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!

#5 Passengers

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?


Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to


  1. Great catch on the fact that the particular Hitchcock ep is actually thematically appropriate. I never would have caught that.

    When I go to wiki, they have this picture for Dr. Destiny. Whatever this comic was, I must have had it as a kid, because I remember this picture, with the energy bars and clock.

    In “Imperfect Hosts” we learn that not only does Dee no longer dream, he no longer sleeps either. So that will screw you up, apparently.

    Over in the AVClub comments, someone mentioned that Dee’s convo with Scarecrow was originally supposed to be with Joker, but at that point in DC history Joker was dead for 6 months (presumably for tax purposes.)

    In the body of that same AVClub article, an interesting point was made: Martian Manhunter sees Morpheus in a form familiar to him culturally (as did Nada). In a meta touch, Morpheus appears to us, the readers, in a form familiar to us – as a pale, skinny storyteller, clad in black. Maybe like say this one.

    I found this interesting, from here:

    Panel 4

    The City of Focative Mirrors is evidently a throwaway Martian cultural reference. From context, it might be assumed to be roughly equivalent to Heaven…Morpheus’ offer is somewhat oddly phrased. We can look at the word “Focative”. There are three morphemes here, foc-, -ate, and -ive. -ate turns a noun into a verb, and -ive turns a verb into an adjective. Foc- would appear to be from the Latin for “hearth”, which became “focus” in English. Strictly morphologically, we may then interpret “focative” to mean “focusing”, as in a lens, or perhaps “fiery” or “heat-giving”. However, if we turn to Shakespeare, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Act IV, Scene 1, lines 42-46 we see a comic routine on, among other things, the “focative” case, with wordplay involving carets (referring to the phallic shape of a carrot) and roots. In other words, Shakespeare is punning on “fuck” (whose etymology makes interesting, if inelegant, dinner conversation). In this context, it appears that Dream is giving J’onn permission to have an erotic dream–especially frustrating for the last survivor of an entire species! Giving Gaiman’s known Shakespearean leanings, this may very well be the interpretation he meant.

    “D is for lots of things”.

    • I never, ever would have guessed that about the city of focative mirrors. I just assumed that it was a place that, like Heaven, Martians would sometimes dream of.

      Given that particular permission for that particular interpretation, it seems odd to go for some cookies instead.

      • Me neither. City of Focative Mirrors just sounded like Bradbury to me. But given what we know of Gaiman, this interpretation doesn’t seem out of the question.

  2. Don’t have a major opinions on this one. It was fun to see the Justice League, complete with Martian Manhunter (and the picture of Dream as he sees him is pretty cool). And I’m a fan of overly formal speech patterns, particularly when they’re incongruous with the content (“I have a secret stash of Oreos of which you are welcome to partake). So on the whole, yes, I agree that it’s significant that this issue establishes that this is the for-real DC-verse – nygubhtu gung qbrfa’g frrz gb pbzr vagb cynl gung zhpu nsgre guvf obbx (I’m up to the end of book 5), so it’s not hugely important for the story as a whole.

    The full-page panel of Morpheus moving through dreams is neat.

    The bitterly unpleasant ending to a hostage trying to be friendly to and empathize with her captor is well done.

    I’m not actually particularly interested in Dr. Dee.

    • Yeah, the series doesn’t *NEED* to be in the DCU (though you may be interested to hear that Gaiman’s Hell becomes a setting for major storylines in both Lobo (for laughs) and The Demon (for laughs that sort of die in your throat)) but Gaiman was probably told to tie it in to everything and he just sort of shrugged and took that attitude that if that is the price of writing his comic then he would pay it.

      • Well, and, Gaiman *likes* superheroes and likes writing about them – cf. Marvel 1602 and the Eternals thing. I suspect he also liked the DC universe and had a fan’s enjoyment of fitting the pieces together (even though they are peripheral fits).

        • Those writers from across the pond like to deal with more peripheral characters. I think it is because it gives them a lot of freedom to do what they want with them without worrying as much about the status quo. You cannot kill The Joker or Scarcrow, but Dr. Destiny would not be missed, nor do most people have a strong idea of who he should be. On the other hand, if you do remember him, it is a nice treat to see him show up.

