambitious, and the narrative gets spread thin across time or space or geography. But it’s something that I’m more forgiving about than most devices or tropes because I love it so much. So it’s one of the things I noticed immediately about “Sleep of the Just.” This story is already framed as taking place across a long span of time, over multiple locations, and involving a ton of characters, some who may never appear again for all I know.

There’s a huge hint as to what this might be about, but I’m taking the title of this volume (Preludes & Nocturnes) as a sign that this might just be an introduction to the story itself. Apparently, Mr. Burgess believes he can stop death from happening, and to do so, he’ll conjure up Death itself. For days later in 1916, we’re given five small scenes that seem to have not much at all to do with one another. I think they’re connected by the concept of dreaming, but what does that have to do with death?

Still, I think there are signs here about the story to come. I think it’s intentional that Ellie Marsten’s sister is reading Through The Looking Glass. Might this story be about identity, reality, and truth? Daniel Bustamonte dreams of a paradise in the clouds, so is this going to be a tale of escapism? Stefan Wasserman dreams of a better life, and of the hope that there can be something other than the terror he knows. Unity Kinkaid dreams of incomprehensible things, like so many of us do. (My god, despite that I generally have lucid dreams most of the time, they’re still incredibly fucking weird. Thanks, subconscious.)

For Roderick Burgess, it seems he’s making his dream a reality. I don’t know who Alex is quite yet, aside from Burgess’s son. He watches on as his father leads a ceremony to bring forth Death. I love the beads of sweat on the father and son, the way they convey tension. And then Death drops down into the center of the floor and I wonder what the hell I’ve gotten myself into. I mean, is that really Death? The Death? It looks a bit like an alien and an insect. And what does this have to do with the Sandman, assuming we’re talking about that as if it is a character? WHAT IF IT’S NOT. WHAT IF IT’S A CONCEPT. Damn it, I know SO LITTLE.

Thankfully, Gaiman then rapidly expands this story over the next two thirds of the first issue, and MY BRAIN EXPLODES FROM THE SHEER WHAT-THE-FUCKERY of this story. I am getting an idea what I’ve gotten myself into and I am frightened by it all. But this first issue introduces a magical society who conjures some undying being instead of death, and then imprisons it FOR OVER SEVENTY YEARS. Simultaneous to this, the same side characters we’re introduced to all experience a similar affliction: the inability to wake up from their dreams. These panels, for the record, are just gorgeous, as well as another particular set that comes near the end.  They convey such a terrifying finality for these people’s lives because the very idea of being unable to fight sleep is so scary to me. The artwork for all of the panels from the perspective of the Lord of Dreams and Nightmares (or whatever his actual name is? I don’t know yet) is also striking, especially the use of muted shades of blue and grey.

What unfolds, then, is how this one action affects the entire world. John Hathaway kills himself out of grief and guilt, and, of course, Roderick Burgess gets away with it all scot-free. It’s interesting to see how Alex started out as being the Burgess who doubted what they were doing and was also interested in figuring out what creature or being it was that they brought that night. It really is Roderick’s fault that the Lord of Dreams was imprisoned, but over time, I think Alex becomes just as complicit in what happened to this being.

Also, Ruthven Sykes’s head exploded HOLY SHIT WHAT.

The story really is stronger because Gaiman includes these very personal (and very heartbreaking) glimpses into the lives of specific people who are affected by whatever sort of sleeping sickness is spreading over the world. Some take a very proactive approach to it, but some can’t help but have their lives taken over by the affliction. I get the sense that the imprisonment of the Lord of Dreams has everything to do with it. But why? What are the logistics of it? What was his function in the universe? Was he the one who woke people from their dreams? Does he feed off of them? I do understand how much this story is shaped by the ramifications of the actions of both of the Burgess family members, though. I imagine I’ll get a lot more answers (and fairly soon), but I love the focus on this idea that these selfish, arrogant people ruined the world because of their greed. And that’s really why this came about. They are destroying lives, and they have no idea they are doing so. Would they change what they’re doing if they knew? Probably not. They’re only concerned about achieving things they were never meant to have in the first place.

Also, for real, I don’t know how I’ve never seen the panel with the closeup of the Lord of Dream’s face with the thought bubble SOON on his forehead. Holy shit, that is fucking creepy.

Actually, I take that back. I don’t exactly understand a lot of what is happening. I don’t know how this Dream dude can reach into a daydream and take a handful of sand. Did he have this power the whole time he was in that prison and he just waited? Either way, when he is released, this first issue becomes one of the most impressive openings I’ve ever read. It’s absolutely brilliant and chilling. I don’t know where this being goes, but I already found myself happy that he escaped. I think I was happy because I was UTTERLY HORRIFIED by the thought of finding myself up against him in any context. As all the people of the world who have been sleeping most of their lives begin to wake up (which clued me in to the connection to the Lord of Dreams), the story moves into my favorite two pages of issue one. I love the elongated, slim panels dealing with Alex’s confrontation with the Lord of Dreams. They’re like short bursts of activity, and it’s a stunning way to deal with this inevitable conversation.

The thing is, I kind of feel like “Sleep of the Just” is a preview. It’s Gaiman’s way of saying, “Hi. How are you? Yeah, this story is fucked up. You should strap in.” Because what the fuck HE GAVE ALEX ETERNAL WAKING. I just I can’t I won’t WHAT THE FUCK.

This Dream guy is free and he is going to fuck shit up. My god.

Mark Links Stuff

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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5 Responses to Mark Reads ‘Sandman’: 1×01 – Sleep Of The Just

  1. Stephanie says:


  2. John Small Berries says:

    Did he have this power the whole time he was in that prison and he just waited?

    Looks like he wasn’t able to do it until Alex’s wheelchair scuffed and broke the magic circle imprisoning him.

  3. Shaun McAlister says:

    The Annotated Sandman Vol. 1 has just been published and would be a great addition to your reading list. Having read Sandman several years ago I couldn’t believe just how much I’d missed and/or misunderstood. Hope your journey with this series is as rewarding as mine was (is).

  4. Alexa D says:

    OMG Mark, Sandman is what got me totally addicted to comics and YOU ARE SO NOT PREPARED. Gaiman throws out some of the trippiest stuff for all ~70 issues and it is AMAZING.

  5. Gordon K says:

    If I recall, the sleeping sickness was historical. Neil Gaiman, like many great writers, does not ignore, and in fact takes advantage of historical data (as well as actual myths, as you saw in American Gods), to portray a more enticing experience for the reader.

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