This installment is part of an ongoing series in which Christopher re-reads and analyzes one of the greatest comic book series of this or any age. Truth be told, he thinks way too hard about this series, but it’s okay: he knows that other people think way too hard about this series as well. He likes to justify his thoughts by telling himself that he is writing this series for those people.
When last we left Morpheus, king of dreams, he had just recovered the three artifacts of his power: his mask, his pouch, and his dream crystal. With the destruction of the crystal at the hands of Dr. Destiny, Morpheus’s power returns to him in full, making him more powerful than he has been in centuries. What follows is a single issue that is most likely the most important issue in the first volume, and possibly the most important issue in the entire series.
When “Sound of Her Wings” opens, Morpheus is sitting and moping and feeding pigeons. After completing his revenge on his captors and retrieving his belongings, he is listless and unmotivated, unsure of what to do next. Enter his big sister, Death, who offers him the opportunity to accompany her on her work that day and talk. Within 22 pages, which ultimately feel way too short, we are transported around the world, as Dream watches Death guide people into the afterlife. While this is happening, Death guides Morpheus and gives him direction, ultimately creating a beautiful sibling interaction that is remarkably sweet, considering the two characters are eternal representations of metaphysical concepts.
This issue is notable for a number of reasons. In the afterward of Preludes and Nocturnes, Neil Gaiman calls this issue an epilogue to the preceding stories, and in this sense, it’s very true. The first seven issues of the collection are a self-contained story documenting Morpheus’s imprisonment, escape, and recovery. Once this is complete, we the readers are left as unsure of the future as Morpheus is. While Gaiman could have just jumped through time to start a new story in the following issue, he instead chooses to slow down the pacing and explore what makes Morpheus tick.
Additionally, this issue is important because of its introduction of Death, who would go on to be a major fan favorite. Morpheus’s big sister is everything he is not, and that is wonderful. Where Morpheus is dark, brooding, and morose, Death is happy, perky, and energetic. This first appearance shows Death smiling and talking about Mary Poppins, and I don’t know about you, but in all my musings and thoughts on death, this persona is most unlike anything I’ve imagined. This juxtaposition is especially striking, considering that Death’s job is to literally guide people through their deaths. It makes sense within the context of the story, I guess. As Morpheus says, “It is as natural to die as it is to be born.” It is humanity that cowers in fear of death, when really, it’s just one more phase of life. In this sense, Death’s appearance and demeanor fits very well.
As to why people glommed onto her as a character, I think that some of that has to do with her reactions to those around her. We see her being stern and disapproving, when she first talks to Morpheus, to cool and comforting a few pages later, when an infant asks, “is that all I get?” While Morpheus is the king of Dreams, and the main character of entire series, it is Death that provides the pathos within these pages, and it is that pathos that engages us as the readers.
Or, maybe, she just gives people hope. Maybe, when we die, we’re greeted by a goth girl wearing an Ankh around her neck, who guides us to the afterlife amid the sound of her wings.
Gaiman calls this issue an epilogue, and it certainly serves that purpose. It caps off the previous stories, providing some much needed closure and bridging a gap to the storyline that follows. Additionally, though, it bridges an even wider gap, between who Morpheus was, and who he becomes in the rest of the series. It’s a single, self-contained issue that, as I said earlier, feels way too short, but it’s an issue that everyone should read. Even more so, it’s an issue that would be a great introduction to the series for someone who has never read any other issues.
This concludes our revisit of Preludes and Nocturnes, the first volume of Sandman. Overall, this is a terrific opening to a terrific series, and Gaiman does a fantastic job of drawing us into the world and making us want to stay. In the next installment, I’ll head into the second volume, The Doll’s House, which finds Dream continuing to rebuild his realm.