This week of blogging Sandman was rough, let me tell you. But before we get into that, let me tell you a childhood story of horror and suspense:
At the tender age of seven, I got my first computer. It was the family computer, actually, a big hand-me-down beast of a thing with classic DOS games antiquated even at that time. Lemmings, Prince of Persia, and Castles quickly became my gaming baby foods. However, as a frequent attendee at several school chess club meetings, I was especially delighted to find a battle chess game lurking in the depths of this inherited hard drive.
“Dad, what’s the difference between battle chess and regular chess?”
“Your pieces battle it out on the board in battle chess.”
“You mean, they’re like characters that act it all out?”
My little Arthurian legend enthusiast self just couldn’t handle the excitement. I plugged in the code with chubby fingers, and waited an eternity for the game to load. Then, when I finally took my first pawn, I watched in shock as my knight chopped off the arms of the enemy piece and proceeded to beat him over the head with his own dismembered appendages. Tears welled up in my eyes and my stomach churned as chunky red pixels spattered the board. The dying pawn cried out in agony one last time, then fell into what I could only assume was a heap of his own body parts (graphics in those days left much to the imagination).
Turns out reading about medieval violence and watching medieval violence are two completely different things for a seven-year-old, even in pixel form. Needless to say, I never played that game again.
Was I an idealistic child with a tender soul and hyperactive imagination? A little.
Okay, maybe a lot.
It wasn’t the cartoonish dismemberment, nor was it the early 90s attempts at pixilated blood spurts that upset me so. It was the idea that someone, fictional or otherwise, could be so creative in causing the suffering of someone else. Sure, I understood that the plastic in my hands at chess club represented soldiers at war, but I’d never pictured any of them using such elaborate methods to cut each other down. All at once, I realized that the evil I read about in fairytales wasn’t just the spawn of hubris or jealousy. Sometimes the bad guys just like to watch people suffer, and I couldn’t seem to break that motivation into bite size pieces. Plain and simple cruelty is just hard to swallow.
I’ve toughened up quite a bit since then, but I remember what it was like to be so full of empathy for a little gray man who lived (and died) in my computer. The whole thing was exaggerated in my mind, but the truth is, watching someone suffer should hurt. If the idea of a fellow human being torn apart doesn’t bother you at least a little bit, there’s something wrong.
Now, onto Sandman.
We left off with Dr. Destiny waiting in a diner with the stolen Dreamstone for the end of the world. The next 24 hours develop according to his wishes, and as you might guess, Dr. Destiny is one of those bad guys who likes to watch people suffer. The Armageddon unfolds as an unadulterated horror story, far surpassing whatever dark twists might have littered the previous issues. He begins by letting the world fall into a half-sleeping madness, leading each of the diner’s patrons to resolve their real life troubles through even more troubling dreams. For instance, a woman dreams of decapitating her cheating husband so his infidelity will never worry her again.
The dreams are only the beginning, however, and civilization quickly crumbles into madness, sexual deviance, and various forms of blood sacrifice to Dr. Destiny who has set himself up as a god. It is gruesome and quite difficult to read, not to mention visualize, illustrated over the course of several pages. The intensity resembles the kind of horrors we read in classical literature, only there is no veil of arcane language and historical setting. It’s somehow easier to think of cannibalism, rape, and self-mutilation when it takes place in a faraway, semi-mythological world, on the pages of your anthologies, with your notes and observations in the margin.
It is my wooden chessboard, my army of plastic pawns. It isn’t real.
But in this story, the horror takes place in a modern day diner. The victims are a businessman, a broken-hearted girlfriend, a mother, a husband. Their suffering is chronicled with crude 90s art, but it doesn’t matter, it’s jarring all the same. If it doesn’t bother you at least a little bit, something’s probably wrong. This is more than a dark fantasy. It’s a narrative that forces you to face the reality of evil whether you want to or not.
I don’t really want my sushi lunch anymore. I’m also rather depressed.
On the last panel, Morpheus arrives. I’ve had mixed feelings about him so far, and if there was ever a time for him to reveal his true colors, it would be now.
Come on Dream! Swoop in and save the day. Please. I’m so utterly grossed out right now. But I suppose that’s the point.