In the twenty-fifth issue of The Sandman, we learn of the bizarre and terrifying consequences of the closure of Hell. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Sandman.
“Seasons of Mist: Episode 4”
God, I just fucking love that Gaiman has already established that at any point in this series, he can go off on a tangent for a whole issue or a whole volume. It doesn’t matter. Dream doesn’t need to be there, and Gaiman is just going to tell any story he damn well pleases so deal with it.
While this is a one-off of sorts, it ties directly in with what Lucifer did when he quit Hell. (Actually, these characters could show up again, so it might not be a one-off.) Both Lucifer and Death told Dream that the dead were coming back to earth, and now we see exactly what they meant by that. It’s here that the art really takes center stage, and Matt Wagner’s work is just unbelievable. His wide, dark strokes give this entire issue a spooky, disconcerting feel, particularly when you realize you almost never see the pupils of any character on the pages. It seems to be a way to designate between the living and the dead, but it also makes this so horrifically creepy to read.
I remember when I was reading Harry Potter, I felt that there were some universal truths to going to school that could apply to a great majority of people. However, it’s apparent here again that the British boarding school system is its own thing, and there’s a different culture that exists around it. First of all, I can’t imagine having to live at school at that young of an age. Strangely, though, my own mother was like a headmaster in our household, imposing a strict moral code on us, including a very specific bedtime. It’s this very specific society that begins to collapse with the return of the dead, and I must tip my hat to Gaiman for this subtext to “Episode 4.” I mean, he’s basically taking the coming-of-age story at a boarding school, upending it, and then kills off the main character before it’s even gone that far.
What fascinated me was that the dead returned as they once were, not as rotting bodies or disembodied souls. They’re they people they were at this school, almost as if they were preserved in the state that got them into Hell in the first place. (Who sent them there, by the way? I suppose the whole bit in the end about Hell being a place, combined with Lucifer’s monologue in “Episode 2,” really drives home the point that people send themselves to Hell. If they believe in it, then that’s where their eternal soul goes after death.)
We get the overzealous mother, the violent and sadistic bullies, the murder victim, the young boy who committed suicide, the one who overdosed… all of them come back to St. Hilarion. All of them have their own ideas of how to spend their second life. (Is it really a life???) The headmaster’s mother is ready to take control of her son, and the matron is ready to have more time with her children. Yeah, and one of them is a deformed fetus? What the fuck? Charles is then promptly bullied by the Old Boys, who we learn were the ones who murdered Edwin, Charles’s only friend. Yeah, apparently killing people in ritual sacrifices to the Devil doesn’t work. Who would have thought???
It’s at this point that chaos takes hold of the school, and no one seems to be around to stop the three Old Boys from ruthlessly torturing Charles, which eventually leads to his death. Oh, Death. She shows up to take him away, and she’s wearing her best outfit yet. But I was touched that Charles refused to leave with Death if Edwin couldn’t come with him. He had found a friend (albeit a dead one), and he wasn’t going to leave him behind. I really hope this isn’t a one-off, because there’s something appealing about these two characters going off to explore the world. There’s also a fascinating parallel between them and Lucifer. All of them are free from their responsibilities (at least temporarily), and the whole world is now before them. The possibilities are endless, and I hope I get to see what they are.
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