Crisis on Earth-Sandman: The Uses of Continuity in Neil Gaiman's Sandman
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These days, most readers encounter Sandman in a very different context than it was originally created in. Commonly available in bookstores as a series of books, its origins in the world of periodical comics have become obscured. Yet many of the narrative pleasures of Sandman are deepened or enhanced by a fuller awareness of that original context, and the ways in which Gaiman both uses and subverts the tropes of that world. This paper will explore those connections, particularly as regards the ideas collectively called "continuity".
In the context of American comic books, "continuity" is a word with a specialized meaning. It refers to a set of stories which are all consistent with one another. Contradiction is the bane of continuity. When continuity functions well, it supports the willing suspension of disbelief, since each story implicitly claims the truth of all the others joined with it. This consistency, often apparently lacking in the real world, is one of the significant pleasures to be found in reading fiction. While it is relatively easy for the writer of prose fiction to maintain such consistency for the length of a novel, American superhero comics have been created by dozens of different creators, over time spans of decades; maintaining cohesion under such circumstances is a much harder task.
In the beginning (starting in the late 1930s) was the Golden Age of comics. The average reader was assumed to be a child, and expected to only read comics for a few years before moving on. In this environment, the idea of continuity was of little value. If the story you want to write today contradicts one that was published four years ago, what does it matter? No one remembers that far back, and even if they did, why would they care?
Characters of this period were simple and iconic, rarely undergoing significant change. Stories were also simple, and it was rare to have a story continue from one issue to the next.
Still, there were some early steps towards continuity. Characters would occasionally guest star in each other's stories, and were expected to remain 'in character'. Teams were formed, such as the Justice Society of America, which put together several pre-existing superheroes into a single comic.
I should point out at this juncture that the earlier characterization of the typical reader as "assumed to be a child, and expected to only read comics for a few years before moving on", while possibly true of the majority, was always subject to exceptions. Some people did continue reading comics into adulthood, and by the 1960s, some readers had been around for decades. Some of these became comics creators in their own right. Hence, though such long-term readers were (at first) a small minority of the readership, they became increasingly influential as more and more of them moved into creator positions. And these readers -- and writers -- desired a more coherent continuity.
Over the course of the 1950s, superhero comics had waned in popularity with the general readership, and the majority of such characters ceased publication. In the 1960s, there was a resurgence in superhero popularity, known as "The Silver Age". Most historians date this age from the introduction of the new version of The Flash (in Showcase #4, Oct. 1956). A character of that name had existed in the 1940s, but had ceased publication years earlier. The Flash of 1956 was a new version of the character, keeping the name and basic idea of the original's powers, but updating his costume and backstory to be more contemporary. This proved highly successful, and many other defunct characters were updated with Silver Age versions.
But these new versions of old characters, by their very existence, were an offense to continuity. If a character exists in multiple versions, how do you decide which one is 'real'? That question may have spurred the next important development in the continuity toolbox: multiple worlds.
In story titled "Flash of Two Worlds" (The Flash #123, Sep 1961), the Silver Age Flash somehow ended up on another version of the Earth, occupying the same physical space, but with a different "vibrational frequency". This established the existence of two separate versions of continuity: Earth-One, where the 'current' 1960s versions of the heroes lived, and Earth-Two, where the 1940s versions existed. Each was equally 'true' within the context of the fiction, and the different versions could even interact sometimes.
The idea of alternate universes proved popular, and was extended significantly. Some alternate universes were created simply for story purposes (an Earth where all the heroes were villains, for example). Others were made to help ease corporate mergers, such as when DC started publishing their own version of Captain Marvel (a character they had purchased from Fawcett Comics), they said that his adventures were on Earth-S.
For many years, there was an annual "team-up" between the Justice League (Earth-1) and the Justice Society (Earth-2), starting with "Crisis on Earth-One!" in August 1963 (Justice League of America #21). Subsequent team-ups usually had titles structured as "Crisis on Earth-(something)", in homage to that first story. Often, the conflict would bring the two teams of heroes to yet a third Earth.
This framework of multiple Earths allowed the most finicky of fans to explain away any continuity error, no matter how serious, as "That happened on another Earth, not Earth-One." This was generally considered an explanation of last resort, since most fans prefer elegant, inclusive continuities, and inventing a whole new universe is something of a blunt instrument. But given the difficulties of keeping such an ongoing multi-author work consistent, that instrument was often resorted to.
