Tag Archives: comics

Thoughts on “The Sandman, Volume 2: The Doll’s House” by Neil Gaiman

It was well over five years ago that I read the first volume in Gaiman’s classic graphic series, so I actually went back and reread Volume 1: Preludes and Nocturnes before reading this. I was glad I did. I would have missed a lot of the nuances had the beginning of the saga not been fresh in my mind.

In his introduction to this volume, Clive Barker describes what he calls “fantastic fiction” and explains why the graphic novel/comic genre is ideal for exploring this type of narrative.

The second kind of fantastique is far more delirious. In these narratives, the whole world is haunted and mysterious. There is no solid status quo, only a series or relative realities, personal to each of the characters, any or all of which are frail, and subject to eruptions from other states and conditions. One of the finest writers in this second mode is Edgar Allan Poe, in whose fevered stories landscape, character – even architecture – become a function of the tormented, sexual anxious psyche of the author; in which anything is possible because the tales occur within the teller’s skull.

Is it perhaps freedom from critical and academic scrutiny that has made the medium of the comic book so rich an earth in which to nurture this second kind of fiction?

Essentially, this volume is a dark exploration of the possibilities of what might happen if the boundaries of dreams were somehow dissolved, where the collective subconscious minds accessed by all dreamers were connected, and the effect that this might have on our notion of reality.

She can feel them: across the city, a paradise of sleeping minds. Each mind creates and inhabits it own world, and each world is but a tiny part of the totality that is the dreaming… and she can touch them. Touch all of them. She begins to free them, loosening them into the flux. Across the city dreams begin to join and integrate and, in so doing, they change the dreamers forever.

What we deem as reality is actually a shared perception, and the key word here is perception. How real is reality? We spend a third of our lives in a dream state, and how do we know that what we perceive while in this state is not as real or more real than what we accept as reality in the world around us? This is what one of the main characters, Rose, contemplates toward the end of the book.

If my dream was true, then everything we know, everything we think we know is a lie. It means the world’s about as solid and as reliable as a layer of scum on the top of a well of black water which goes down forever, and there are things in the depths that I don’t even want to think about. It means more than that. It means that we’re just dolls. We don’t have a clue what’s really going down, we just kid ourselves that we’re in control of our lives while a paper’s thickness away things that would drive us mad if we thought about them for too long play with us, and move us from room to room, and put us away at night when they’re tired, or bored.

This is an idea that I have always found unsettling. I have known people who for various reasons suffered a break with reality and ended up institutionalized. I could not help but wonder: Was it mental illness, schizophrenia, or a glimpse of something that mortals were not meant to know? When Dante is about to cross the threshold in the Inferno, he is warned: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” Some things are too intense for the fragile human psyche.

I plan on continuing with this series (I already have the next volume ready to read). Expect to hear my thoughts on Volume 3: Dream Country in the near future.



Filed under Literature

Monstress: Issue #14

Yet another stunningly beautiful and eloquently composed installment in this series. I know I have written before about the quality of the writing and artwork that graces these pages, so for this post, I just want to share a couple passages that I found particularly inspiring.

“The ancients, using their magic — and their sway over humans — constructed cities of such magnificence that they have never been equaled. Magic allowed them to control the elements, to defy death, and to peer into the labyrinths of time. Infinitely brilliant — and just as decadent. But the ancients, for all the blessings bestowed upon them, were as deeply flawed as the humans they enslaved — and the same ambitions that elevated them to Olympian heights ended up tearing them apart.”

“What happened once, will happen again… but in a different form. To become a fortune-teller, one needs only to study history.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Literature

Doctor Strange – Damnation: #01

So I really wanted to hate this, especially since it pulls in a slew of other characters from the Marvel Universe, something I don’t particularly care for. But the fact is, it was quite good, and the villain, Mephisto (clearly a graphic rendering of Mephistopheles), is diabolical in a most refined manner.

So the basic premise of this arc is that Doctor Strange “resurrects” Las Vegas, which appears to have been destroyed at some point after I had stopped reading Doctor Strange because the quality plummeted, in my opinion. Anyway, one of the negative ramifications of resurrecting the city is that he inadvertently brought Mephisto out of Hell and he now has dominion over the City of Sin. Having been to Vegas for the first time recently, the idea of the city being ruled by a demon is not too much of a stretch for me. But I digress.

