Volume 10: The Wake
Written by Neil Gaiman
Art by Michael Zulli, Jon J. Muth, Charles Vess and Danny Vozzo
Where we reach the end of our journey through the world of The Sandman and attempt to make sense of it with the following selection of questions: Punk or the New Romantics? Can you both love ice cream and hate it at the exact same time? And – oh my – what exactly happened to all those Ewoks?
Hanging out with friends (hi guys!) over the weekend we watched Kingsman: The Secret Service – (which is actually surprisingly alright) I was introduced to the concept of “historicity.”
Before I started writing this I thought I understood it – but then checking the wikipedia page it feels like maybe it’s got away from me a little: but let’s just go with this little quote from Zizek (thanks Rob!): “each truly new artistic phenomenon not only designates a break with the entire past, but retroactively changes this past itself. At every historical conjuncture, the present is not only present, it also encompasses a perspective on the past immanent to it—after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, say, the October Revolution is no longer the same historical event: it is (from the triumphant liberal-capitalist view) no longer the beginning of a new progressive epoch in the history of humanity, but the beginning of a catastrophic swerving off-course of history which reached its end in 1991”
Or – in other words: Sunday Morning and Hob Gadling at the Renaissance fair / the line at the heart of Exiles: “everything changes but nothing is truly lost.”
I mean – looking back at all the books before this and each entry up on the London Graphic Novel Network blog (and wow – the first email that kicked this all off was sent on the 5th of May 2014: so yeah – that’s quite the journey): it would be fair to say that I was a bit of a Neil Gaiman skeptic: but man – The Wake is basically just non-stop total control of tone, mood and meaning and everything: nothing feels flubbed or out of place: and everything just fits together perfectly you know? it’s like listening to a concert pianist doing their thing – with each note ringing out in exactly the way it should.
(Hmmm – a little too gushing there maybe Joel? WHATEVER).
But yeah: historicity – the idea that we can never really return to the past but can only understand it through the present / what happens now changes what happened back then (I hope that’s right – I’m sure someone can correct me if it’s not) – was something that was ringing in my head as I read The Wake. I mean: partly because this is like the sixth or seventh time I’ve read it (at the very least) but knowing that each time I read it I was reading it anew / my new understandings and interpretations wiping over the old ones (that panel with Clark Kent, Batman and the Martian Manhunter used to be one of my favourite bits and now it’s like: oh yeah – that’s kinda cool: but nothing to get too excited over…) partly also because of the Renaissance fair stuff – which is the best example of historicity I can think of: the past – but made different. I mean – Hob amusingly grumbles “it wasn’t like this”: but isn’t that just how people tend to view their history. They leave out all the shit (“Animal shit. People shit. Cow shit. Horse shit. You waded through the stuff.”) and instead just focus on the good stuff…
And yeah: well – to be honest: the weirdest thing about reading the Wake was the sense of loss over the death of Barry. Which I mean – is kinda silly right? Like we’ve kind of said as we’ve made our way through all these books – he wasn’t that much of a well defined character: and he was always a bit too hung up on doing the whole mysterious and spooky thing (or maybe that should be: Gaiman was hung up on doing it – or whatever). But yeah – I’ll admit it. I felt like I missed him reading the Wake and kinda wished that he was – I dunno – still around or something? And man: when Hob has that dream where him and Destruction go off for a walk somewhere. Well – I mean: it’s emotional isn’t it? (And that’s quite a common thing isn’t it? When someone close to you dies – you do end up having a dream about them right? Or is that just me?) But then also: raises the interesting question: I mean – can Dreams ever really die? Or rather if Dream does die – wouldn’t his afterlife be in dreams as well? In which case: well – that kinda means he’s still alive somehow right?
But hey also – then again: maybe it’s not the best idea to get too caught up the metaphysics of The Sandman? That seems like quite a thankless task…
What does everyone else think? Or you know: are you just overcome with elation that we finally made it to the end?
It’s a bit of a mixed bag for me. I love Michael Zulli’s pencil art for ‘The Wake and the fact it doesn’t seem to be inked at all, I also love the mutability of things, how when Daniel meets Destruction his castle seems to morph so he has a country cottage kitchen to have a discussion in. I also like, though it aggravates me as well, how Gaiman lowers down the curtain, he’s spent everything up to the end of The Kindly Ones telling us so much about the Endless, how they are, how they work, but he spends the Wake mystifying them again, we have never been shown how Daniel relates to his siblings, and their subsequent appearances have never given anything away. Even with Sandman Overture, coming to an end now, it reveals the parents of Morpheus (and so conceivably The Endless), but there’s this delightful sense that Gaiman could spend the rest of his life doing comics about Morpheus and his pre-death experience and it wouldn’t tell you any meaningful fact about Daniel. He recreates the gem from the first series to hold his power, he knows he should break it and yet, he doesn’t. We are told they are the same when they are clearly different, we are told they are different when they are clearly the same.
And maybe it’s just Zulli’s artwork but does anyone else get the sense that while Morpheus was a punk Daniel is more of a New Romantic kind of Dream?