In the late 1970s, the traditional newsstand distribution of American comics began to break down, only to be replaced by a network of comics specialty stores, known as "The Direct Market". This change in distribution also led to changes in how comics were marketed and created. The typical newsstand reader had been a casual dilettante, who usually wanted a story that was complete in one issue. The Direct Market customer was generally a devoted fan, and could appreciate the pleasure of longer serialized stories with more intricate continuity. By the early 80s, there were comics that were, in a very real sense, about continuity, as an end in and of itself.
This first manifested in what amounted to professionally published fanzines, such as "FantaCo's Chronicles Series" in 1982. These third-party publications proved so popular that by the mid-1980s larger publishers began to get in on the picture, each producing detailed indexes and encyclopedias about their characters, serialized in pamphlets that looked like, and were sold next to, the comics themselves. Since, for both creative and trademark-maintenance reasons, there were often several versions of the 'same' hero, these books could help confused fans distinguish between, say, the five different heroes who were all named "Starman".
Continuity studies were not merely restricted to such dry catalogs. Some authors began to utilize the aesthetics of a complex continuity to tell stories that emphasized those pleasures. One of the most notable pioneers of this form was Roy Thomas. He spent several years (1981-1987) writing _All-Star Squadron_, about the adventures of the heroes of Earth-Two during the 1940s. These stories wove together existing stories from the 40s with real-world historical events, creating a tapestry rich in continuity. Almost every issue would be referencing some decades-old stories, cleaning up apparent contradictions, and expanding on once-minor plot threads. The captions were rife with footnotes to explain exactly where and how this new story fit among the older ones, and which issues it was referencing. In March of 1984, Thomas began writing a second book set on Earth-Two, _Infinity, Inc._ This was set not during WWII, but during the modern day, and featured newly-created heroes who were the children of the Justice Society characters. Some of these new characters would eventually play an important role in Gaiman's Sandman, while Gaiman himself would demonstrate a love for continuity and deliberate reference that owed much to Thomas.
As authors began to play more with the idea of continuity, both authors and fans began to use a new word: "retcon". The word derives from "retroactive continuity" and has been applied in many different ways. Some of the most common are:
1. Changing the past continuity, so that something which was once thought to be true is now denied, or different. "Doctor Doom didn't really die in that explosion, he escaped through a secret passage." "Reed Richards and Ben Grimm were war buddies in Vietnam, not World War II."
2. A new adventure inserted into a character's fictional past. The bulk of Roy Thomas' All-Star Squadron was of this type. The technique dates back at least to the creation of Superboy in the 1950s ("The Adventures of Superman When He Was a Boy!").
3. To reveal new facts which, while not strictly contradicting previous continuity, make the old continuity be read in a totally different manner. The primary example here is near the start of Alan Moore's run on Swamp Thing, where he revealed that the title character was not a scientist who had been turned into a plant monster, but rather a plant-monster that had inherited the memories of a dead scientist (Swamp Thing v2 #21, Feb 1984). This kind of retcon does not deny the essential 'truth' of the previous stories, it just casts them in a completely different light.
As the 1980s continued, the weaknesses of the Direct Market distribution model were first beginning to be felt. While profitability on any individual sale was significantly greater than it had been under newsstand distribution, the number of sales were fewer, and trending downwards. The mainstream American comic book seemed trapped in a spiral of extracting more and more money from fewer and fewer fans every year. The blame for this trend could be (and indeed was!) attributed to a wide variety of sources. But in the mid 1980s, 'complex continuity' was, at least for a while, the chief suspect.
While we have so far been discussing the aesthetic pleasures of complex continuity, there are problems associated with it as well. The more complex the continuity becomes, the less accessible any given installment is to a novice reader. A novice, faced with a story that is incomprehensible without flowcharts, footnotes, and the purchase of several other stories as well, is not likely to come back for more. And without a steady stream of novice readers, eventually there would be no new readers at all.
DC Comics decided to address this problem by simplifying their continuity considerably. Instead of dozens of multiple earths, each with its own unique version of history, they would combine all their worlds into one complete and coherent vision. Well, that was the plan...
In 1984, the groundwork began to be laid for the biggest crossover to date, the one that was intended to quite literally end all crossovers: Crisis on Infinite Earths (#1 April 1985 - #12 March 1986). This story would crossover, not just two or three different comics, but every comic that DC published. Since the story involved time travel, even the comics set in historical or far-future eras could join in. All would be affected, and at the end of this event (about two years from start to finish), the "DC Universe" would be a unitary, coherent fictional setting. Its single history would stretch from the Big Bang (or, perhaps, the Creation) until the end of time.
In terms of sales and fan popularity, Crisis on Infinite Earths was an unparalleled success. In its goal of simplifying continuity, it was an unmitigated disaster.