The most intriguing aspect of this issue is Mephisto’s commentaries on the nature of sin, and humanity’s tendency to embrace the darker side of the human experience.

Sin!! It doesn’t take much, you understand. It’s your natural condition, after all — has been since the apple and the garden… if you believe that sort of thing. I’m still on the fence myself. Point is, you just love to do what you’re told not to do, and I’m not blaming you — Heavens no! I understand you, admire you, accept who you really are, what you really want. You want to rip each other apart. You want to see some blood.

Of course, this is a pretty bleak assessment of humanity, but it’s not without justification. There are a lot of people who fall into Mephisto’s view, but there are also many who do not. And that is what Doctor Strange is betting on, that there is at least as much good in the world as there is evil, if not more. I for one share the view. We are bombarded with news and hype focusing on the negative, feeding off our fears, but really, there is so much good happening, we just don’t hear about it as much.


Filed under Literature

Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. 1955: Burning Season

I have to say that I enjoy stand-alone comics much more than ongoing arcs, since they are like a short story and instantly gratifying to read. And this one is an excellent short tale that worked for me on multiple levels.

Hellboy, the professor, and Susan arrive in Florida to investigate cases of spontaneous combustion, an unusual occurrence which I personally find fascinating in a morbid kind of way.

The notion of spontaneous human combustion dates back to the eighteenth century, but there are legends going back centuries with similar features. And while in medieval times such deaths were attributed to demonic influence, more recently some have come to believe that there is a medical cause.

In trying to figure out whether the events were caused by an unquiet spirit, the group considers the suffering of the Seminole tribe.

The Seminole themselves were driven out by U.S. troops, forced to embark on the ‘Trail of Tears’ to make room for white settlers.

Having lived in Florida, I was familiar with the Seminole and aspects of their history. But the comic also mentions another indigenous tribe, the Timucua.

The original inhabitants of the region, the Timucua, may have been the first North American indians to encounter Spanish explorers when Ponce de Leon arrived in 1513. But the Timucua were wiped out by disease brought by the explorers, their numbers reduced from hundreds of thousands to a bare handful by the nineteenth century.

One of the things I love about the Hellboy series is that the writers consistently draw upon obscure historical information, legends, and mythology. So since I had not heard of this tribe, I did a quick web search to validate the existence of the tribe.

The Timucua were a Native American people who lived in Northeast and North Central Florida and southeast Georgia. They were the largest indigenous group in that area and consisted of about 35 chiefdoms, many leading thousands of people. The various groups of Timucua spoke several dialects of the Timucua language. At the time of European contact, the territory occupied by speakers of Timucuan dialects occupied about 19,200 square miles (50,000 km2), and was home to between 50,000 and 200,000 Timucuans. It stretched from the Altamaha River and Cumberland Island in present-day Georgia as far south as Lake George in central Florida, and from the Atlantic Ocean west to the Aucilla River in the Florida Panhandle, though it reached the Gulf of Mexico at no more than a couple of points.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Spoiler Alert: I have to give away the ending to discuss the last thing, so stop here if you plan on reading the comic and do want the ending spoiled.

It is discovered that the cause of the spontaneous human combustion is the cumulative anguish of all the people who suffered in that area.

The flames were unable to consume you, Hellboy, but you couldn’t hope to overcome centuries of pain. You could only acknowledge it. Remember it.

For me, this was a very powerful and symbolic image. Pain and suffering is symbolically represented as a burning within an individual, or collectively within a group or culture. Eventually the pain and suffering rises to the surface resulting in violent outbursts. We often think we can fight this type of burning rage, but we cannot. Fighting it only increases the pain and stokes the flames of hatred and anger. It is only through acknowledgement, empathy, and compassion that we can begin the healing process.

One last thing I want to say about this comic: the writing and artwork are both amazing. Even if you are not a fan of the genre, you will undoubtedly be impressed by the brilliance of the creative team reflected in these pages. I highly recommend this to all readers.


