There’s a story beat that happens a lot where someone knows they’re about to go do something really dangerous, so they go around to the people they care about and they make a point of saying proper goodbyes because they know the likelihood of them coming back okay isn’t very good (it’s akin to the emotional buildup that you’ll often see prior to the execution of a suicide mission, though that’s not precisely what Dream’s doing here). It’s a nice beat, and in serious stories it usually signals to the audience that expectations need to be adjusted because the mortality rate in the story may spike suddenly; typically though, we see this sequence placed closer to the middle of a story (suicide missions, unless the entirety of the plot revolves around their events, usually only come into play at a story’s climax). What’s unusual about Gaiman’s use of this device here is that the issue’s called “Chapter 1.” While the prologue was important for getting the ball rolling, the first chapter in a story would ostensibly be about establishing characters and their motivations, but here Gaiman skips all that and jumps straight to having Dream prepare for his big confrontation.
Essentially, the events with which we’re presented in this issue don’t entirely mesh with their position in the structure of the larger story, which is a decent tip off that things are not going to go the way that everyone expects them to (Dream is anticipating a confrontation of epic proportions that could result in his death, which is unlikely, or his imprisonment, which is a complicated enough situation to have some real potential). Even the audience is led to believe that things will get ugly soon enough, with Dream gearing up for battle in his full regalia (it’s probably in this issue, with Kelley Jones’s pencils, that I first realized that Dream’s helmet is shaped somewhat like the head of a raven, which won’t be especially significant for a while) and Lucifer shouting out a bombastic speech about how the day Dream returns to Hell will be one for all to remember. It turns out this really is true, but not in the way that everyone in the story expects.
In between the scenes of preparation, Dream flits around (well, maybe “flits” isn’t the right word) to see people who are important to him. He pays a visit to Hob Gadling “99 years early,” which is more than a little touching since “Men of Good Fortune” was the story that first really established that Dream is beginning to learn the value of empathy and connection with people following his imprisonment. On the eve of an event that may result in a much longer imprisonment, he feels like he needs to explain what might happen so Hob doesn’t wonder about Dream if he doesn’t make their next appointment. Also significantly, Dream pays a visit to Lyta Hall and her infant son. Lyta is understandably angry to see Dream again, but he offers her a gift by explaining that her child’s name (which she hasn’t decided on yet) is Daniel. I’ve always read this scene as implying that Dream is delivering a message, relaying to Lyta the name that her son uses when he visits the Dreaming. Future stories will show that this moment isn’t nearly enough to mend the hostility that Lyta feels towards Dream, but it’s a bit of peace, and Lyta’s smile at learning her son’s name seems quite genuine (far off in the future, the significance of Dream visiting Daniel before going to Hell will be explained more fully, but for now it’s simply one scene in a series that serves to show Dream actively thinking about how his absence might affect others). Beyond these two visits to humans, we also see Dream making plans for how to ensure the Dreaming carries on without him in the event of a disaster.
It’s clear from all these small visitations that Dream has been deeply affected by his recent experience, and we can expect that the central arc of Season of Mists will focus more on exploring what Dream has learned from being caught in Roderick Burgess’s trap. I think this is the first story where more than simple obligation motivates Dream’s actions (we caught a glimpse of that in “Calliope,” but the empathy he feels for his ex easily maps directly on his recent experiences; aside from Nada, whose circumstances also bear a striking similarity to Dream’s own trauma, most of the beneficiaries of Dream’s actions are in situations that don’t easily align with what’s happened to Dream and require a greater deal of empathy to sympathize with).
The art for this issue is done by Kelley Jones and Malcolm Jones III, and it’s just as spectacular as what was done with “Calliope.” Dream appears much more prominently in this issue, and we get a lot of opportunity to see how Kelley Jones modifies the character’s look from earlier. For all his stolid demeanor, the sheer variety of appearances that Dream goes through over the series’ run suggest that he’s more than a little bit vain, and Jones’s introduction of what I think of as Dream’s poofy hair stage (his hair’s always been wild, but Kelley Jones gives Dream’s hair a level of volume rarely matched by other artists) is pretty delightful. It’s only matched by his take on Lucifer, who doesn’t really look like David Bowie anymore (a pity), but still looks terrifying and appealing at the same time. We’ll be seeing a lot more of Kelley Jones in this arc, and it’s all good.
In Chapter 2, we’ll get to see precisely what Lucifer has in store for Dream.