Welcome to the inn between realms, where travelers shelter from reality storms and share stories to pass the time. Sandman Volume 8: Worlds’ End is my favorite sort of Sandman collection. Namely, the sort that features one-off tales in service of a grander theme and only tangentially related to the ongoing saga of Dream and the Endless.
Worlds’ End takes place in the tavern of the same name, a waystation offering protection and lodging when a reality storm occurs. Brant Tucker and his workplace acquaintance Charlene are driving to Chicago in search of new software jobs when a mysterious storm strikes. Brant crashes the car, and a voice guides the pair to the inn, where people and creatures of mystical and whimsical origins are sharing stories to wait out the maelstrom.
Though the stories may not slot neatly into the larger Sandman narrative, Worlds’ End reprises characters from volumes past and brings new players to the table. It’s a Chaucerian romp through stories of heroes and survivors, and many tales have other stories nestled within them. The result is a layered and complex but beautiful Sandman outing.
Five stories grace the pages of Sandman Volume 8:
- “A Tale Of Two Cities,” in which a man slip’s into a city’s dream and wanders it, seeking answers.
- “Cluracan’s Tale,” in which the Faerie Cluracan ventures to Aurelian to represent the Fae interests in the city’s politics. Chaos ensues.
- “Hob’s Leviathan,” in which a young girl disguised as a boy travels on a ship accompanied by Hob Gadling and a stowaway with a fantastical story.
- “The Golden Boy,” in which a young, charismatic man becomes president after Richard Nixon, solves many societal issues, and is frequently visited by a mysterious man named Boss Smiley.
- “Cerements,” in which Necropolitans bury a corpse and share stories according to the customs of the deceased.
These are all united by a frame narrative of the various storytellers (and listeners) cavorting in the Worlds’ End. Mostly, Brant Tucker walks around intensely confused while the more knowledgeable and calm patrons offer him precious few answers.
And the stories themselves? They are unilaterally excellent. World’s End is, by far, my favorite of the short-story Sandman volumes. Each tale boasts a distinct style. “A Tale Of Two Cities” has a prose-like style with long, horizontal panels that capture the piecemeal structure of a city’s dream. “Cluracan’s Tale” is a fantasy political epic with a pithy protagonist. “Hob’s Leviathan” feels like a sea shanty come to life on the page. “Cerements” blends horror and mystery and fantasy to create a campfire-story feel.
“The Golden Boy,” however, takes the cake. It feels strikingly relevant. Prez Rickard is the classic American teenager, and he grows up expecting to run for president someday. Throughout his young life, he’s visited by Boss Smiley, a suit-donning god-like being whose head is a giant smiley face. Prez eschews Boss’s offers for help, instead deciding to carve his own path. When Prez becomes…prez, he solves many of the world’s problems. And when he leaves office, he becomes the stuff of legend. The ending is striking and sad and somewhat funny, though of course I won’t spoil it here. Prez’s rise to political power and peaceful transition back to private citizenship is starkly relevant in today’s climate. If someone comes around and solves all of our collective problems, what happens when that person isn’t around to work their magic anymore? What good is a savior after they disappear and the saved must now function on their own? “The Golden Boy” addresses these questions with such resolve that the story feels current, though it was published in the 90s.
Worlds’ End collects five amazing stories, harmonized by a fun frame narrative. Sandman functions best in this storytelling zone, with Morpheus a very present but shadowy figure taking action only when necessary. I love a good Morpheus-centric tale, but Dream-adjacent tales hit just as hard, if not harder.