I don’t think I can begin to describe my relief at finally reaching the end of The Doll’s House. I believe I’ve mentioned it in passing before, but there’s a certain challenge to exegeting a serialized story that just doesn’t exist when you’re dealing with something self contained. So many of the issues that comprise the Doll’s House story arc function more as individual chapters in a longer work that only really make sense in that larger context. Rose’s story is kind of haphazardly strewn among a bunch of other smaller stories, and the reason behind what’s going on with her status as a Vortex is pretty much a mystery until this last issue. Yeah, we get hints that there’s something funny going on with the introductory scene involving Desire meditating on their recent machinations against Dream, but that plot doesn’t re-emerge until the very end so that readers muddling about through the middle of the story don’t have any reminders that maybe this all has something to do with that strange sibling of Dream’s who looks like the cover of a Duran Duran album. I can’t imagine what it must have been like reading the issues in real time with a month’s wait between each chapter.
Perhaps most frustrating of all is that Doll’s House ends with only a few things explained, and many more questions established (I suppose it’s understandable that you’d want to generate interest in future plot threads, and thinking of The Sandman as a single work means that this particular story is still very early and must build up mysteries that are going to be explained later; all the set up with Unity and Rose and Desire’s interference in their lives does a great job of establishing problems and rules of the world that will have much bigger consequences later). We’re not entirely sure what the consequences of Dream killing someone he’s related to would be, and we won’t get any further hint of that for a long while yet (if I remember correctly), but the thread is there, and it seems like that’s the biggest takeaway from The Doll’s House on a purely plot relevant level.
On a more thematic level though, this issue does finally bring into focus the point of the various doll motifs that have been woven throughout the whole story. When Dream confronts Desire about the whole scheme, he makes a point of reminding Desire that the Endless exist to order the lives of mortals, not to play with them. Every major chapter in the story (I can’t really speak for “Men of Good Fortune” since that’s more an interlude than anything) has featured some kind of constructed microcosm in which the rules of reality are skewed a little bit, often at the whims of aberrant dreams who’ve lost the thread of what they’re supposed to do. Gilbert, whom we learn is actually the dreamscape Fiddler’s Green in this issue, inhabits a house full of people who are social outcasts trying to create a measure of normality in their lives; Brute and Glob have used Jed’s precarious position in his foster parents’ home to isolate him from the Dreaming and make their own private paradise (which, we mustn’t forget, includes the life of Lyta Hall in the collateral damage); the Corinthian presides over a convention where serial killers commune and desperately try to make themselves feel normal and special at the same time. From the benign to the positively destructive, these dreams make use of their connections to humans to advance their own goals, and in every case Dream arrives to remind them of the irregularity of this reversal. Though the Endless and their creations possess immense power over mortals, Dream’s a constant presence insisting that it is supposed to be the other way around: people are the players and the dreams their playthings (let’s not get into the meta-level meaning whereby the characters in the story itself are the playthings of the authors and the readers).
And for perhaps the first time in their run, I’m underwhelmed by Dringenberg and Jones’s art. The style here has a distinctly different feel even from the previous issue. Though they are recognizable, none of the characters quite look like themselves; Rose looks particularly strange, and I’m not sure why, especially since the entire art team is unchanged from the previous issue. I suppose part of it could be the fact that there’s no necessity for establishing a variety of styles to showcase different dreams, but I’m at a loss as to why the usual style Dringenberg and Jones have typically used isn’t in effect here.
From here we’ll be launching into a brief series of one-off stories, which are definitely the most fun to mull over. First up, a story that meditates on the nature of inspiration (and uses rape as a metaphor for that concept).