R-Rated Reads features the best in Comics and Graphic Novels that you’d normally hide underneath your mattress. Now, what the F%*# are you waiting for!? READ the G@&-D*%$ thing!
Written by Neil Gaiman
Art by Mike Dringenberg, Kelley Jones, Matt Wagner, Malcolm Jones III, P. Craig Russell, George Pratt, and Dick Giordano
Published by DC / Vertigo
One of the factors that have contributed to the popularity of Neil Gaiman’s highly influential Vertigo series Sandman among comic fans was the way he brought so many godly and/or supernatural beings down to a human level. The protagonist, Morpheus the Lord of Dreams, is an all-powerful and omniscient being whom Gaiman writes with many of the same concerns and insecurities that plague us mere mortals. This not only made him and the other supernatural characters of Sandman more relatable to readers but also gave the overall universe of the book a frightening air of chaos that permeated throughout its 75-issue run. Gaiman doubtlessly believed that few things were scarier than a universe run by powerful yet flawed beings who were just as screwed up as the rest of us. This theme is explored perfectly in his eight-issue Season of Mists storyarc, which ran from issues 21 to 28 of Sandman and were collected in volume 4 of the series of Sandman trades.
Season of Mists begins with a family reunion of sorts between Morpheus and the majority of his siblings who comprise the group of metaphysical beings known as the Endless. After his sisters Death and Desire take him to task for condemning his human lover named Nada to Hell ten thousand years prior, the guilt-stricken Morpheus announces that he will journey to the underworld and try to bargain with Lucifer for Nada’s soul. When Morpheus arrives in Hell, he finds his old nemesis Lucifer waiting for him. Lucifer throws a cog in Morpheus’ plans by announcing that he is closing up Hell and releasing all the damned souls back into the world. After carrying out these plans, and treating us all to one of the most disgusting tongue-kisses in all graphic literature, he then hands the keys of Hell to Morpheus and tells him that he now has control of the place before pimping off to another plane of existence. After returning to the Dream World, Morpheus then is forced to play host to a number of mythical and spiritual beings who wish to bargain with him for control over the newly-vacated underworld. These beings include, among others, two angels from Heaven sent from God himself; a delegation of former demons wishing to reclaim control of their homeworld; two faeries from A Midsummer Night’s Dream; and the Norse gods Odin, Thor, and Loki, who wish to acquire Hell as a refuge from the impending events of Ragnarok. Each group offers Morpheus a gift to persuade him to give them dominion of Hell, leaving Morpheus with the unenviable task of deciding who will be awarded control of this highly coveted piece of spiritual real estate.
The way all these various beings interact with each other in Morpheus’ castle is one of the many things that make Season of Mists such a pleasure to read. Those pages contain many of the funniest moments in a series that was already loaded with dark and intelligent humor. Some of my favorite scenes involve Thor (not at all to be confused with the Marvel version) trying in vain to hit on a comely faerie maiden and a grotesquely botched magic trick involving Biblical siblings Cain and Abel. In addition to these lighthearted moments, the readers are also treated to some horrifying moments involving tortured souls in Hell, an attempt by Morpheus to rescue the soul of Nada from a chilling abyss, and a chapter in which a young boy in an English boarding school witnesses the effects of Hell releasing its damned upon an unsuspecting world. This particular chapter brilliantly grounds the story by briefly giving us a normal human protagonist just when it threatens to get a little too “out there” for most readers.
Sandman Volume 4: Season of Mists tells a deep, mature, well-crafted story that effortlessly blends fantasy and horror elements and even gives us a glimpse of a couple of familiar faces from the main DCU. Even though a variety of artists worked on this collection, their styles are similar enough that the overall effect is never jarring from one chapter to the next. Like most Sandman trades, this one does not need to be read after the first three and stands alone just fine on its own, provided that the reader knows a little bit about the main character and his extended family. Those who read it as a part of the overall story of Sandman, however, will be introduced to characters and situations that will be revisited later on in the course of the series. Season of Mists features Gaiman at his macabre best and tells a fascinating story with dozens of memorable characters who inhabit supernatural realms and yet seem strangely human, which is quite a feat and is a testament to Gaiman’s overall strength as a storyteller. 5 out of 5 Tiny Hammers