Our assignment this week for our Sandman reading was to read the issue “Passengers”.
Here’s my idea for the spoilers that happen in collections we have not yet cracked: please rot13 them. That’s a simple encryption that will allow the folks who want to avoid spoilers to avoid them and allow the people who want to argue them to argue them.
We good? We good! Everybody who has done the reading, see you after the cut!
The last of the Sam Kieth comics opens just outside of Arkham Asylum. For those of you who aren’t hip to the DC Universe, Arkham is the Asylum for the Criminally Insane in Gotham City… that is, the Asylum where most of Batman’s bad guys tend to end up. The first panel tells us that we’re going to be listening to the theme song of Alfred Hitchcock Presents: “Funeral March of a Marionette”
From the television comes the words “Good Evening, Fellow Tourists… I think this proves in some ways that the airplane can never replace the train.” Doing some googling tells me that Alfred Hitchcock was giving this monologue from some train tracks that he had been tied to. “Don’t Interrupt” is the name of the episode. The IMDB tells us that the plot summary for that episode is: “Radio warns of a mental patient escaped from a hospital into a severe New Mexico blizzard. At the rail-stop near the sanitarium, a huge, old cowboy boards the train & calms a rattled family with tall tales of the West, as the besieged train grinds to a halt. Totally entranced is the family’s young boy, dressed as a gunslinger. Is the patient the old cowpoke?”
As this is going on, we see Doctor Destiny in the process of escaping.
Now, you may be interested to know that Doctor Destiny was, traditionally, a bad guy who fought against the Justice League, like, back in the 1960’s. He had a “materioptikon” (a “dream stone”) that he used to fight them. Well, this is too rich a vein to not tap… and so we see Doctor Destiny explain to The Scarecrow that he wants to get his “mat-er-i-op-ti-kon” back and take over the world with it. (Of course, this ruby is the third of Dream’s items that he needs back in order to regain his full power.)
The scene with the Scarecrow pretty much establishes two things: the first is that Dream is doing his thing in the DC Universe and not some offshoot “Earth-D” kinda place. The second is that we’re in one of the stories where normal people (like the guards at Arkham) get killed… just in time to see Doctor Destiny hijack a lady driving a car.
Our next interlude is that we find ourselves in a nightmare being experienced by Scott Free (Mister Miracle) in which we see his adolescence on Apokolips and find that he doesn’t know what his real name is… he wakes up and Dream is there and, in response to being asked “who are you?”, rubs it in: “You want a name, ‘Scott Free’?”
Cut to Doctor Destiny having a conversation with Rosemary in which he is unfailingly polite and apologizes for scaring her, we watch her learn that Doctor D has escaped from Arkham and we see her give the Doc a coat of her husband’s.
Dream and Mister Miracle are talking about the various trophies collected from the various villians defeated in the past. Was it in this trophy room or that one? If it was in that one, it was destroyed… who would know? Who was part of the Justice League the last time Doctor D was defeated? Who would know where the ruby is? Scott snaps his fingers as he remembers who would know…
And we cut to Doctor Destiny explaining that he doesn’t call himself that anymore. Just Doctor John Dee. Doctor Dee. We find out that the lady driving the car is Rosemary (“for remembering”) and we establish that Doctor Dee was one of those supervillians who went to the basement of Arkham years ago and was forgotten. (According to canon, he looks the way he does because he needed to be able to dream to use the Materioptikon and the JLA took away his ability to dream before leaving him in that basement in Arkham. Years of dreamless sleep will do some awful things to a guy, it seems.)
J’onn J’onzz, The Martian Manhunter, is the one who would remember where the trophies would be kept… it seems that he also remembers Dream. Dream was known to the Martians as well. Lord L’Zoril. J’onn tells Dream where the ruby is (in storage, a town called Mayhew) and, as a reward, Dream tells J’onn that he may dream of the City of Focative Mirrors and tells Scott Free that he hopes he finds his name. After Dream leaves, J’onn explains to Scott (and to us) that Dream was a god… a very old god.
And Doctor Dee tells us the secret of the ruby. It’s a dream in itself. A powerful dream. A dream capable of making other dreams real and a dream that he had changed to make it so that he was the only one who could use it… uh-oh.
Dream explains how he travels… he jumps from dream to dream. He need not use only human dreams either, a dream of a dog of the dog’s past life (in which the dog was also a dog) was good enough to get him a step or two. He finds the storage area and, much like the Doctor Dee did at the beginning of the book, takes out a guard (sleep is much kinder than death, however). Dream finds the gem, the gem that Doctor Dee has twisted and tainted and made his own and holds it and… WHAM. Out like a candle, lying on the ground.
Doctor Dee and Rosemary pull up and Doctor Dee exchanges pleasantries with Rosemary before shooting her in the head… and then he steps over Dream to take back his mat-er-i-op-ti-kon and can’t help but notice that it’s much more powerful now.
And then we see Doctor Dee walk into a diner where he tells the waitress that he’s waiting for the end of the world.
I’ve gotta say. I had forgotten how dark and troublesome these stories could be. Poor Rosemary. Poor Harry and Aimee and Jessie. The one consolation we were given was by The Scarecrow, of all people, when he explained to Doctor Dee that he’ll come back to Arkham because “we always come back”.
Well. If we’re bad guys, anyway.
Now, there were a handful of folks who didn’t think that this issue was all that. It was a simple point A to point B issue. I didn’t get that from this. I think the issue did three fairly important things. It established that we’re in the DCU. It established that Dream was an established power in that universe and that characters as rich and well-respected as Martian Manhunter saw Dream as a powerful entity, and it also performed a retcon on a B-level JLA villain that not only picked him out of the basement and blew the dust off of him, it also established him as an obstacle on a level equal to that of a Demon powerful enough that the folks in charge of Hell Itself would know his name. That’s in addition to the minor things like setting up that we are, in fact, in a book that can and will tell horror stories and establishing more and more of Dream’s abilities. My take on the story was that it wasn’t about getting from A to B as much as establishing why we need to start from A before we can get to B.
This is the story Gaiman needs to tell you before he can tell you the next one.
So… what did you think?