I caught up with the original comics being published towards the end of the Kindly Ones so found waiting for the last half dozen or so issues which were all horrendously late a rather annoying time. I think this colours my perception in which I tend to feel that the last few issues after The Wake to be a rather overlaboured encore, ‘The Tempest’ as a metaphor for Shakespeare/Gaiman giving up his burden of storywriting okay but nothing special.
Reading it back in the day, the Hob Gadling episode was the one that stuck out in my memory the most. The Middle Passage as well as how Slavery worked as a business was something that was hardly taught in my school so it was a fascinating read. The characterisation & dynamic between the main couple I thought was great.
As for the rest of the story arc – fantastic art, especially Jon J Muth – but an weird ending
Also that Zizek quote reminds me of the movie ‘Inside Out’ and how happy core memories can become sad or bittersweet
So. I realise that we’ve kinda of already racked Neil Gaiman over the coals of “wait – but what does this mean?” going over The Sandman (especially with The Kindly Ones no?): but damn it – the whole “who are you mourning?” “A puh-point of view.” thing has kinda been rankling my brain a little.
Because yeah reading The Wake it is kinda sad and it did make me feel that kind of weight that comes with a loss of someone and saying goodbye and moving on etc. But then the “who are you mourning?” “A puh-point of view.” – I mean: what does this actually mean? Or rather (to put it another way): what is the difference between (and hmmmm – how should this be phrased exactly?) – Dream Black and Dream White? I mean: if they’re different points of view: then what’s the difference? I mean – the obvious answer that presents itself is that (seeing how there’s that – previously mentioned quote from Neil himself that The Sandman is about how “The Lord of Dreams learns that one must change or die, and makes his decision”) Dream Black was the version that couldn’t change while Dream White is the one that can roll with the punches and can adapt to whatever: but hmmmm – I don’t remember there being any real moment in The Wake where it makes it seem like that’s the case? I mean – the only real difference I can think of (point to) is that there’s a costume change: which you know – clothes maketh the man and all: but is that?
Feels like maybe I’m missing something? I mean – is it just me? Or is it Neil Gaiman just doing that whole “leaving things to the readers imagination” thing? (In which case – I cry cop out).
Well, there’s the scene when he’s chatting with the gatekeepers and they say that in all the millennia the old Dream never did that. But I’m not sure about whether it’s particularly useful to talk about the difference, is not like the difference between the Gods in Lucifer, when at least two supreme beings define themselves in how they are different to God, for right or wrong Morpheus died because he decided the only way to continue was to be someone other than he was, Daniel is not Morpheus. I suppose it’s like the post rather than who inhabits it, though yeah, I do agree with you in that, if Morpheus is as unimportant in the totality of Dream as everyone seems to suggest (and then there’s the whole bucket of bizarre that is the first few issues of Sandman: Overture to consider as well), then why bother with a funeral? It would be like having a funeral for the morning ending, or because we’ve come to the end of 1:25 in the afternoon, we’ll never see it’s like again!
I suppose you might look at a person as not a physical thing but the sum of all their actions on others and that has come to an end with death?
I mean – I guess it’s just once more the thing of Neil Gaiman wanting to have his cake and eat it and then have the cake say something meaningful and solemn about how we’re all stories really aren’t we? and then the cake goes on a journey and after making friends with a fish on a bicycle and a woman made out of yellow finally meets the Lord of Cake who grants the cake’s most hidden desire but then has to say goodbye to our world as it has to depart into the realm beyond mere pastries – but hush don’t worry little one: because the cake still lives on forever inside all our hearts (“Everybody has a secret cake inside of them. I mean everybody. All of the people in the whole world, I mean everybody — no matter how dull and boring they are on the outside. Inside them they’ve all got unimaginable, magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing cakes… Not just one cake. Hundreds of them. Thousands, maybe.””) and etc.
But I don’t know why I’m saying all this. Because yeah – like I said: when I was reading The Wake I really liked it and – well – what can I say without sounding too soppy? – it was effective wasn’t it? And yeah getting caught up in the details (the details in this case being: but wait – what? If you kind of think about it – it doesn’t really make any sense does it? I mean – what – there’s these things called The Endless and it’s about how one of them end? But then also: not really – because they’re the endless: so erm – I guess it’s just jerking your tears – because well hey – that’s what a story does isn’t it?
And at the risk of repeating myself and re-hashing an argument that I feel like I’ve made at a few Comic Forums in the past: I mean – it doesn’t really matter if stories don’t make sense does it? I mean: I totally realise that with the rise of a certain type of obsessive personality who likes to work out – say – that the destruction of the Death Star would kill all the Ewoks: there’s a pressure on people who watch Dr Who and want it all to make sense and for all the bits to neatly join up: I mean – well – especially especially in Dr Who (but also elsewhere): things all making rational and neat sense isn’t what it’s about. Or rather – the logical sense isn’t important – rather: it’s the emotional sense innit?
And going back to Barry and The Wake: well yeah – I mean: the death of something that can never really die might not be something that actually makes logical sense – but it definitely affected me as I read it.
