Classic Comic Book Canon. The Sandman, issues 29-31, Special

Welcome to a series that I am continuing. I am going to go through Neil Gaiman’s now-classic series The Sandman.

Issue #29

Title: Thermidor 1

Artist: Stan Woch & Dan Giordino

Collected in: Fables and Reflections

Plot: In 1794, Dream visits with Johanna Constantine with a proposition. He requires a mortal agent to perform a special task for him, and in return, he will give her what is in his power to give her.

Nearly one month later, in the guise of a peasant, Johanna is encounters a pair of French revolutionaries in Paris. They detain her and demand to know what she carries in her satchel. She produces a severed head from the bag. She explains that it is the head of an aristocrat who violated her sister three years ago. She intends to take the head back to her mother so that they can both spit in its face together. Before letting her pass, the guards inspect the head and rip an earring from its ear. Johanna apologises to the head, which happens to belong to the immortal Orpheus, son of Dream.

Eventually, Johanna is caught, though the guards cannot find the missing head anywhere. Louis Antoine St-Just takes personal custody of her, and accompanies her to the prison in Luxembourg, built inside a large palace. She is visited by Robespierre himself, who demands to know where the head is. Once they find the head, they will have her killed by guillotine.

That night, Johanna dreams of Dream, and they concoct a plan together. Soon, she is roused by Robespierre and St-Just, who drag her down to a special chamber. He announces that he has realized where she hid the head: in the same place that they keep all of the other severed heads from the aristocrats. Picking up Orpheus’ head, Johanna reveals to whom it belongs. She orders her companion to sing for them, covering her own ears. The sound of his voice leaves Robespierre and St-Just standing in awe. After Orpheus’ song is finished, they still stand, and she grabs the head and escapes.

The next day, St-Just fell silent during his speech before the national convention. Robespierre attempted to cover for him, but embarrassed himself. That very night, he and his faction were arrested, and on the next day, they were put to death by their own weapon of execution, the guillotine. Months later, Johanna returns Orpheus’ head to priests in Naxos, Greece.

First appearance:Orpheus, or at least his immortal head

Historical references Louis St-Just 2 & Maximilien Robespierre 3 were arrested in the coup known as the Thermidor Reaction. As in the story, St-Just faltered in his speech, with Robespierre trying to call his allies. The coup was inspired by Robespierre’s speech the day before claiming treachery from his rivals. He was indeed shot in the jaw and both were beheaded.

Keep an eye on: Orpheus’s fate will be a major plot point later in the series.

My take I enjoy in these series of stories how real life events are weaved into the narrative


Issue #30

Title: August

Artist: Brian Talbot & Sam Wich

Collected in: Fables and Reflections

Plot: The dwarf Lycius is called to an audience with Caesar Augustus. Today, Caesar asks him to teach him how to appear to be a beggar, and then, they will go out into the streets as beggars, forsaking their nobility for just one day. Together, they sit on the steps of the Temple of the Avenging Mars and beg for money. There, Caesar explains how he came to be chosen as his uncle Julius Caesar’s successor, and the way in which the Roman people make Gods of their rulers.

Eventually, Caesar confides that he knows the future. He has read every book of prophecy, and he discovered that there are two possible futures: one in which the Roman empire falls in just a few hundred years, and another in which the entire earth becomes a province of the empire. He chose the future that seemed most right to him, and burned all mention of the other.

Sandman 30 - 02

Caesar admits that the reason that he has become a beggar for the day is because he had a dream in which a strange man informed him that in order to appease the gods he fears, and hide his actions from them, Caesar must become a beggar for a day. On that day, the gods will not be able to hear his thoughts. Dream reveals that he knows that Julius Caesar, Augustus’ uncle had raped him as a boy, and that it is he whom Augustus fears.

The day over, Caesar and Lycius part ways, and some years later, the dwarf met the emperor playing beggar again, but they did not speak. The empire did not expand beyond Europe and Africa, and Lycius wonders if this is the future that Caesar chose.

