Eight years ago, Stephen Segal, then creative director at the legendary Weird Tales magazine, asked if he could use some modest writings I had been doing on Neil Gaiman’s Sandman for a 20th anniversary retrospective he was putting together. Naturally, I said yes. Sadly, the series was lost in a website revamp. Not wanting it to disappear into the ether, I’m now presenting it on my site in 11 parts (alas, without the benefit of Stephen’s editing; these are pre-publication versions). Hope you enjoy.
Recurring Dream: An Anniversary Re-reading of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman
Part 5 of 11, Season of Mists
Originally published on the Weird Tales website, January 2009
Season of Mists is widely considered one of the best Sandman arcs, if not the best, and for good reason. The reason being that it’s excellent. I remember loving the heck out of this one first time around, and sure enough I loved it all over again.
Neil Gaiman manages to take eight issues that are, when you boil it down, mostly talk and spins something engrossing out of it. Plenty of drama, intrigue and trickery; not only important for the overall saga, but just plain making for a gripping tale. Season of Mists was a chance for him to flex his mythology muscles, playing with characters from a variety of cultures and seeing if they fit. The intrigue here comes not from the stunning events in Hell – events that would spin Gaiman’s take on Lucifer (here slightly removed from Moore’s) into his own series – but from the interaction between beings of myth from differing cultures.
They all want something from Dream, you see. They want the keys to hell. They’ll beg, borrow, cheat, lie and steal to get them, sure, but the core of the story is really the audience Dream gives them and how he comes to his decision. Their machinations are secondary to Dream’s reactions to those machinations. While Season of Mists is a very, very key event to the overall Sandman saga, it is also, in many ways, the deepest examination of the Morpheus character to date.
It all begins with a family meeting, the first issue of this story and one of the single best Sandman issues overall. Gaiman’s Endless are a superb mix of deviousness and otherworldliness and the typical, squabbling, very much human families we all know and love. What makes these personifications of concepts like desire, despair and death so powerful are not the concepts themselves, but the very relatable personalities behind each one. Even Delirium, a loopy LSD victim of sorts, has an endearing little sister quality. This family interaction is the heart and soul of Sandman. It’s also what kicks of Season of Mists.
The title of the arc refers to the time during which Hell is empty, a time when restless spirits descend upon the world and the dead seem to live again in their ghostly way. We get an inside glimpse at this in Chapter 4, a fine enough story but easily the weakest link to the arc. As a standalone tale about a kid stuck in a school while dead students repopulate it it’s fine, but it really cuts into the drama of the overall arc. Chapter 3 leaves off with Dream welcoming the many guests to his realm – the folks who want the keys to Hell – and then we get this. It’s a needless diversion.
But otherwise, what’s not to like? Morpheus is not the most likeable chap in the world, yet the reader can’t help but he drawn to him. He’s rather curt, the sort who tells it like it is without much emotion. (Unless his pride is hurt … but that’s another discussion.) He suffers neither fools nor politics. That’s why seeing him deal with the likes of a decidedly less grand Odin, a falsely humble representative of an Asian deity, a horrible demon in the guise of a little girl, and many others is so, well, endearing. Sure, Dream is kind of a cold and distant bastard, but he’s just the sort you want to see deal with these manipulative folks. In other stories they would play their victims like fiddles. Not here. Dream does not get played.
Well, he does. In fact, it’s maybe THE major part of the overall Sandman story arc. But not by these people he doesn’t.
That’s it. That’s the sum total of Season of Mists. Lucifer bails out on Hell, leaves Dream to make the decision on what to do with it, and Dream spends a load of pages listening to entities make their pitch.
And it’s fantastic.
Sandman might be at its best in shorter stories and one-shot tales, but among the longer arcs Season of Mists stands out as one of the very best, a fascinating dose of political drama that could, amazingly, even be read on its own and still be satisfying. Wonderful stuff.