Book Club / Less Pointy and More Suggestive


The Sandman 
Volume 2: The Doll’s House
Written by Neil Gaiman 
Art by Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III, Chris Bachalo, Michael Zulli, Steve Parkhouse and Robbie Busch

 

Marking the point in which a DC comic becomes a Vertigo one ‘The Doll’s House’ is where the knives come out (literally). Questions arising: Is it all a bit much? What’s the difference between a male book and a female one? And what exactly is the purpose of nightmares?

 

For me one of the best thing about The Sandman is how (barring the last three: World’s End / The Kindly Ones / The Wake ) – you can read them in pretty much any order you feel like. Back when I was a teenager that’s how I used to do it – jumping around from book to book like different chocolate bars: sometimes I’d fancy a Mars, other times a Snickers and now and again it’d be a Topic (I’m tempted to actually list which Sandman book corresponds to which type of chocolate bar – but maybe that’s a project I’ll leave for another day). 

 
If you’d asked me back then which was my favourite book of the series then – I dunno – I think that I probably would have said Seasons of Mist. You know – Hell, Lucifer, all those different gods and etc: although maybe it’s possible that I might have gone for Brief Lives (there’s nothing like a good quest after all) or even maybe one of the anthology ones like Dream Country or World’s End. 
 
But if you asked me which one was my least favourite then I know that I would have immediately said The Doll’s House. 
 
Before I sat down to reread it for god knows what number time I was curious as to what made it so unpopular with my younger self. I was a little surprised to see that in relation to the other books it’s not actually that much thicker. In my mind I had it down as a massive chunk of a book second only to The Kindly Ones (which is – in size at least – the From Hell of The Sandman books): but no – it’s actually comparatively slender – so what gives? 
 
I couldn’t work it out until I got a few issues in and everything starts to kick off with Jed and the Corinthian when all of a sudden it started to make sense. 
 
With the first book The Sandman (aka Neil Gaiman) is still trying to find its feet so it’s going through a lot of different genres and styles – like someone trying on different clothing to see what fits. With The Doll’s House it’s obvious that the type of clothing it wants is the one that has the “For Mature Readers Only” tag affixed to it so that means serial killing and child abuse. Because – hey – that’s the type of thing that’s going to make people take you seriously – right? No more of the “comic books are only for kids” stuff if you’ve got all that dark stuff going on – right? 
 
Thing is – even as a teenager (and especially even now) all dark and grim and gritty stuff just leaves me a little cold. If a part of reading a book or watching a film is about going into a new world (or having that new world come into your head) then choosing a world that’s full of – well – i’ll say it again serial killing and child abuse just seems a little bit – well – foolish maybe. 
 
Swinging all the way back to the metaphor at the start: it’s like choosing a chocolate bar and choosing the one that’s full of poo. 
 
Or – am I being way too harsh?  
 

 

Want to add my applause for the beautiful blog Joel has put together, and also the magisterial synthesis Mazin achieved in his last post on Preludes. Very curious to read some examples of what Mazin considers to be bad prose in The Sandman – perhaps we’ll get to some as we go along…

 
A couple of things to pick up on from Joel’s (great!) introduction to The Doll’s House. Although conventional wisdom suggests that you can jump from book to book pretty easily, I think something is lost if you don’t read the series chronologically. I would say that, being a bit of a compulsive completist (the sort of person that has to do all the side-quests in RPGs), but there are significant advantages, as one of Gaiman’s great strengths is the way he can weave characters and plots into each other. A phone call in one issue turns into a character in the next arc, and there’s something very satisfying about recognising these links as you read through. That weaving will get increasingly knotted and tangled as the series progresses, to the point where (when we arrive at The Kindly Ones) the Sandman (and Gaiman) loses control of his creation and has to give up on it.
 