Historical references There is no historical evidence to support the assertion that Julius sodomized Augustus. Lycius was also a historical figure. Cicero and Plautus are also mentioned

My take This issue makes me want to watch I, Claudius


Issue #31

Title: Three Septembers and a January

Artist:Sean McManus

Collected in: Fables and Reflections

Plot: 1859. Despair taunts a man named Joshua who has fallen into her domain. She sees in him a potential for despair, and calls on Dream to help redeem him. Reluctantly, Dream sends Joshua to sleep. Despair taunts her older brother with the notion that he may not be able to keep Joshua from despair long enough to prevent him from being taken by Death. Compassionately, Dream gives Joshua a dream. Afterwards, Joshua declares himself as emperor of the United States of America. By virtue of the audacity of the proclamation, the newspaper decides to print it all the same.

1864 An editor named Sam has befriended him, and today he decides to take Joshua out for dinner. There, Joshua remarks that some have thought him mad for his plan to build a bridge across the bay to Oakland. 4 Joshua writes down an imperial proclamation on a napkin that Samuel Clemens, who also writes under the name Mark Twain, shall hereby be the official story teller to the United States of America for the duration of his moral lifetime. . Watching, Delirium realizes that it is Joshua’s madness that keeps him sane.

1875 Joshua Norton is a tourist sttraction, chargjng a 50 cent tax for a souvenir receipt. At the Cobweb Palace, Joshua is met by a man calling himself the King of Pain. In exchange for a wife, the King of Pain demands only a tiny favour: he has to want one of the women. Sternly Joshua announces that he is the emperor of the United States and wants for nothing. The city has been charitable to him, and he is happy. Desire is confused as to how Joshua could refuse the offer. Dream responds that the man’s dignity was stronger than his lust. As Desire drives off, it vows to cause Dream to spill family blood; to bring the Kindly Ones down on him.

1880 Joshua finds himself caught in a torrential rain storm and collapses. Somehow, Dream won the contest. Death arrives for Joshua Norton. As she leads him away, she tells him that of all the kings and queens she has met, she says he was her favorite.

Historical references: Joshua Abraham Norton was an actual person and his story falls out much as the comic depicts. Samuel Clemens 5 Abraham “Old Abe” Warner was the owner of the Cobweb Palace

Keep an eye on: Desire’s vow will lead him/her to rape Unity Kincaid

My take I loved learning about Joshua Norton, and thrilled that he was a real person.


Issue # Special #1 6

Title: Song of Orpheus

Artist: Brian Talbot & Mark Buckingham

Collected in: Fables and Reflections

Plot: Orpheus is set to marry Eurydice. His family, the Endless are in attendance, including his uncle Destruction. At the celebration, a drunken saytr pursues Eurydice. She flees and is bitten by a snake and dies.

Orpheus demands that his father Dream rescue Eurydice from the underworld. Dream refuses. Orpheus seeks out Destruction who sends him to see Death. She agrees to not let him die in order for him to descend into the underworld.

He travels to the underworld and plays for Hades and Persephone. They allow him to take Eurydice as long as he doesn’t turn back to look at her. On the journey back, he feels he is being played for a fool and turns around, only to see Eurydice snatched back.

Orpheus, unable to die, lives a life of isolation. His mother warns him that the Bacchante, the wild followers of Dionysus are approaching. He does not care. The Bacchante arrive and tear him apart, throwing his living head in the river. Dream finds him. He arranges to have priests attend to Orpheus and tells him that he will never see him again.

First appearance: Destruction of the Endless

Keep an eye on: As I said before, Orpheus will play a key role later on. Calliope mentions that Dream can not change. The area of Thessaly is mentioned, where witches pull down the moon for their purposes, something that we will see soon

My take I like how he takes the Orpheus myth and works it around his characters