The climactic events of Crisis on Infinite Earths rewrote all of DC history from the beginning of time to the end -- so that the bulk of Crisis on Infinite Earths itself 'never happened'. But several characters remembered those (non-)events. Some previously-published stories were considered to be 'canon', others not, but which was which varied by editor, with no clear demarcation. Hasty attempts to fix the immediately obvious problems with the new, 'unified' continuity caused new and deeper problems. Some characters had their origins revised so many times, so quickly, that no one could make sense of them any longer.
The cure had proved worse than the disease. The multiple-Earth paradigm, for all that it sometimes led to confusion, was fundamentally a tool for reducing confusion by creating clear and discrete categories. Crisis on Infinite Earths stripped away that tool, but did nothing to address the root causes that had necessitated the invention of that tool in the first place. The DC Universe remained (and still does to this day) the joint creation of dozens of different creators, with a complexity that makes complete consistency an unachievable goal.
This was the state of affairs when Neil Gaiman began working on Sandman.
Gaiman treats prior continuity with a great deal of respect. As near as I can tell, he never contradicts prior stories on issues of fact, though he is willing to put his own interpretations on those facts. In matters of characterization, Gaiman was quite willing to show characters who had changed greatly since they were last seen -- but again, never outright denying their former characterization.
Gaiman borrows cast members from across the breadth of the DC Universe. Although many 'guest stars' are more-or-less conventional superheroes, Gaiman almost completely avoids the literary convention of the "superhero name". When these characters appear in Sandman, they are universally referred to by their "civilian" names. The one partial exception is discussed in the notes to #12, below.
While Gaiman makes frequent reference to past DC stories, he does so much more allusively than was the custom at the time he wrote. His stories are completely devoid of explanatory footnotes referring to specific past issues. Nor does he feature detailed flashbacks to other author's stories, either visual or verbal. This tendency towards allusion serves many purposes:
· For readers who are not steeped in DC lore, Gaiman includes only the information they actually need to get the primary layers of the story, without unduly burdening them.
· For readers who are steeped in DC lore, they get to feel educated and clever, while also appreciating the secondary resonances that Gaiman includes by such allusion.
· Allusion allows Gaiman to equivocate about whether a specific reference is or is not what it seems to be. On the one hand, this can create pleasing narrative ambiguity. On the other hand, it allows Gaiman plausible deniability when disgruntled fans (or editors) disagree with his uses of continuity.
Gaiman's tendency to equivocate serves him well in his handling of Christianity. DC Comics had a long history of such equivocation. Many DC writers included religious or biblical details in their stories, presented as factual. Motivations would have varied, but certainly included: the writer being Christian, the cultural 'default' of 20th century America being Christian, and the belief that it made a good story. Still, these Christian elements were rarely presented without a thin layer of disguise or a potentially rational explanation. Even in the 1930s, DC writers were aware that, though Christianity was a 'default', it was far from universal. After all, many of those writers were themselves Jewish! Too, readers who were very Christian might take offense at such elements appearing in a "funnybook". For discussions of Gaiman's specific uses of Christianity, see notes at #22 and #27.
It is now necessary to spend a little time describing the internal politics of the creators of DC continuity. These are rarely publically discussed, and are more a matter of custom than policy, but certain trends are observable.
DC Characters are generally considered to be "owned" by a given writer (or editor, especially when the characters regularly appeared in multiple comics simultaneously). You could do whatever you wanted with a character you "owned", but if you wanted to use a character "owned" by someone else, you had to clear it with them first. This "clearance" was considered more important for more important characters; You always have to check about flagship heroes like Batman or Superman, but if you're using a fairly minor, supporting character, such a check might not be considered necessary. Characters who had fallen out of print were usually considered fair game for the first writer who cared to bring them back into use.
So what happens when two people have different ideas about the past (or present, or future) of a given character should be handled? Usually, the "owner" wins, but this can be complicated by a number of factors. Firstly, there is a simple power hierarchy: writers are trumped by editors, editors are trumped by the publisher. But individuals could also accumulate influence in other ways, such as seniority at DC (or in the comics industry), critical accolades, or proven ability to boost sales. These secondary influences could make the difference in writer-writer conflicts.
When Neil Gaiman started writing Sandman, he was new to DC and the industry, and he had no significant critical or sales record. He was at the very bottom of the hierarchy, and he knew it. Thus, his early uses of continuity were deliberately structured to be non-controversial and respectful of all 'active' characters involved. Simultaneously, Gaiman staked early 'claims' on a number of characters who had been fallow for some time.
