It’s a deeply satisfying moment when you realize that something you’ve read multiple times has an added meaning that you’re just now discovering. I had one of those as I was re-reading The Sandman #11.
The title of this issue is “Moving In,” and on the surface it’s mostly about Rose Walker getting settled in a boarding house in Florida, where she’s begun searching for her missing brother Jed (the backstory is that when Rose and Jed’s parents split up, the father got custody of Jed and they lost contact with one another). That’s one meaning for the title; the second meaning plays on the way that both Rose and Dream are getting closer to solving their respective mysteries (by issue’s end, Rose has heard from a private investigator where Jed is located, and Dream, who is investigating all things related to Rose the Vortex, has made some important discoveries regarding the AWOL dreams who disappeared while he was imprisoned). The juxtaposition of settling and advancing is a nice contrast, especially since Rose and Dream are doing both things at the same time.
Perhaps more importantly, this issue, like the last one, is doing a lot of setting up, although it’s mostly setting up for future stories rather than getting the current one rolling. We meet all of Rose’s housemates in this issue, and all of them reappear later in the series’ run as more prominent characters. The landlord Hal and the women in white Chantal and Zelda will play minor roles in Sandman‘s climactic story The Kindly Ones, and Barbie the absurdly normal woman will become the protagonist of the series’ third major story arc A Game of You. Beyond the mortal characters, we also meet Gilbert, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the writer G.K. Chesterton, and Matthew, Dream’s raven (Matthew is an interesting character because of his oblique connection to the DC horror series Swamp Thing; though it’s never stated explicitly, multiple references are made to Matthew’s previous life as a man who died in a car accident while driving drunk; the generally accepted theory is that he’s actually Matthew Cable, a man who antagonized Swamp Thing regularly). Gilbert pops up every now and again in one off stories, but Matthew will be a regular character who acts as a sort of reader surrogate so that Dream can explain what’s going on at any given moment. We also get to meet, however briefly, Hector and Lyta Hall, who reside in Jed’s closed off dreamscape. Hector’s a character of little consequence beyond his meta-connection to the series as DC’s previous version of the Sandman, but his wife Lyta matters immensely to the story as a whole (the next issue deals with them in much greater depth, so we’ll save any further discussion for next time).
While Rose is meeting her colorful housemates, we also get to see a few brief scenes that suggest Jed’s life is not great (his dreamscape is extremely simplistic and reminiscent of Windsor McCay’s original Little Nemo comic strips, but they always transition to the horrific reality of Jed’s life locked in the basement of his foster parents’ home). These scenes are short and very effective at reminding us that while Gaiman’s not explicitly writing horror anymore, he’s certainly not shying away from it when he needs to.
Notable art moments include a series of panels depicting Matthew the raven in flight that are reminiscent of Eadweard Muybridge’s photographs studying the nature of motion, the aforementioned Little Nemo allusions, and a splash page of Dream in his full regalia (a device that gets used several times in the series’ run to indicate that Dream is ready to set out on a particular mission and he means business).
Next time we’ll get to consider Lyta Hall in more depth, and enjoy an issue guest penciled by one of my favorite comics artists of the last two decades, Chris Bachalo.