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The Sandman: The Sound of Her Wings

Then there is Death.

House of Mysteries

Gentle Readers, Friends, Tempestuous Comrades. Allow me to apologize in advance for the amount of discussion that’s about to follow regarding the original source material. We normally try to avoid leaning too heavily in that direction here at the Houses of Mystery and Secrets.

‘The Sound of Her Wings,’ by which I mean the comic published in 1989, is the single most important story that The Sandman ever published. That is neither a Mystery, nor a Secret, nor is it a point that’s even remotely up for debate.

Prior to the publication of this story, which was issue eight of the series, The Sandman was the story of my Lord Morpheus being imprisoned by a mortal, how he escaped, and the journey had had to take to recover everything that was taken from him during his imprisonment. (A saga that was much more pleasant for you to read about than for me to live through, I may assure you.)

In issue seven of the series, they completed that story. And it was good. And it was a complete and ended thing.

‘The Sound of Her Wings’ was their one chance to prove that there was any reason for The Sandman to continue. And instead of beginning a new storyline, Neil Gaiman used that chance to give the world a beautiful, self-contained meditation on what it means to have purpose, defined the concept of The Endless, and in 24 pages made Death herself the most beloved character in the entire DC comics universe. No small feat.

Before 'Sound of Her Wings,' The Sandman was the story of Dream reclaiming his stuff. After 'Sound of Her Wings,' The Sandman opened out to the entire universe.

Which is a bit of a difficulty for adapting it to telly. With the lovely framing device of poor, doomed Franklin, 'Sound of Her Wings' is a perfect thing. And while they here substituted a few of Death’s appointments from the comics with new ones that worked a bit better visually (and blessedly dialed back the full impact of the infant’s death just a bit. As written, it would have been too hard to watch), they made that perfect, Franklin-framed story in just over twenty minutes. Of a fifty-minute episode of television.

Even my dung-brained brother can see the problem there.

While I think it’s entirely possible that they could have padded things out and made a fifty-minute version of the original 'Sound of Her Wings' that worked, they made the right call here by letting that story be the length at which it worked best and then pivoting to something else once it was done. Which brings us of course to the story of Hob Gadling as originally related in an issue of the comic entitled ‘Men of Good Fortune.’ A.k.a. the second half of this episode.

I don’t intend any disrespect to M’Lord Morpheus here, but there’s a problem. ‘Men of Good Fortune’ is also a perfectly structured story, using the way that the story is told to underline the essential point being made. But the way that it’s structured is so completely different from the way that ‘Sound of Her Wings’ was that they jar significantly when laid out next to one another in close proximity like this.

Even more than '24/7' before it, this episode is very clearly two separate stories that have been bolted together. In this case, both are perfect stories, perfectly told but the seam between them is a little clumsy. That’s not the worst sin that an hour of television can commit.

House of Secrets

Sometimes things jar for a reason, sometimes the point is the clash. I admit that I have no idea which this episode is, which means it's not a secret, just an unknown.

This episode marked a change of pace for the series, but it's also arguably a transition episode and rife with the problems of transition. And yet, within the chaos of the clash, there is a kind of harmony – two interfaces of Dream and Death, one with Death leading Dream, the other with Dream leading and Death playing a bit role. In both cases he winds up meeting Hob Gadling. As a whole, I think my brother is right about the two halves of the episode not perfectly meshing – I think that the story can also be seen as a straightforward story of Death talking to Dream in his depression and convincing him that what he needed is a friend, so he goes to see Hob – with a long flashback to the story of how his friendship with Hob developed plunked in the middle. By the end of the second half, we've caught up to today and are actually resuming the story begun in 'The Sound of Her Wings.'

'The Sound of Her Wings' is a story that transformed Death for me. When I read it at age 13, I thought, so Dream turned out a bit differently – will Death? And watching this umpteen years later, I thought, so the comic turned out differently, will the show? It feels like every moment of the original comic is preserved, fluffed out, and made fresh with this version. Kirby Howell-Baptiste is a natural counterpart for Milord Dream, and the beats for this episode felt natural. It didn't feel like it needed to be longer.

I would have actually liked to see them bridge canon a bit to mesh the stories a bit more with the secondary framing I shared. I think that might have made the episode flow a little better. Dream walks away from Death in one shot, and then in the next he's standing in front of a dead pub breathing its sorrows out on the air. And, like 'Sound of Her Wings,' 'Good Fortune' is all about teaching Dream not to give in to Despair through the love of family and of friends.

And then we get to see Desire again, telling Despair their plan has failed, and that there is a new plan. And those are all the secrets I can share.

A Note from Franklin

Man, the Endless sure can play ball. Desire arranged for their own brother's imprisonment and suffering? And has further ideas? What is driving this drama? How can there be so much love between Dream and Death, but so much distance between Dream and Desire?

Things are looking up for Morpheus

Dream Skerries

- Lady Johanna Constantine overtly states that she's looking for immortality and Dream later says that he circled back around to her, and she fulfilled a task for him. Did she get her wish? Is Lady J. in episode three the same one in episode six?

- Shakespeare, Chaucer, and Marlowe are in here. Do we see more authors in the modern age? I can't place them, but I feel like there may be.

- I imagine the costume designer must have enjoyed working on this one. So many different periods.

- It's been definitively stated that the lingering affectionate looks between Dream and Hob Gadling in the final moments are intentionally romantic. So that's nice.

- It would be interesting to know if they ever seriously considered a version of this where Dream just straight up misses the 1989 appointment and Hob was left heartbroken. That could have been interesting when he factors back into the larger story later.

On Waking

Two fantastic stories, both well told, joined together a little awkwardly. Plus, an introduction to Death that's tone perfect and beautiful. In honor of her, Abel gets to live to the end of the review. Just this once.

Cain is the first murderer from the First Story. Keeper of the House of Mysteries, he sometimes likes a nice box of thin mints. And who doesn't. Abel, his brother, is caretaker of the House of Secrets. He's more of a Trefoil shortbread man.

Joseph Santini and Mikey Heinrich are fictional characters and remain the intellectual property of their creators, all rights reserved.

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