Aug 4, 2009

[Comics] The Sandman Vol. 3 - Dream Country

The Sandman Vol. 3 - Dream CountryFor both comics books and TV shows, one inevitably comes across the filler story or episode. You know what I mean - the seemingly stand-alone story that doesn't directly connect to the main story arc and only seems to contribute to the overall series by revealing more about the main characters in terms of history and back story. These kinds of episodes / issues are still important to the overall message, but aren't necessarily as fun.

Then again, sometimes we end up with some very creative alternative stories that still play with the characters we've come to be loyal to and yet not having them in the forefront. What immediately comes to mind are instances like the Doctor Who episode Blink when the story just followed some regular folk around instead of the Doctor and his Companion.

Given the release cycles for comic books, it can get pretty risky to go on one of these side diversions and usually to play safe most publishers only allow for mini-stories that take up maybe the last 2-4 pages of the issue in order to leave the rest of it the more popular story. If you dedicate a whole issue to a side plot, that means that your one issue for the month or the bi-weekly cycle that you're on may be a total miss with the fans, and thus probably why we don't see it done as often.

The world of The Sandman tends to include a lot of such issues given the alternative nature of the storytelling involved. Let's face it - when you have a comic book that covers the infinite possibilities of dreams, you can end up with pretty much just anything.

The Sandman: Dream Country is the third compilation of The Sandman that collects issues 17-20, all of which were independent stories that didn't feature Dream significantly or as the lead character. The diversity of these tales certainly set it apart from the rest of the comic book world and the risk in running these stories in four consecutive months speaks of a lot of faith in the brand of storytelling that Neil Gaiman pushed with this comic book.

The first story, Calliope, was rather disturbing considering it talked about a writer willing to pay for a muse to keep captive in order to inspire him to write and to finally finish his book. Eventually Dream is called on to save her in his own unique way.

The second story is my favorite of the series, A Dream of a Thousand Cats, where the cats gather to hear the story of a different world were cats are not pets but instead masters of the world. They band together to commit to believing in this world and spreading the story in the thought that should enough of them believe, then this dream will become a reality.

The third story touches on the partnership of Dream and William Shakespeare in the creation of his plays. Thus in this story Dream invites the fairies to watch A Midsummer Night's Dream and have fun at seeing how they are depicted by the humans.

The last story, Facade, which follows the sad life of Element Girl, who hates her malleable appearance and only dreams of being normal again or finally dying. Eventually she comes across another of the Endless, Death, who manages to intercede of her behalf in order to give her respite.

Neil Gaiman in 2004.Image via Wikipedia

Put together, the stories may not have a linear connection to one another but they do achieve many key goals in terms of the larger Sandman universe. Of course there's the ever basic goal of introducing new characters that end up playing larger roles in the future but really the greater achievement here is the showcasing of many experiments in terms of storytelling techniques and pushing the limits of creativity by presenting new ideas to the reader. It's what I appreciate the most about tales such as issue 18 - a story that relies on an alternative medium, in this case the secret world of cats, in order to discuss a key concept to the series, in this case the universality of dreams and the role they play for all of us. It's this kind of avant-garde storytelling that really makes the Sandman so special.

The Sandman: Dream Country is a key part of the entire Sandman series and a must-have for any collection. This gets 5 bezoars out of a possible 5.

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