But then also yeah: I’ll admit that’s way massive fun to talk about how it’s actually all a big fluff – aka: oh hell yes how did all those Ewoks die exactly?
Are we talking about The Sandman or are we talking about Looper, because it just feels like we’ve done this before…
While I’ve found some measure of satisfaction in trying to ignore the fact that any given episode of Doctor Who now not only contradicts the episodes before and after it but will also contradict what it itself said ten minutes previously to any given point, it leaves me as uneasy as the idea of that song “Thank You Haters!” (or something similar, my internet’s playing up at the minute or I’d go look for it) means that any negative opinion about someone’s work can be ignored as the work of evil haters, regardless of the possibility that they might be right and reasonable and the work just ISN’T that good. Whether it matters that they let everyone know about their opinion as stridently as possible, well, Jon Ronson can probably write another of his little books about that at some point in the future.
Considering how it’s a story about stories, and about dreams and how you probably can’t trust dreams because they come from a different perspective than your own and you generally lack the time or intelligence to correctly decode what they are actually telling you rather than what you think they are telling you… The Sandman hangs together pretty well in the end doesn’t it?
Totally get that I might just be using this as the ultimate get out of jail free card (“and with one single bond our hero miraculously escapes!”): but man – why are we always so hung up on consistency anyway? I mean: the only sure thing is that everything everywhere will change (my favourite all time old legend story with a message is the one about the king looking for the ultimate knowledge who pays a bunch of wise people all sorts of jewels and whatever to give it to him and stuff happens: but at the end it’s the last wise man who steps forward and says “this too must pass” and that’s the one that gets all things).
*note: yes – I totally suck at telling stories I know.
But yeah: I mean – please feel free to disregard all the following as the ravings of an ill-informed madman: but isn’t the notion of individuality a basic recent invention anyway and for that mainly benefits (oh boy – this again) capitalism? You know – before it was all happy tribes living in a happy perfect utopia and everyone doing everything for everyone and sharing all their erm berries and fruits and whatever: and then capitalism comes along and invents the idea of the individual and severs all of our ties of community and etc: so that we’re all isolated and easy prey for “buy the things to make you feel less alone!” (and so on). And yeah – with this idea of being individual you get this idea of: well – I need to have a consistent value system and ordered way of seeing the world: because you know: I am serious and dignified and must make rational choices that connect my past self with my future self and make it all one and make it so it all makes sense – as opposed to well: I’m a random and arbitrary collection of ever changing cells arranged in the shape of a hairless ape with a basic grasp of symbols and grunts trapped in an arbitrary society of other hairless apes: all of us stuck to surface of a rock flying around a nuclear fire in an empty space of nothingness. I mean – with all that in mind: what does it matter if there is consistency? Or rather: wouldn’t it be a more truthful state of being to go: well yeah – I have all of these hormones and chemicals and whathaveyous pumping through my brain and so sometimes I feel and think in one way (YUM! EATING ALL THE ICE CREAM!) and other times another (oh god – please no more ice cream!). I mean: you know – let’s get a little distance from our ideas and treat them as different options on a menu. And yeah you know what – sometimes that thing / but also sometimes not that thing. Or rather – maybe a better way to say this: is that maybe we should feel more free to say maybe and not feel so sure and let the doubt in?
(I’ve gone a little off the deep end here haven’t I?)
Like: maybe to put in a little bit of context: talking to a friend this week about the idea of affirmative action to try and offset the fact that (spoiler) we all live in a massively unequal and unfair society (damn hairless apes). But man – that doesn’t mean that affirmative action is right beyond everything else. I mean: there are still issues with it too you know? Very sadly there isn’t one option that is the perfect solution to everything. All we have are endless compromises. Small ways to attempt to redress the balance.
And also yes yes: there are of course loads of things that I personally feel like I am (and I want to be) consistent about – you know: being nice to people and being left-wing and thinking that Scott Pilgrim is the best comic of all time (in fact no – maybe not that last one: because come on: wouldn’t it cool if that changed: and my personality ended up in a different place than where it is now? Yes – yes it would).
(Scott Pilgrim is damn good tho).
And yeah: maybe this is why The Sandman is cool and why reading through the whole thing with you guys has felt like a worthwhile experience: because even tho there are bits that weren’t the best and even Neil Gaiman is kinda an acquired taste (to put it in the nicest way): just because of it’s anthological nature and all of the many artists showing the world in all it’s many ways: it’s a perfect good model for being you know? (If that’s not much?). But yeah – imperfect and messy but with scattered moments of beauty and truth and cool little bits.
Very quick parting shot at Gaiman from me. There’s this thing were insecure or arrogant people like to imagine what the reactions of friends, family and enemies would be to their death, the nice things that would be said in speeches at their own funeral etc. A lot of The Wake feels like eavesdropping on Neil Gaiman’s version of that “you’ll miss me when I’m gone” daydream. I guess the build-up of feels might work for people who have had a strong relationship with the series. For someone who sits on the fence on much of the Sandman, The Wake just feels indulgent.