Joel is right, The Doll’s House is almost OTT dark, which is interesting in light of the suggestion (I’m not sure it comes from Gaiman himself) that different arcs are gendered – Preludes being ‘male’ and The Doll’s House being ‘female’. This idea is explicit in “Tales in the Sand” – a ‘male’ short story that ends with the suggestion that the issues following will somehow present the ‘female’ version of the story. The title itself is certainly a nod to Ibsen’s feminist play, and perhaps this is Gaiman’s attempt to study patriarchy and the stories (or nightmares) that prop it up.
 
Few will be surprised to hear that I don’t think he does a particularly good job of it.
 

 


It’s Christine here. I’m a long time member of the Islington Forum and a new time member of the Barbican one.

I had to catch up on all the posts and get my books back off my brother to read before I could start.

Speaking of Tori Amos as the perfect accompaniment to Sandman/Barry reading, that is how I got into Sandman. A friend lent me the CD, so I had heard of her and she was on my radar when I was looking up Neverwhere in the bookshop. Tori introduced Death, the High Cost of Living, which I read first, and I never looked back.


However, that comment only covers Sandman, not ALL of Neil’s work, which I enjoy well enough when I read it, but it’s not on my must-read list. For example Neil did a nice enough (nasty enough?) twist on Snow White in his short story collection Smoke and Mirrors, yet seemed unaware that Tanith Lee had already done this twist (and better). On the other hand the story hidden in the introduction was great.

Regarding reading the books out of order, while there is a great deal of flexibility over the middle books, I would recommend reading The Doll’s House first as it is where the story gets going and Neil finds his feet and it is still near enough the beginning that you can catch up on only one previous book and go forward in order. Not necessary, but I would recommend it. However, this does ruin P&N a bit, you get to the end of the penultimate chapter, you look forward to one more chapter of story, and then you realise you’ve read it already. Very disappointing.

On the other hand, as this chapter is repeated I can also talk about it in this thread:
Is the ‘gift’ of death something that we are not understanding because we are mere mortals? If death is so lovely that if we had seen her we wouldn’t have fought so hard to live (I think that’s from one of the authors in Book of Dreams), perhaps evolution has wired us not to want to move on because it is too short sighted. Working with our mortal bodies, it doesn’t see the bigger picture, and so we don’t either.
Or is saying that we don’t get it because it’s us, not Neil – is that the cop out?

If Neil wants to say Death is something nice, obviously as a twist on what we currently think, isn’t the whole point that it’s unthinkable to us? And in fact all the stories that show characters not wanting to come back from the dead (I won’t quote the example I read this week as it’s a huge spoiler in a new book), they always say being alive was being asleep and now [they are dead] they have woken up. Hah, see what Neil did there (or did I do that).

Flicking through the book (which I have re-read properly as well). I liked the idea that there was another side to the Nada story, though the ‘male’ side was already entirely sympathetic to her. I like the shift in art from right way up to sideways as we shift from the first introduction to Rose to Lucien and Dream/Barry in the Dreaming and this also gives us a nice huge panel of the restored throne room (wait what? why is there an Ankh tucked on top of the stained glass window?).

I suppose the trinity who shows up to Rose in the broom cupboard is foreshadowing for The Kindly Ones, as is the entire involvement of (spoiler) Destiny trying to get Dream to kill Rose. Not to mention that their (the trinity’s) obscure oracularising makes you feel very smart once you have read the series and are re-reading it, as now you know what they are going on about.

Skipping way ahead to the scene where Dream does ‘nothing’ to Hippolyta, while she’s sitting in that messy basement. There is a whole question over the series (I won’t mention it explicitly yet if anyone is new to this) as to what Dream’s intentions were regarding changing himself and the methods he used to do so.
His ridiculous failure to recognise any obligation and provide any help or compensation to Hippoloyta, or any explanation for saying he will come and take her child (while entirely consistent with the character), is the root of everything that happens later. One page. And the last panel with the closing spotlight is very well done. Nice emphasis. 


