Mark Reads ‘The Sandman’: 8×01 – A Tale of Two Cities

In the fifty-first issue of The Sandman, a couple crashes in the midst of a snowstorm in June, and they seek comfort in an inn at the end of the world. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Sandman.

“A Tale of Two Cities”

You know, I make hyperbolic statements so often in the Mark Does Stuff universe that I’m pretty sure if you compiled them all, you’d see a portrait of a man who regularly contradicts himself. That’s okay. I’m pretty ridiculous anyway, so it doesn’t bother me. I was reading “A Tale of Two Cities” and thinking, “MY GOD THIS IS THE BEST ISSUE YET BECAUSE OF THIS REASON AND THAT REASON,” and then I remembered that I’ve already said that like ten times so far. It’s the nature of doing what I do. Until I’ve finished, I’ve always got an incomplete view of the grand picture. Something might be the best thing I’ve read or watched at the time, but opinions change over time.

I honestly don’t believe that’s the case here. I want to re-read this issue a million times, and this is why it resonates so powerfully within me:

H.P. Lovecraft

The dude is problematic, and I remember the day I discovered what a horrific racist he was. It sucked! I felt personally betrayed once I discovered it. There’s no “but” to this. It was hard for me not to see his fucked up ideas about race and cultural preservation in some of his stories. I guess it hit me so hard because I was reading Lovecraft by the time I was nine, and it took over a decade for me to not only learn about his history, but to critically engage with his own work on a level that brought forth his ugly ideas.

Like Tolkien’s unfortunate race comments (though let’s be real here, THEY ARE NOWHERE NEAR AS BAD AS LOVECRAFT’S), I’m at a point in my life where I personally am able to still look past it and appreciate a lot of his philosophical points and his storytelling. Should you? Nope. You should be able to choose how you deal with this sort of thing, and I’d support you either way. (Which is, in part, what I hope to do with Mark Does Stuff. I want to critically engage with fictional stories, and support folks to share their thoughts and feelings on issues like this.)

So even if I am still conflicted by my own past with H.P. Lovecraft, I also can’t deny he’s had a profound affect on my own tastes and on what I find frightening. I don’t even think that I am giving some ~super special reading” to “A Tale of Two Cities.” To me, this is obviously a love letter to the very thing H.P. Lovecraft was so good at: hidden worlds. Much of Lovecraft’s horror is derived from humans discovering something that should have otherwise never been uncovered. The unsettling experience that Robert has inside of his city’s dream is only made worse when it’s revealed at the end that Robert fears cities waking up. Now that is a Lovecraft-ian idea if I’ve ever seen one. IT’S SO EERIE.

I Love Cities

I grew up in a moderately small town sixty-five miles east of Los Angeles, and from a very young age, I didn’t feel like I belonged there. I’ve always been attracted to large, bustling cityscapes. Despite that I do love escaping the busy atmosphere of the city from time to time, I really can’t live anywhere else but a giant metropolis. Yes, it’s easier for me to eat as a vegan, and there’s always something to do, but I’m attracted to big cities because they are fucking weird. As I read this issue, I was reminded of the years I spent living in Los Angeles proper, only taking the Metro or riding my bike around town. Like Robert, I got to see multiple sides of the city that no one else even knew existed. I was just talking about this a week ago, but I knew people who lived their entire lives in Los Angeles and had no idea we had a subway. News flash: THERE IS A SUBWAY IN LOS ANGELES. I liked it! But it was fucking weird. I lived in downtown for a while, and I saw so many things that made no sense at all. It was half the appeal of the place!

But I also spent a great deal of time exploring. I have no plans to ever live in Los Angeles again. However, I must admit that the city has a fascinating history, and getting to learn about it first-hand was one of my favorite things about living there. I used to go on the monthly RIDE-Arc rides, where I’d learn about the cities bizarre architecture, get after-hours lectures at historical places in the city, and generally go places in the middle of the night that no one frequented, like the morgue, or abandoned storm drains, or the old cable car tunnels under the cities, or the network of passages connecting buildings downtown. I would take a new way home on my bike often, turning down an unfamiliar street just to see what I might find.

I still do that a lot up here in the Bay, though it’s for a totally different reason: this is all very new to me. I am exploring not because I’m bored with where I live, but because there’s so much I haven’t seen.

The Art

ohhhhhh myyyyy gooodddd THIS ISSUE IS SO BEAUTIFUL. I love that it opens in a very traditional way during the introduction of Brant and Charlene. The contrast is a little higher when compared to other Sandman issues, but it’s a traditional comic book layout. But once Mister Gaheris begins his tale, the entire format of a comic book is thrown away. We get batches of prose, stretched across the white page, and these wide, eerie panels with disjointed, pale colors. The most important color is black in every panel that Alex Stevens draws, and the panoramic views give the entirety of “A Tale of Two Cities” a dream-like quality.

And look, it’s not like the story itself needs the artwork to be tolerable or anything. This is such a creepy story, and the artwork essentially completes it. They both compliment each other brilliantly!

So yeah, I enjoyed this issue. COULD YOU TELL. Also, I was so wrong about what Worlds’ End would be about. Sigh. Well, at least Dream showed up once! And a Death look-a-like, too. (I’m pretty sure that wasn’t her.) ONWARDS, AS I CONTINUE TO BE UNPREPARED.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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