In the twenty-third issue of The Sandman, Dream arrives in Hell and is greeted with a surprise from Lucifer. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Sandman.
“Seasons of Mist: Episode 2”
It’s hard not to see the basis of American Gods in this series, but what Gaiman is doing here is still quite different from his later novel. I am just shocked at how quickly Gaiman was able to make Lucifer a sympathetic, emotional character in just one issue. Thinking back to what we’d seen of him, I don’t think there were any clues towards what he was planning to do with Hell, and even then, I still can’t help but just feel sad for the guy.
Admittedly, I think that’s in part because I started off fearing him just as much as Dream did. That first page of this issue has Dream conceding that he’s afraid of Hell. For a character who is largely emotionless and stoic, that was kind of a frightening thing to read. And then the very next page is a massive representation of the Gates of Hell. There’s something really beautiful about the place, despite how ugly it is. It reminds me of the desert in the American Southwest: desolate, massive, full of bright, contrasting colors in the sunlight, and hostile and lonely at night. It’s not the Hell I thought it would be, and I much prefer Gaiman’s version. (Though, to be fair, I don’t know that he provided the direction for how this would work. Any of the artists could have contributed to it as well.)
I also admit that for a brief moment, I thought I knew 100% where this story was going to go. When Dream arrives quickly (and without problem) at the cell where Nada is supposed to be imprisoned and cries out in anguish, I believed that Lucifer had killed her to get back at Dream. It made sense, but in hindsight, that was because I had a very specific image of who Lucifer was in my head. Over the rest of the issue, Gaiman brilliant deconstructs the Christian version of the Devil, and he’s not quite the “evil” being I thought he was.
Like, the next two pages are just so wonderful and haunting. Dream realizes EVERYONE in Hell is gone. It’s not just Nada. EVERYONE. HOW. HOW THE FUCK IS THAT POSSIBLE. Are they hiding? I wondered. How the fuck can everyone disappear from Hell? Also, can I just state that my two favorite panels thusfar are, easily, the two in which Lucifer reveals he’s quit Hell, and the next one where it’s just Dream’s face reacting in shock to the news? They are comically drawn in a way that makes them horrifying, and it’s honestly the best thing that I could ask for from this graphic novel. You can see the glee in Lucifer’s face (which looks a whole lot like the Joker). He’s done. But I wouldn’t come to understand that expression fully until Lucifer explained himself to Dream.
While I think there’s a catch to all of this that we’ll discover in a later issue, I do think that Lucifer’s decision to abandon Hell is genuine. I think Gaiman’s take on the Morningstar isn’t necessarily anti-Christian so much as an expansion on the character that religion created. And really, at this point, that’s who Lucifer is: a character. There isn’t a whole lot of information on him in the Bible itself, and many, many centuries of literature, imagination, religious intimidation, and misinformation has given people wildly varied ideas of what Lucifer is and what he does.
Gaiman addresses some of these misconceptions through Lucifer, who walks with Dream throughout his soon-to-be ex-kingdom to clear up a few loose ends. He is not responsible for the evil in the world, first of all, and it’s one of a few things I really respect about this issue. I remember my mother telling me that Satan was behind certain things (MTV, rock music, Stephen King, acting feminine, etc) or that he lived within me whenever I misbehaved. It was a disconcerting idea as a child and as a teenager because I couldn’t even conceive of how that was possible. Was he a spirit? Was he telling me to do things to upset my parents, and how the hell could I get him out of me? As I said last week, I also had very bizarre notions of what Hell was, so I also believed Satan would personally torture me once I went to Hell.
But what’s most striking to me about Lucifer’s story is that it just seems so unfair. It’s actually related to one of the reason I decided to abandon Christianity. I could not rectify the notion that a just and loving God would punish a person for eternity for a sin they committed that may have lasted seconds. Here, we see how Lucifer believed he was rebelling against God, when in reality, he was just a cog in the machine of holy destiny. And for this one action, he’s banished for ten billion years. I can’t even ignore the parallel to Dream and Nada at this point. How is it at all just to punish a person so severely for so long?
Truthfully, this issue makes me feel bad for Lucifer’s solitude and boredom. It’s also why it was strangely cathartic to see him deny Makikeen’s company and request that Dream cut off his wings. He’s so certain that he wants to give this up that he’s willing to do something so extreme. And I can’t believe I’m going to type this sentence, but: Hell is closed. I thought Dream would spend the whole volume in Hell, but apparently souls are coming back on Earth, and LORD KNOWS THAT IS GOING TO BE A GODDAMN DISASTER. But now Dream also has the key to Hell? And Lucifer is going to go build a house or some shit? Well, this story has taken an unexpected turn, and I like it a whole lot. BRING IT ON, GAIMAN.
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