The Sandman: The Doll's House (Volume 2)
Written by Neil Gaiman
Art by Dave McKean (covers), Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III, Chris Bachalo, Michael Zulli and Steve Parkhouse
DC Comics/Vertigo (1995)
Comics / Fantasy / Horror
Neil Gaiman is a twisted individual.
I’m almost tempted to stop there and make that my entire review. It sums up this volume of Sandman the best way I could imagine. It is twisted, disturbing, disgusting and all around horrific. There were points where I nearly had to put the book down for fear of becoming physically ill. I suppose that’s a testament to the artwork though, right? They took Gaiman’s twisted imagination and created equally twisted images that reflected his ideas perfectly. While it wasn’t to my taste, I can still see the artistry of it all.
Let’s start from the beginning: if volume 1 was the simple hero’s journey, volume 2 is the more complex deconstructing and determining the uses and purposes of storytelling. Dream’s servant Lucien conducts a census of the dreamland’s inhabitants to find four “Major Arcana” are missing – Brute & Glob, the Corinthian and Fiddler’s Green. By the end, all four have been located, but not before some of them do a lot of damage. Lucien also informs Dream that a new vortex housed in a human girl has been found and could potentially destroy all of the Dreaming if she isn’t stopped.
Meanwhile, in the real world, one of the women who suffered from a long term sleeping sickness in the previous volume is renewed with the family she has never met. Rose Walker, our resilient protagonist for this story arc and grand-daughter to the old woman, is sent on a mission to locate her missing little brother in Florida. She of course crosses paths with crazies, creepies and all manners of whackadoos before the story concludes.
Our first look at Desire and Despair come early on and, for the most part, their exchange remains cryptic and unexplained until the very end. I think the depictions of Desire are my favorite of the whole book. Both male and female, the artists seem to oscillate between slightly more feminine features in one shot and slightly more masculine in others. Whether it was purposeful or not, it plays well and gives another dimension to Desire’s character without the need for extra exposition.
And of course, Dave McKean’s issue covers and extra art scattered throughout the pages are dark, creepy, and ominous without having to be graphic or necessarily disturbing. I’ve always admired his mixed media art, and once again, he uses the style masterfully. Illustrators Mike Dringenberg and Malcolm Jones III did all the issues in the main The Doll’s House storyline, which allowed for consistency in character, and yet, by the time we reach the climax of the story, taking place in the Dreaming, the art style changes, dramatically at times. I was very impressed.
Gaiman has an ability to create scenes that will stick with you forever, and not in a good way. For example, in his novel American Gods in the very first chapter, the goddess Bast has turned to prostitution to find tributes which she consumes during sex. And by consumes, I don’t mean with her mouth. Even if you forget the rest of the book, that imagine sticks. He does the same thing here with the Corinthian. With the addition of the amazing group of artists, an idea of a nightmare created by a demi-god becomes real, an actual walking nightmare that inspires people to follow his ways. And his ways aren’t so nice.
In the middle of all this crazy, there’s an interlude that tells the story of a man who refuses to die and, since Death only takes the willing, he lives forever. Every 100 years, he meets with Dream in a pub and tells him about what has occurred in his life since they last met, over the course of six centuries. Brief cameos by William Shakespeare and an earlier Constantine relative tie it into general history and DC cannon, respectively. It’s one of those “the more things change, the more they stay the same” sort of parables and demonstrates that perhaps, yes, Dream is capable of having a mostly functional relationship with a human being. Mostly it’s a respite from the gruesome darkness of the story that is only about to get worse.
And now we get to a major plot spoiler:
Rose, in her search for her missing brother, ends up in a hotel that is hosting a “Cereal Convention”. She believes this is some sort of breakfast fandom convention and thinks nothing of it (other than it's a bit weird). It should actually be called a “Serial Convention”. In reality, it’s a convention for Collectors, mass murderers who collect things from their victims – “leather” neckties, lips, or, in the case of the Corinthian, eyes. These serial killers all look like mild mannered business people, and speak candidly and openly about their habits as though their behavior is perfectly normal.
This is where I started feeling a bit queasy. And why I won’t mention anything further.
Despite it all, I can’t deny that the story is good, that the artwork fits perfectly with the demented plot it showcases. In the end, good beats evil or at least “the least evil” beats “the worst evil” and there’s a bit of a happily ever after with the hint of “things aren’t yet over”. Our understanding of the Dreaming has increased exponentially through the existence of the vortex and the effect the runaway nightmares have had on a select portion of the human population. I can’t imagine it getting any more graphic, though with Gaiman, you really can’t ever tell.
Twisted, disturbing, and not for the weak of stomach; great artwork as expected; the plot was just a little too much for me
WARNING: Features child abuse, graphic depictions of violence, cannibalism, and other disturbing imagery