So you do wonder if he is being an arse to further his complicated route to his goal, and yet I got the impression that this change/goal is something he thinks about and moves towards later in the series, and had not yet thought about, except then he was thinking about it in Shakespeare’s time. Does the timeshifting work?


Maybe it’s fortuitous that his complete disregard for Hippolyta happens to bring about the very circumstances that allow him to move on and change and start to pay more attention to the little people (spoiler).

I’ve talked a lot now so I’ll pause and let other people get back before going on to Hob (great character/premise), the cereal growers’ convention and the climax, and the introduction of two more threads (people) that are spun out into a story arc each later…

 

 

Jumping in again as I’m going on holiday to places w/o the internet and can’t resist responding to Christine before the discussion ends…

Christine’s reading of ‘The Sound of Her Wings’ strikes me as tautological. It’s coherent as far as it goes (that us mere mortals don’t understand why death is a gift is a point made explicitly), but it isn’t v. satisfying since Barry (and Gaiman) suggest they aren’t mere mortals and so DO have this universe-eye-view understanding.

The contrast with Hob – a guy that rejects death’s gift – is worth thinking about. Hob’s conclusion that people don’t change is (in context) about his own inability to tire of life, and by extension the fixity of an individual’s character. The repetition of the overheard bar-room conversations at the end of the issue widens this conclusion – human beings haven’t changed in the last 500 years. Sidebar: true enough, in that, for the past 3,000 years of recorded human history, the species manifestly hasn’t changed – evolution works on much longer time-frames. Roman emperors and medieval peasants are just as smart (and stupid) as we are.

This same point is made more overtly at the end of Cages – a comic by Dave McKean (frequent Gaiman collaborator and responsible for Sandman’s amazing covers). In that book, McKean suggests that as you grow older and experiences pile up, the patterns of life become more apparent (as above: people don’t change, so as they become more familiar their capacity to surprise you is reduced). That realisation (and the completion of their life project) is what lead McKean’s characters to accept death with equanimity.

Gaiman’s treatment of this idea is less pointy and more suggestive – the concluding note of Hob’s story is the rather corny one that friendship is what makes life worth living. But on the whole I think it’s a more satisfying issue than ‘The Sound of Her Wings’. Which may be another way of saying that I understand its themes and agree with them.

On Christine’s (v. good) Hippolyta point: Barry here looks to me like the unrepentant face of the patriarchy, and it’s entirely fitting that he is ultimately undone by his cruelty in this scene.

 
 

 

Eq-ua-ni-mity. 

 
I thought I kinda understood what it meant (like accepting Death in a cool calm way – right?) but then realised that I kinda didn’t and so decided to look it up (here we go): ‘Equanimity (Latin: æquanimitas having an even mind; aequus even animus mind/soul) is a state of psychological stability and composure which is undisturbed by experience of or exposure to emotions, pain, or other phenomena that may cause others to lose the balance of their mind. The virtue and value of equanimity is extolled and advocated by a number of major religions and ancient philosophies.’
 
(Of course – now I’ve said all this I realise that I’m going to have to try and make this tie into some sort of larger point about The Sandman or something – but really the only reason for the above is just a genuine appreciation and outpouring of “hell yeah” for equanimity. So. Erm. Yeah). 
 
Anyway. What’s cool about The Sandman (once it finally gets up and running anyway) is how it managed to find the right equanimity (oh boy – am I using that right?) between all it’s varied elements. I mean – seeing how it’s basically a book about Dreams it can basically do whatever it wants to – right? The sky is only the beginning of the limit. Like – I could list a whole bunch of crazy scenarios and exotic (erotic?) sounding characters or whatever: but I’m sure you’ve all got the idea (it’s like that line in I’m on a boat: Anything is possible!). 
 