    • We’ll see Gaiman poking around a the edges of the Superhero world again, often for one-shots like the one with ryrzrag tvey but the tale of vasvavgl vap. ren Fnaqzna & Shel jvyy or n znwbe pbzcbarag bs gur frevrf’ pbapyhfvba.

    • And I’m a fan of overly formal speech patterns, particularly when they’re incongruous with the content

      You would love Jack Vance.

  3. The reason I’ve never read The Satanic Verses is that I figured I’d miss so many references to Islam and the Koran that I’d be lost. I’m starting to feel like that here.

    • For what it’s worth, I found that layman knowledge of the religion (as well as, yes, amateur historian level knowledge of the other Abrahamic religions in general) was sufficient. I found the references to Bollywood more alien than the talk of Islam.

      It’s as much a book about being Indian in Britain as it is about belief and Islam.

      It’s not exactly a Muslim Last Temptation of Christ. It’s more of a Muslim Last Temptation of Brian.

      If you know what I mean.

      • I agree with Jaybird’s description here, except that I’ve seen more Bollywood films than I’ve read of the Koran. I’ve read enough other stories told in the Arabian Nights style (e.g. “The Hakawati,” oh, and there’s at least one in our somniloquent future!) that I felt I understood most of what Rushdie was getting at with his Muhammed exploration.

    • Mike, I didn’t get a lot of them first time around- still don’t get all of them. People like JB and Patrick are far more comics-savvy than I. But if you can let that go – let it wash over you, like a dream, appropriately, just taking what you can while letting the rest flow by – I think you may find a lot to like. You strike me as a guy who doesn’t mind puzzles.

    • Everybody is going to miss references in Gaiman, because he makes so many references to so many things. Don’t feel left out. Sure you’ll miss some comic book references, but in a few weeks I’ll be missing music references and there will be nary a superhero to be seen.

      • It is like watching the Marx brothers. Some things might sail past you or not be to your taste, but there is so much going on that it is hard not to find something to enjoy.

    • How i felt with gibson. so. fucking. dense.
      It’s the fact that certain folks don’t try to explain anything…

  4. I always find it interesting how when on a quest in a book they always pick the right way to go and pick the easiest item first and then the next hardest, and so on. I liked how Dream even said this when picking his bag of sand first and then the helmet, but how did he know the stone would be the hardest?

    I liked the bit with the J’onn and it is even funnier with Glyph’s interpetation. They are going for cookies… could a little tossing of them happen?

  5. I don’t have a ton to add to this, but the next issue is one of my favorites in the whole series. For whatever that says about me.

    • (Edges away from Ryan, until he is safely in the next thread) 😉

      • I have to say, I am not a huge fan of the next story. I think that main reason is that it makes me uncomfortable to read it. On the other hand, I think it was the goal of Mr. Gaiman to make the reader uncomfortable, and it that is truly the case he was right on target.

        • It makes me uncomfortable too, but it is a great piece of work IMO for that reason. Unsettling people is no easy task. It’s really well-done.

          • It’s weird. Sandman was a horror title (it was certainly marketed as such… “I will show you terror in a handful of dust” and whatnot) but my memories of the series aren’t of the horror things. They’re of the theological discussions found here or there. They’re in the little moments like the ceramic masks being used as ashtrays or the shout-out to Windsor McCay.

            And now I’m going back and re-remembering 24 Hours.

            Oh yeah. This was a horror title.

          • I’d say the tone changes really dramatically at issue… 8? But until then, it was most def a horror title, and a really effective one.

            There’s also the Corinthian.

          • “I will show you terror in a handful of dust”

            Ha! I got one!

          • The next one made me think of dropping this again. Still, reading though.

          • Sorry Dman.

            If it is any consolation, the series rarely ever gets *quite* that grim again.

          • I should warn you: We have some more horror stories to explore before we get into the stuff that makes me say “DUDE DUDE DUDE YOU GOTTA READ THIS THIS IS THE BEST TITLE EVER”.

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