Leave a comment

Filed under Literature

Monstress: Issue #13

It has been quite a while since the last publication in this series, which is acknowledged by the writer and artist.

It’s been a very long break. Maybe too long, but I hope you’ll agree that we used the time wisely to bring you another arc filled with Sana’s extraordinary art, and a story that brings you deeper into Maika’s increasingly perilous quest.

Yes, it was worth the wait. The artwork is stunning and intricately beautiful, while the writing and storytelling are as impeccable as ever. I personally feel that women are doing the most creative work in this genre right now, and Marjorie and Sana exemplify the beauty and complexity that creative women are bringing to the world of graphic storytelling.

There are a couple short but powerful political quotes in this installment that I want to share.

In politics one must be supremely…flexible.

In seven words, this sums up the problem with our current political situation. There is no longer flexibility, and both sides of the political divide have become so polarized and hostile that nothing meaningful gets accomplished anymore. It has turned into an all or nothing game, where staunch opposition is considered a sign of strength. But Taoist thought tells us otherwise. Flexibility and the ability to move with the current instead of against it is a sign of true strength in a leader.

The people just want to feel safe…and believe their government is behind them.

If I had to try to identify the dominant paradigms in today’s society, I would have to say they are fear and a sense of insecurity. And while I believe that much of this fear and uncertainty is manufactured by the media with the intent of keeping people glued to the screen, the feeling is real and affects almost everyone to some extent. This is why people are turning to governments for safety and security, and why they are willing to sacrifice freedoms and humanitarian values in the vain attempt to allay their fear. Sadly, though, I suspect that they will find neither, and in the end will look back with regret on the choices they made.

Anyway, I’m glad that Monstress is back on the shelves. I look forward to the next issue.


Filed under Literature

Witchblade #02

It’s amazing what your mind can accept. Even if the toll of that acceptance will inevitably come due.

This quote from the second installment of the new Witchblade series really resonated with me. As someone who meditates and reads a fair amount of spiritual writings, I understand the importance of acceptance as a spiritual value. But I suppose there can be a dark side to acceptance, especially in cases of abuse where acceptance might lead to complacency and inaction. Too often people accept their suffering and come to see it as normal, and then fail to summon the courage necessary to make positive changes in their lives. I suppose that is why acceptance is only part of the Serenity Prayer. Acceptance must always be balanced with courage.

Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference.


Filed under Literature

Weird Love: #21

This has been on my desk for several weeks now. I had picked it up because it looked interesting. It’s a compilation of romance comics from the 1950’s which share a theme of being set in a carnival or circus setting. The characters and tales are weird, as the title implies, but it is also a cool view into 50’s sexuality, and they are all from a woman’s perspective. Now I don’t think that any women actually wrote these, so I question how accurately these tales reflect the average 1950’s female ideals on romance, but it made for some interesting reading.

As a young teenager, I worked with my dad at German festivals in the northeast. I got to know the carnies, the vendors, and the entertainers. Often, in the evenings, I found myself in the trailers out back, and can vouch for the craziness that one might expect to encounter in this environment. But all the freaky people I met were nice, and there was a sense of camaraderie amongst everyone. And this sentiment is also expressed in one of the tales in this comic.

“One thing about carnie people you should know. On the outside, they’re hard and tough. Under the skin, though, they’re warmhearted people. They stood beside me and gave me help.”

In my earlier years, when I was discovering comics as a genre, I was solely interested in horror. It would have never occurred to me to read anything having to do with romance. But in the introduction, the editor, Mike Howlett, explains the parallels between horror and romance.

My two favorite comic book genres are horror and romance, probably because there are so many raw and honest themes shared by the two. Fear, helplessness, and an outcome of triumph (slain monster/true love) or failure (death/heartbreak) prove that the formula can be very similar. Horror and romance stories are filled with passion, emotion, and, surprisingly, both genres find themselves right at home in the sleazy and scandalous world of the comic book sideshow.

I had never stopped to consider this structural similarity between the genres, but it seems so obvious now. Anyway, I’m glad I branched out and read this. It proves how important it is to read diversely.


Filed under Literature