And well so yeah – going back to all the serial killing stuff that I talked about before (I hope I’m not being boring): but I find it interesting how much of a misstep it is that it kinda mingles the fantasy stuff with the real life stuff in a way that makes them seem ill-suited. I mean – having just typed that previous sentence it’s pretty obvious that the whole of The Sandman (in fact pretty much the whole of Mr Gaiman’s output) can be summed up as “mingling the fantasy stuff with the real life stuff” and there’s no denying that when it works (and there are lots of points in just The Sandman alone where it works really really well: thinking forward, I’m really excited to get my teeth into ‘Season of Mists’) it’s real good stuff. So it’s curious (and intriguing) that at this early point it all still comes across as less strawberries and cream and more oil and water. Like – surely I’m not the only one who found it hard to stomach the piss-smell and the rats biting cheeks and whatever it is that the teeth-in-the-eyes guy gets up to? And that kinda leads me to think that maybe the serial killing genre is just something that you can’t get to play well with other genres? And so while it’s ok to throw in little bits of unicorns and or whatever into your story: if you’re going to go into human misery and cruelty then it’s not something that you can just do in a throw-away (one panel) kinda style. It’s more something that you have to pay a certain amount of time and reverence to? It’s like – this is heavy stuff and you can’t just treat it as a garnish. Or (uh oh) am I just getting old and boring? (Like when I was a teenager and showed Fight Club to my auntie and she was all like: when you’re old – you’re realise that you can’t just look at violence like this and see it as entertainment).
 
But oops – sorry. I haven’t found any equanimity in my reply and have totally failed to mention the stuff mentioned above so – very quickly then: 
 
“I think something is lost if you don’t read the series chronologically.” Nonsense. Telephone calls go both ways (as in – nothing is much affected by hearing one side of the phone call first: or at least – that’s how I feel so far. I dunno – maybe I’ll change my mind as we get further in. In fact – hmmmm – I’m not actually sure that I’ve ever “done” The Sandman in complete chronological order. I’ve always been much more of a diving in / diving out in my favourite moments kinda thing. 
 
The Kindly Ones is where Neil Gaiman “loses control of his creation and has to give up on it.” – what the what? (Well – that’s a discussion to look forward to). 
 
Male and Female books? Ha! I mean – this is something I’ve heard about before. But – for godsakes – what does it actually mean

Re: “The shift in art from right way up to sideways.” I want to add my voice to the fact that – yes – this is totally coolness. And – well – something that I kinda wish was like the “uniform” idea of the whole of The Sandman (that is – everytime the book went dreamwards – it went sideways). But then – I guess that’s part of my issue that I wish there was more consistency throughout all The Sandman books (I have a daydream that maybe one really good artist would one day come along and decide to draw the entire series just by himself making it all feel like one complete (nicely looking) thing: which – of course – is kinda against the ethos of the book I know – seeing how, you know, we all contain multitudes and different points of view and so the cobbled-together rickety aspect of it all is well – part of the point.
 
And the Hippoloyta thing? Well – maybe I’ll let you guys talk some more about that before I decide to weigh in… (mainly because right now – I have no idea what to say about it). 
 
Ha! 
 

 

Re: male and female stories/books.
I think it’s something out of sociology, a shorthand so people who have studied know what they mean, but rest of us don’t. Perhaps the people who have studied it could introduce these terms? I’m happy to look up hermeneutics on Wikipedia as it’s a Greek word so it sound posh, and makes me think I should be the one to make the effort, but I’m not convinced that ‘male/female’ aspects aren’t sociology jargon.

I remember when I watched The Spirits Within (I recommend it) lots of people hated the film, and the tone of the last 15 minutes IS very different from the rest of the film. My sociologist friend who I watched it with said the first part was very male and the last part very female. So if you have seen the film, that might help. (The shift in tone was not bad in itself, it’s just that for a film based on a video game, it mixed up the people who would watch it vs the people who would enjoy it).
 

