Thursday, March 10, 2016

Sandman #12 (1990)


Sandman #12 (January, 1990)

"The Doll's House, Part 3: Playing House"
Writer - Neil Gaiman
Penciller - Chris Bachalo
Inker - Malcolm Jones
Colorist - Robbie Busch
Letterer - John Costanza
Associate Editor - Art Young
Editor - Karen Berger
Cover Price: $1.50

This is one of those issues I'll always remember buying.

It was the summer of 2011, and the wife and I were browsing a Half-Price Books.  It was a weekday, which was odd for us, as we normally visit our haunts on the weekends.  My work schedule at the time gave me a day off during the week, and my wife the school teacher was on her summer break.

My normal M.O. at Half-Price Books is to scour the quarter-bins first, then move on to the "non-clearance" area.  On this day, the quarter-bin gods were not really smiling on me.  The only book I nabbed was this issue of Sandman.  It was bagged and boarded, however.

I moved my attention to the regular bins, and shuffled through the X-Men books as I'd often do... not expecting anything besides some post-Claremont and Age of Apocalypse era issues... Imagine my surprise when the first six comics behind the X-Men divider were...


I mean... are you kidding me?  I gotta be dreaming right?  All six of these issues were a buck each.  I plucked 'em outta the bins like I was stealing something and bee-lined it over to the wife.  She did not understand the significance of what I was showing her, but I was babbling like an idiot I'm sure.

Acting like I actually was stealing something, I told her I wanted to leave right away... feeling as though somehow I was going to lose out on this deal.  Something was going to happen to stop me from leaving the store with my bounty.

I've had experiences at local comics shops where I'd come across a decent-to-great find in the bins, only to be told at the register that the price sticker was "wrong"... or they were in the midst of "re-pricing" all of the back issues, and offer to sell me a book with a $2.00 sticker for upwards of $5.00.  Luckily, those shops have all fallen by the wayside... I was still a bit shell-shocked, however, at the prospect of losing out on this day.

At the register I was greeted by a fella around my age with thick rimmed glasses and a sad attempt at a lumberjack beard.  I was hoping I'd be checking out with one of the more mature women who worked there... they'd likely have no idea what they were looking at... hell, it was probably one of them that slapped the $1.00 price tag on these to begin with.

Anyhoo... I placed my finds on the counter, stepped back, and held my breath.  Palms sweaty, I fiddled with my wallet... and then I heard it.

"You've gotta be kidding me!" the cashier exclaimed.


Crud... I'm screwed.  I looked up at him, teeth chattering... eyebrows anxiously raised...

"I can't believe we..." he continued...

"Put an issue of Sandman in the quarter-bin!"

Wait... what?!?  This guy's got the complete Days of Future Past in front of him... and he's questioning the store's pricing of a random issue of Sandman.  I shrugged it off, and said something along the lines of "yeah, go figure... lucky me".  I paid the man and left.

I will always remember this issue of Sandman for the story of its procurement... is the story within worth remembering as well?  Let's find out...

--

We open on a woman named Lyta (Hippolyta Hall... I think she was the Golden-Age Fury) who is currently with child.  She is living in a dome in what she believes to be the Dream Dimension with her recently deceased-then-reincarnated husband, Hector Hall (son of Hawkman and Hawkgirl... former Silver Scarab... future Dr. Fate... current, "Sandman").

Hector believes himself to be the Sandman, the true God of Dreams.  He has been given his title by a pair of rogue dreams, Brute and Glob.  He is apparently only able to leave the Dream Dimension for one hour a day.  Brute and Glob warn him about a "Nightmare Monster" who threatens the dome.

Lyta wishes to speak with Hector, she is concerned that they have been in the Dream Dimension for several years at this point, and she still has yet to deliver their baby.  Hector shrugs it off, telling her the stork was simply having trouble locating them in the Dome.  With that, the new Sandman heads back to continue observation on the Nightmare Monster.


We shift scenes to an old couple berating a young boy.  The boy is Jed, and he is their current ward.  They couple keep him locked in the basement so that they may collect his state benefits ($800/month).  The old man warns the boy not to tell the soon-to-visit social worker about his mistreatment, and slugs him in the gut for good measure before locking him back downstairs.


Back in the Dome, Hector is monitoring the incoming Nightmare Monster while Brute and Glob look on.  It turns out the Nightmare Monster is actually the God of Dreams, Morpheus and the rogue dreams are using Hector so that they may have complete control of the Dreaming.  We observe Lyta reflecting on how they came to be in the Dream Dimension... her thoughts are interrupted by Hector who informs her he is off to dispatch the Nightmare Monster.



