“Why do you read all those comic books?” “They are not comics, dad, they are graphic novels, and maybe you should try one before knocking them.” “OK, so where should I start?” It was a dialogue more or less like this that led to reading Seasons of Mist, Volume 4 of the Sandman series by Neil Gaiman. My son thought this among the best of graphic novels. I’d read American Gods earlier this year and liked it so he thought this would be good for me to try.
I have to say after reading this that I’m not sold, but at least I’ve had a taste, and I might be willing to have another taste. But don’t look for a number of reviews of graphic novels. I think I’m going to stick to print, perhaps for the reason that the story I imagine in my head is always more interesting than the one someone can draw.
The story in brief is that the family of Dream, or Lord Morpheus, convenes a council at which Dream is called out for sentencing his lover, Nada to Hell. And Dream concludes that he is in the wrong and prepares to attempt to liberate her, risking going up against Lucifer, who is seeking revenge for a previous raid on Hell. The surprise revenge is that Lucifer empties Hell, permits Dream to cut off his wings, and gives him the Key to Hell. The remainder of this volume deals with the consequences of turning loose the inhabitants of Hell on the earth, rival gods and other supernatural beings only too glad to liberate Dream of the Key to Hell, the final resolution, and what happens to Nada. (I won’t spoil this for those not in the know.)
The most interesting character in all this is Dream, not in the sense of a character you like but one who is complex–intelligent, cruel and tender by turn, and capable of surprising both his rivals and the reader. Many of the other beings tend to be snarky, coarse, crude or silly. As in much of literature, the character of Lucifer is among the most interesting and Gaiman takes this in some unique directions.
Perhaps the most interesting idea in all of this is Gaiman’s exploration of the nature of Hell and the idea that the eternal punishment is one that its victims actually want as payment for their sins and that the bonds of Hell are ones that are self-inflicted. All this is particularly interesting in light of the reconstituted Hell at the end.
Intentional or not, Gaiman’s cosmology strikes me as somewhat gnostic, with a distant and removed Creator and various intermediary supernatural beings and demons who intersect with and shape the affairs and destinies of people. Like American Gods, he draws on the gods of mythologies from around the world. Frankly, I find a Christian cosmology far preferable, as interesting and quirky as some of the “gods” and supernatural beings are. But this is fiction.
I have no point of comparison with regard to the artwork. The “inkers” are supposed to be among the best. I do note the use of different palettes to correspond to the mood of a particular part of the story from pastel to pastoral to vivid reds (particularly in Hell and conflict scenes). The grays and blacks that are characteristic of sections in which Dream appears seem appropriate.
All told, I’d have to say that if lent other examples of this genre, I’d read them but I’m not going to begin buying or downloading them. This was a story that kept my attention, explored some interesting ideas, and created a peculiar universe, albeit not one I’d enjoy living in.