 

So, ‘The Dolls House’, where ‘The Sandman’ stops being a DC comic book and starts being a ‘Vertigo’ comic…

I’m doing this from memory as I don’t have time to reread the book (some of us have our own groups to prepare for!). I quite like the Cereal Convention, it reminds me of the ’24 Hour Diner’ story from the first collection. It’s the last time that the comic links to any other comics for a while, the undercover reporter is posing as a serial killer who cropped up in an issue of Alan Moore’s ‘Swamp Thing’. The squalid urban horror angle of this story was rather similar to Rick Veitch (IIRC) who took over Swamp Thing after Moore and turned it towards a much grittier and, to my tastes, less interesting form of horror. Blue-collar psychopaths? Well, I suppose killing is one of the earliest forms of manual labour.

What seems out of place is the way Morpheus punishes them by removing their ‘dreams’ and ‘illusions’ about themselves. Firstly the idea that they have deluded themselves into seeing themselves as heroes, this is arguably more the realm of his sister Delirium than his, although sometimes the dividing lines between each of the Endless end up being based entirely on where one is standing at the time. I’m not sure why he cares, he creates and recreates the Corinthian after all, and what with the discussion he had with Death about being terrible it seems somewhat out of place. There is no guarantee that these killers won’t keep killing, so he’s not doing it out of any particular concern for the well-being of humanity. Maybe I’m forgetting something from not rereading the book.

 

 

It’s true, the distinction between what he is trying to do with his nightmares and the cereal convention people, is a bit vague.

But I suppose a nightmare will rarely kill you and the idea of it is that it is an unpleasant experience that you wake up from and learn from (I read that people who had nightmares about a court room re: a divorce, ended up recovering from the stressful experience better than people without nightmares, though I can’t give any references for that, or comment on how useful the study was). The point is, I believe real life nightmares might well have a purpose, and so Dream’s nightmares too, which is different from killing people.

Maybe he wasn’t so much mad about the killing, but about the illusions (are delusions the same as delirium?). The dream of the convention-goers (you could call it a cult) trod on his toes, so he fixed that part (the dreams / illusions) but didn’t bother about the killing. Maybe.

 
 

 

I really like Loz’s “So, ‘The Dolls House’, where ‘The Sandman’ stops being a DC comic book and starts being a ‘Vertigo’ comic…” – in fact – I’d go a little bit further and say that it’s Dream Country where it grows out of being a Vertigo comic and actually becomes it’s own thing (A Sandman comic I guess). 

 
For those not up to speed to what these terms kinda mean – well – DC is where all the superheroes come from and it’s all a bit BISH! BASH! BOSH! (comics are for kids!). Vertigo is a separate line of comics (but still a DC imprint) that aims to be a bit more serious and mature-like. It’s like the DC comics that should have a 15 or 18 certificate – which basically means that yeah (at its worst) it’s just serial killings and rape and stuff while (at its best) – it can sometimes manage to tell stories that (wow) adults can enjoy too (well – maybe more grown-up teenagers I guess: seeing how it’s still stuff about magic monsters and whatever). 
 
In fact – yeah – well: now I think about it: all this kinda stuff – Vertigo – the “suggested for mature readers” tag that it puts at the front. I mean – it’s all a kinda strange conglomeration of all the different neuroses that start to plague people who don’t manage to grow out of comics when they’re teenagers (and I would obviously obviously include myself in that category). I mean – you don’t see novels or films putting “suggested for mature readers” on their covers do you? I mean – really – it’s only a small step away from having a sticker that says “Hey – I’m not a kid or anything right? This is like serious stuff yeah? Respect is due.” But then – I’m part of the generation that (mostly) doesn’t have to worry about the “are comics for kids?” thing seeing how I literally grew up with Watchmen, Sandman and Preacher (ha! Preacher!) being a part of my cultural air……
 
Also: just to pick up on Loz’s “I’m doing this from memory as I don’t have time to reread the book” – OMG – you don’t have time to read a comic? I mean – it’s what – a hour of your time? If that? But saying that – I do like the idea of maybe having a whole book review (or film review or something) where everyone just does it from memory…. The only worry being that – well – you might end up changing a certain plot in a certain way and end up giving away way too much of yourself….. (oh dear). 
 