We move to rural Georgia, where we see a woman named Rose Walker and an older man named Gilbert tending to their broken down automobile.  They find themselves having to walk to a nearby motel, where they talk the man behind the counter into giving them a room for the evening.  They must be gone first thing the next morning, as the motel will be completely booked for a "cereal convention".

Still in Georgia, though now in Atlanta... we view a scene via first-person perspective.  An individual is about to be mugged by a pair of young men.  The thugs are shocked when the individual's eyes bite off some of their fingers.  He then picks up one of their knives and... we shift scenes.


Back in the Dream Dimension, Hector approaches the Nightmare Monster.  As he draws closer, we rejoin the young boy Jed who appears to be deeply affected by the proceedings.  Hall threatens all the ways he will defeat the Nightmare Monster.  Morpheus is curious... he asks where his "masters" are... he asks who he thinks he is... When Hall introduces himself as the Sandman, Morpheus breaks down in hysterical laughter.  Shortly after Jed appears to break free of the basement.

Morpheus greets Brute and Glob, and asks that they explain their actions.  They come clean, confessing that they were looking for a Dream King that they may have control over.  They'd tried with a living specimen, Garrett Sanford... however, he could not take the pressure and wound up taking his own life.  The rogues then turned their sights to the already-dead Hector Hall.


Promising to clean up their mess, Morpheus exiles Brute and Glob to the darkness.  Lyta begins to lose touch with the Dream Dimension, she's suddenly sensing familiar Earthly smells.  They appear to now be in the basement where Jed was held captive by his abusers.

Morpheus, setting things right, returns Hector to the realm of the dead while Lyta protests.  She strikes out at him, which Morpheus forgives as she is currently grieving.  Lyla is returned to the world of the living, and before he leaves, Morpheus tells her that one day he will be back for her child.


Before we close, we watch as young Jed is hitchhiking.  He is picked up by the man who killed the two thugs earlier in the Atlanta alley... and we are... [to be continued...]


--

... and with this issue, I have no idea why I've avoided this series so long.  I enjoyed this far more than I thought I would.  I guess it stands to reason that sometimes the popular opinion is right on the money.  This is an amazing issue that includes some long-standing DC characters in situations I had never expected.  I'm definitely going to have to work my way through this series in the near future.  I own the entire thing, just never felt motivated enough to plow through it.

Although I was coming in relatively blind, it did not take me too long to get my bearings.  Even in the days without text-recap pages, I was able to follow along (for the most part, I'm sure there are a few nuances and beats I missed).  The writing was very even, it did not dwell in what came before and it did not move forward at a break-neck pace.  My joining in on the echo of heaping praise on Neil Gaiman's writing and storytelling mastery is really no big surprise.  Again... sometimes the popular opinion is the right one.

Late last week I had an exchange with Jim from Weird Science DC Comics in the comments of my ElfQuest 25th Anniversary Special piece wherein we discussed avoiding books that are hyped up, and the stubbornness that goes into such behavior.  I'd long kept away from the Sandman simply because it was so hyped.  I'm comfortable saying that I was wrong to do so, and I am now hopeful and optimistic that the rest of the series meets my new raised level of expectation.

I first encountered Chris Bachalo's art during his run with Scott Lobdell on Generation X.  I was immediately blown away.  His work had such style, and looked different than anything else at that time... while still somehow maintaining a classic comic book feel.  I loved it there, and I really dig it here.  He is not quite to his Generation X (and beyond) level here, but it will get no complaints from me.  Looking back, I always enjoy his work on the proto-Vertigo titles, such as this and Shade the Changing Man.  He has the ability to craft a wonderful atmosphere with the potential to be simultaneously scary and somewhat comfortable.

I feel funny recommended a book that I'd aggressively avoided in the past... but, here we are.  May read better in trade, though, I am admittedly ignorant of that at this moment.  Worth tracking down for sure... but you didn't need me to tell you that...

--

Interesting Ads:

Brian Thomsen always seemed like he'd be a neat guy to talk to. 
See this a lot in the quarter-bin... Sadly, it's a New Format book,
meaning that the 25-cent sticker will mess up the cover art.
Speaking of books I've avoided due to hype...
Ehh, one of these days.
Wow.  I wouldn't mind if my comments came in on used Kleenex.
Once more, let's look at how inexpensive this hobby was...

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