Welcome back to the land of dreams, ruled by the aloof and mysterious Morpheus. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series once again impresses and delights in volume two, grounding the ongoing story of Morpheus and his macabre cadre in the goings-on of our own world. To marvelous effect, The Doll’s House intertwines a litany of narratives, forming an addictive collection of graphic tales that you shouldn’t miss.
The Doll’s House follows Rose Walker, a 21-year-old woman caught in the web of muddled dreams left by Morpheus’ long imprisonment in volume one. After a mysterious benefactor flies Rose and her mother Miranda out to England, they both discover their lives are tied to happenings they can barely understand. The resulting story resounds with dreamlike horrors, wonders, and devastation.
The primary story arc of The Doll’s House focuses on Rose, and it exceeds even the dreamy heights of Preludes & Nocturnes. Rose encounters an offputting cast of roommates in Florida; each housemate has his or her own quirks, and together they’re a remarkable collection of oddities. Among them: a painfully “normal” couple named Barbie and Ken; two sisters (lovers? mother-daughter?) who speak in vague platitudes and wear white veils; Hal, the landlord, who moonlights as a drag queen named Dolly; and Gilbert, a jolly old monocle-wearing fellow. Gaiman and the miraculous team of artists behind Sandman bring a colorful cast to life and make them feel real, even as these characters portray the most cookie-cutter archetypes or undergo the most fantastical transformations.
The dramatic irony at play here is exquisite. Rose gives us a real-world lens through which we can view these characters. She gives us the understanding that there’s something “off” about these people, but because she’s so committed to regaining her life after her past threatens to tear it apart, she goes along for the ride. All the while, Morpheus lingers in the background, watching lesser mystical beings attempt to yank the strings surrounding Rose. This offers the reader a semblance of truth—a luxury Rose can’t enjoy. We know the dream world reaches its dark tendrils into our lands, and as we watch it happen, it lifts the veil and busts the story wide open. As Morpheus looks on, we begin to grasp his interest in Rose, and the pieces of the puzzle slowly crawl together. By the end of this tome, I was stunned. The stories within mesh perfectly, forming a tapestry of dream-adjacent tales. Combined the big picture is incredibly beautiful.
Nestled in the middle of Rose and Morpheus’ story, you’ll find a compact, one-issue tale dubbed “Men of Good Fortune.” In it, Morpheus meets an Englishman named Hob Gadling who refuses to die: “It’s rubbish, death. It’s stupid. And I don’t want nothing to do with it.” An intrigued Morpheus strikes up a conversation with Gadling. They chat about death and agree to meet at the same bar on the same day 100 years later.
So it goes. 100 years later, Morpheus and Hob sit down again, embroiled in the events of the day and meeting famous figures of history (it’s hinted that Geoffrey Chaucer was in the bar the first time they met. The next time, good ol’ Bill Shakespeare makes an appearance). Morpheus and Gadling meet every 100 years, each time discussing the events of the day and whether Gadling is ready to die. Each time they meet provides an excellent commentary on the history of the time they’re in, and Gadling’s involvement isn’t always benevolent in nature. “Men of Good Fortune” hits hard and serves as a wonderful intermission for Rose’s story, even surpassing it in quality at times. When Netflix’s Sandman adaptation releases, I hope this issue gets its own full episode.
Overall, The Sandman continues to worm its way into my favorite graphic novels list. Gaiman and co. tell amazing stories that stand the test of time and subvert expectations in a refreshing way. Onward to Volume Three!