 

Just want to pick up on Christine and Loz’s question marks over the end of issue 14. I think Barry’s sentence on the collectors is coherent, but his motives regarding the Corinthian (and nightmares in general) are more difficult to uncover.

 
The beginnings of the Corinthian’s speech suggest Gaiman’s underlying reading of all the psychopathic behaviour he looks at through this (very long) issue. Serial killing in the US has become associated with stories of “gladiators”, “swashbucklers” and “heroes” (the Bonnie & Clyde myth and its various permutations in film might be a good way of looking at this – Malick’s Badlands perhaps most of all). The collectors kill out of hubris and an infatuation with themselves as the “maltreated heroes” of their own stories. Barry strips this away and reveals how unheroic (“how LITTLE”) they are – the implication being that without these myths to sustain them, the collectors’ urges will be hollowed out and they will finally (privately) face the implications of their actions. How sophisticated this reading is, I’ll leave up to you, but the dots do sort of connect.
 
Barry’s intentions regarding the Corinthian are far harder to join up. Ostensibly, this masterpiece nightmare is supposed to “be the darkness and the fear of darkness”, a reflection of what humanity “will not confront”. Instead of this, he has been “something else for people to be scared of”, and has “told them that there are bad people out there, and they’ve known that all along”. Now: the gaps between these two outcomes are pretty difficult to parse. If anything, the Corinthian hasn’t failed in being scary, it is rather that people have been better able to confront “the darkness” than Barry had expected. And In fairness, Barry admits that he is the one to blame for the Corinthian’s flaws – an admission that feels less magnanimous the more one thinks about it.
 
Widening out to address Joel’s quite interesting reservations about all the misery in The Doll’s House – if serial killing is a genre then I don’t think it has always been a ‘realistic’ one. For example, slasher films are actually quite formulaic and the best ones are riven with symbolism. Se7en’s plot (what I can remember of it) is absolutely outrageous, but it’s a very effective horror film (I watched it on Christmas Day just before lunch, which was a terrible idea). Tarantino’s psychopaths are (like most of his characters) an agglomeration of film cliches. Given that context, Sandman’s throwaway shocker pages didn’t feel awkward to me, even with the unicorns thrown in. If anything, the time Gaiman spends with the victims and their experience of horror helps to get the book under people’s skins in a way a lot of comics do not. And it’s interesting that much of this is done with captions rather than images, circling around the unspeakable rather than visually pummeling you with it.
 

 

Well. See… Ilia looks at Gaiman’s tendency to do things with captions rather than images and sees a feature – while I tend to think of it more as a bug. 

 
Can we talk about Doctor Who? 
 
There was this Doctor Who episode a few years back that was written by Neil Gaiman called The Doctor’s Wife which was rather good (and oh god – let’s not even mention his follow up episode Nightmare in Silver which was – well – rather less good). Interesting premise. A cool spin on the Doctor Who mythology. Lots of lovely dialogue (“Are all people like this?” “Like what?” “So much bigger on the inside.”) and etc etc and yes and blah. The only thing that was quite curious (especially because this was an episode by Mr Neil Gaiman who – you know – is best known (yes or no?) as the writer of that comic book The Sandman) was that – for those of you that don’t know – Doctor Who is a kid’s show about a man who flies around in a space/time machine and has lots of adventures and always always bumps into a monster of somesort that he has to fight and (oh yes) the monsters always (mostly) look really really cool (I mean – do I even need to name the famous monsters of Doctor Who? You already know who they all are).  And so – yeah – it was slightly strange that this writer guy who was most famous for doing comics (which come on: are a pretty visual medium) and was writing a thing for TV (which – come on again: is also a massively visual medium – unless your favourite show is The Wire) decided to invent a monster that was – wait for it – wait for it – wait for it – a disembodied voice (or maybe it was also at some point a green mist as well? And I would like to point out that the fact that I can’t really remember – kinda proves my point – no?). 
 