Gaiman was also writing other projects for DC in the early days of Sandman. In 1988, Gaiman was commissioned to write a story for Action Comics Weekly that ended up not getting published due to continuity issues outside his control. The story eventually was published in 2000, after those concerns were no longer of immediate relevance, and after Gaiman had become a much more famous writer, as Green Lantern - Superman - Legend of the Green Flame. In an introduction to that book, reminiscing about the original cancellation, "And that was, pretty much, the last time I played in the DC Universe sandpit. After that, I went and built my own, and when I used DC characters, on the whole, they were the forgotten ones and the jokes, like Element Girl and Prez, the ones nobody seemed to care about except me." In another introduction, from Neil Gaiman's Midnight Days, he reminisces about the writing of Swamp Thing v2 Annual #5 (Aug 1989). A supporting character had to be changed from one superhero to another due to continuity issues; some dialogue was rescripted by others at the last minute due to continuity issues. "The idea of writing something which owed nothing to anyone else's continuity became increasingly enticing." As can be seen in this paper, his use of DC continuity did drop significantly over the course of Sandman, though never vanishing completely.
Though Gaiman had begun Sandman near the bottom of the power hierarchy, he didn't stay there long. Sandman was an immediate critical hit. More significantly, sales increased rapidly; it was soon DC's best-selling comic. Though this increased Gaiman's power within the corporate structure, there were still definite limits. Gaiman was forced by his editor to restructure Season of Mists (see full discussion at notes to #22). Gaiman had multiple conflicts with the editor in charge of Superman (see notes at #32 and #71). While Sandman was certainly outselling Superman in terms of monthly comic books, when factoring in licensing revenues, it was still a corporate priority to give precedence to Superman in any conflict.
In this section, I will go through Sandman issue by issue, in original publication order, detailing Gaiman's specific uses of continuity. I will only be noting new uses, not just re-appearances of borrowed characters. Not every issue had such uses; issues not listed here had no new continuity elements that I am aware of. Characters and location with particularly complex histories are given their own subheadings at the time they first appear.
This chapter contains only one obvious continuity reference, the three panel appearance of Wesley Dodds (see below). There are implicit references, however, in the designs of Dream's regalia. The pouch of sand is traditional, but also references Sandman II's "cartridges of dream sand" (see entry for Garret Sanford at #11). The helm is designed to evoke the gas mask of Sandman I's costume. The ruby is there to tie in with Doctor Destiny (see entry at #5), whom Gaiman was already planning on using.
Wesley Dodds was the first DC character to bear the sobriquet "The Sandman", starting with Adventure Comics #40 (Jul 1939). He was something of a third-string Batman imitator, being another rich playboy who dresses up to fight criminals, having no powers but some technological gadgetry. He makes three appearances in Gaiman's Sandman, here, #26, and #72.
Dodds' first appearance is a brief one, a mere three panels (1.18.4-6) [For notes on citation format, see Appendix 2]. He is the first of Gaiman's borrowed characters, and also a classic retcon. His inspiration for becoming The Sandman is here established to be nightmares of "the man in the strange helmet" (1.18.6). Part of the reason for having him appear, however briefly, in this first issue is so that Gaiman can clearly establish from the beginning that Sandman will be engaging with the larger DC Universe.
Almost all the characters in Sandman's second chapter were in fact 'hosts' of DC horror comic-book anthologies from the late 1960s through the early 1980s. These were modeled on the EC Comics horror hosts of the 1950s. Sometimes these hosts merely narrated the captions of the stories they told, sometimes they actually appeared as characters in their own right for short vignettes. They were generally more humorous than scary, and were quite aware of their own nature as comic book narrators, often addressing readers directly. They also knew each other, and would appear in each other's books from time to time.
By the mid-70s, the horror anthologies were starting to wane in popularity, and many were canceled. Their hosts were not immediately out of work, however, as a number of consolidated titles appeared, containing multiple co-hosts. But by 1984, all of the hosts that Gaiman features had ceased to appear regularly.
It should be noted that, though Gaiman used a substantial fraction of DC's horror hosts, there were still many that he either chose not to, or overlooked. Brute and Glob, mentioned briefly here (2.14.3), were not horror hosts; see the entry for Garret Sanford at #11. And there's one horror host that Gaiman uses later, in a very different role: Destiny, see his entry at #7.
Cain was always the most popular of the horror hosts. He was the first to be introduced (House of Mystery #175, Jul-Aug 1968) and the last to be cancelled (House of Mystery #321, Oct 1983). Along the way he made numerous appearances in other horror comics, and even guest-starred with Batman and Superman. In the years just before Sandman, Cain was a supporting cast member of the humorous superhero comic Blue Devil.