Point being: well yeah – how many distinctive images are there throughout The Sandman? I mean yes – there are loads of cool looking characters (Barry, Teeth-eyes, Dude with the hood, Manic Pixie Death Girl etc) – but how many panels are there that stay with you? That have an impact in the same way as – I dunno Ozymandias saying he did it 35 minutes ago or whatever. I mean – not to dis The Sandman and say it’s a bad comic – but well – maybe the fact that the images aren’t up to much (like James was saying before about how most of The Sandman comics look a bit – meh) means that it’s not as good as it could be? Or something? 
 
I dunno. 

 

I’m going to make the case here that what Joel refers to as all the “dark and gritty stuff” which leaves him a little cold, or Loz calls “urban squalid horror” is not all that dark and gritty and squalid, or rather, is so, but balanced by other stuff: namely, it’s funny!
The “cereal” convention (hoho), all the killers’ variously pompous or witty names, the different panel discussions, like the female serial killers angry at being pigeonholed as evil nurses or black widows… We’re a long way here from the ‘serial killer as emblematic evil anti-hero’, a concept reaching its peak in the 90s. Se7en is great, but has no jokes (well, one about nipples). Its title sequence, again, as great as it was at the time, is now like a SO DARK! parody. (But maybe anything that at its time is striking will in time become OTT because of the influence it had…) Then there’s that perennial Hannibal… Martin Amis, in his review of the book of the same name:
“The author’s original title for Hannibal was, apparently, The Morbidity of the Soul. Well, somebody must have had a word with him about that, and they whittled it down (probably via stuff like Hannibal and the Soul’s Morbidity and Morbidity, the Soul and Hannibal to Hannibal, under the cover strap line (in the English edition), THE RETURN OF HANNIBAL LECTER.” 
Even Jed’s abuse seems to come less from the world of misery memoir, but from fairy tales. The relatives are the archetypal wicked step-parents, they’re Harry Potter’s mean uncle and aunt (The Dungles? The Flibitibobs?), or something out of Roal Dahl. I mean look how they’re drawn. Or maybe it’s both sides: the Jed theme is an early instance of that now over-familiar trope: the fairy-tale gritty reboot. But a fairy tale element is still there.
Also, no love for Gilbert (a.k.a alt-G K Chesterton)?! He also lightens the darkness of the story. He’s a nice spin on a familiar dynamic, fusty old-world type meets hip young woman, but instead of scorn there’s chivalry and affection. Maybe I just have a thing for avuncular characters. Not that kind of a thing.
As for The Corinthian though… First, I’m not sure why The Corinthian is gay, apart from it gaining some serial killer aura off of Jeffrey Dahmer et al. Although he’s more a cross between Dahmer and a gay Patrick Bateman: wasn’t Bateman supposed to be maybe gay? Anyone have any ideas on the Corinthian’s sexuality? Though there’s also the lesbian couple in The Doll’s House, so is it then just part of Gaiman (some Derridean corrects to ‘Gay-man’, chuckles to his grad-students) “queering” the comics scene? Did I just use that verb?
Christine says, “The point is, I believe real life nightmares might well have a purpose, and so Dream’s nightmares too, which is different from killing people,” which I really agree with, in one sense: nightmares have maybe not a premeditated purpose, but definitely a use: the return of the repressed, an early warning sign from your psyche. It’s like your subconscious is a psychiatrist who can only communicate to you through kabuki theatre and mime and b-movie horror. But it’s still trying to yell something at you.
Which is why I wonder what the Corinthian, as nightmare, is trying to say. I have Ilia’s worry too that: “Barry’s intentions regarding the Corinthian are far harder to join up. Ostensibly, this masterpiece nightmare is supposed to “be the darkness and the fear of darkness”, a reflection of what humanity “will not confront”. Instead of this, he has been “something else for people to be scared of”, and has “told them that there are bad people out there, and they’ve known that all along”. Now: the gaps between these two outcomes are pretty difficult to parse.”
I really like this reading. Yeah, the way ‘the fear of darkness’ is followed so closely by ‘something else for people to be scared of’ (they’re, what, a few panels apart?) just highlights this clash. Here, I think Joel’s adolescent thing is more on the money: it’s the macho of the heart of darkness, which gets a bit old as you get older. More successful on this theme, for those of you who’ve read it, is the ‘confronting your demons’ hell section in Alan Moore’s Promethea, which, for those of you who’ve not read it, I won’t say more about it, other than to say: read it!
And reading The Doll’s House again, it struck me like it’s done a lot of you, how odd the ‘justice’ of the ending is. I agree with Ilia that it connects the dots specifically as far as that scene’s concerned, makes a cool kind of sense. But there’s complications. In fact, it’s the old chestnut: vague or subtle, incoherent or complex? Is there a deeper meaning to the fact that the killer that tried to harm Rose (the pedo bear or whathaveyou) is given a delusion, while the rest of the convention are punished by having theirs removed? And is that a punishment, even? My god, to be rid of your delusions! Years of psychiatry would barely make a dent, and Barry does it for them in one go: they walk out sheepish and guilty, but also free of something. And this counterpoints Hippolyta et al having their imposed delusion taken away, and pretty brutally. Again: Barry Sandman saved her from those psyche-squatters: but it’s a pretty costly disabuse.
Someone asked, why Dream, not Delirium? They must have some natural overlap. But whose jurisdiction is the cereal convention? It depends on whether you think the serial killers are deluded or fantasists or a bit of both. Insert your latest spree killer with a manifesto here. But the latter implies more agency, and hence is worthy of a punishment. Which is why maybe the pedo bear character, who seems a bit simpler than the others, is given another delusion, while the others are stripped of their fantasies. This reminds me too, of [spoilers!] the Alan Moore Superman comic ‘For the Man Who Has Everything’ where the bad guy gets to have what he wants, in a delusion, a sort of utopia of megalomania, all skulls and slave girls. And so we’re back to the serial killer power fantasy manifestos…
(Speaking of pedo bear, he’s a bit of a weird – and therefore implausible? – mash-up of pedo-tropes, simultaneously childlike, but also cynically thinking of kids as sluts, a juxt of a fixated and regressed paedophile.)
Maybe the justice of the Endless is meant to be like Greek Gods’, fickle, inconsistent, parable-like, not part of any systematic or rational ethics. Maybe they’re just dicks.
The male/female thing… The only time I’d come across it was in a Milan Kundera interview:
“LO: It occurs to me that among the writers you are citing as being of greatest importance to the history of the novel, and among those that you cite elsewhere in connection with the development of the novel and its relation to any given cultural history, there are no women. Correct me if I am wrong, but there is never any mention of women writers either in your essays or interviews. Can you explain this?
MK: It is the sex of the novels and not that of their authors that must interest us. All great novels, all true novels are bisexual. This is to say that they express both a feminine and a masculine vision of the world. The sex of the authors as physical people is their private affair.”
So, re: Christine’s sociologist friend, maybe one way to think of it is that, already implied in the terms male / female is something like “if we agree to accept for now the binary of male / female, and apply characteristics to the two that are of course social constructs and not essential but nevertheless that our culture at this time considers typical or common (“cis”) to each, then may we not consider that art can be formed out of either / both visions of the world?”
And so it gets taken as a given that everyone makes that qualification inherently when saying things like ‘is this story male? female?’ So as to the question, ‘what does that even mean?’ well, insert male-female sexist clichés and then get labelling some films: Primer! Male! Magnolia! Female! Upstream Colour! Bisexual! 
Basically I’m just ripping off what Zizek riffed on in this clip.
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