Cain's brother, Abel, was introduced in DC Special #4 (Jul-Sep 1969), just before moving into the House of Secrets with #81 (Aug-Sep 1969). Cain remained the host of House of Secrets until its cancellation with #154 (Oct-Nov 1978).
On the final page of his first issue, (House of Mystery #175, Jul-Aug 1968), Cain acquired a pet baby gargoyle, Gregory, who gradually grew to maturity over the next few years. When Cain gives Abel a gargoyle in Sandman #2, this is probably a deliberate callback to Cain's early caring for Gregory. Abel names this new gargoyle Goldie "after a f-friend of mine who went away" (2.24.2). This earlier Goldie was Abel's imaginary friend in House of Secrets. Abel often spoke to Goldie in his early appearances, but she was never seen by the reader or any other characters. Goldie's gender seems rather fluid; when mentioned at all, it is as likely to be male as female. Goldie stopped being a story element after issue 90 (Mar 1971) with no immediate explanation, thus leading to Gaiman's vague reference to "went away".
Cain was always aggressive and abusive, Abel was always passive and conciliatory. But it wasn't until Alan Moore used the characters that Cain was shown to be literally murdering Abel over and over (Swamp Thing v2 #33, Feb 1985). Moore established that the two were archetypal figures inhabiting the collective unconscious. From there, it was but the smallest of retcons for Gaiman to make them important figures in The Dreaming. Gaiman emphasizes their nature as archetypes instead of people when he has Cain say to Abel "You don't have a birthday!" (2.1.2). But see notes to #22 and #40 for slightly differing perspectives on their origins.
The Three Witches, Cynthia, Mildred, and Mordred, were hosts of The Witching Hour for its entire run (#1, Feb-Mar 1969 through #85, Oct 1978). When Gaiman has Mordred say "Stupid name. I ought to be Morgaine" (2.19.7), he is commenting, within the context of the story, on the inappropriateness of naming a female witch after a male character from the Arthur legends. Notably, Gaiman never uses the names Cynthia, Mildred, and Mordred again after this first appearance.
The default physical appearance of the Three Witches throughout Sandman was closely modeled on their original appearance in The Witching Hour. As horror hosts, however, they were very much individual characters, and engaged in none of the fluid identity-switching that Gaiman ascribes to them.
Another mythological female (or perhaps another aspect of the same one), the character of Eve, was introduced as the host of Secrets of the Sinister House in #6 (Aug Sep 1972). That issue begins with a framing sequence where Cain and Abel expressed their fear of this "thousand-year-old female horror" who was arriving as the new host.
Eve was depicted as a stereotypical ancient crone. She almost always appeared with a raven on her shoulder; in the letter column of Secrets of the Sinister House #15 (Nov 1973), responding to a reader query about the bird's name, Eve wrote "...since you asked about my beloved Edgar Allen... He's not a bird, though, he's a genuine enchanted raven, who used to be a human being before he met me. It's a long, sweet story, but it's also none of your business..."
Eve remained host of Secrets of the Sinister House for 10 issues, through issue #15 (Nov 1973). She subsequently appeared as either sole or co-host of other anthologies for two more years before fading into obscurity.
Lucien suggests that her nature as crone and horror-host was not her natural state: "The Raven Woman has decayed badly. She lives only in nightmares..." (2.14-15.2).
Speaking of Lucien the Librarian, he first appeared in a one page "story" in Weird Mystery Tales #18 (May 1975) which was essentially a house ad for his forthcoming comic book. Tales of Ghost Castle only lasted three issues, all in 1975. After Tales of Ghost Castle ended, Lucien only had one other, inconsequential, pre-Gaiman appearance, in Secrets of the Haunted House #44 (Jan 1982).
The Mad Mod Witch was intermittently the host of The Unexpected between #108 (Aug 1968) and #162 (Apr 1974). Gaiman uses her briefly, though, in keeping with her established concern for keeping up with current fashion, she has quite a fluid identity. Lucien reports of her, "The Fashion Thing has been many things: flapper...mod...punk...She was a 'Mad Madonna Witch' for a while. Last time I saw her she was the "Mad Yuppie Witch."" (2.14-15.4).
Gaiman's primary use of continuity this issue is his use of John Constantine (see below), but there are a few other touches. The housebreaker dreams of being Superman (3.7.3), though, in typical Gaiman fashion, the name "Superman" is not used. The idyllic setting of Rachel's final dream (3.22.4-5) is reminiscent of the depiction of Heaven in Swamp Thing v2 Annual #2 (Jan 1985).
John Constantine was created by Alan Moore in the pages of Swamp Thing in 1985. After spending a few years as a frequent character there, he graduated to his own comic book, Hellblazer, in 1988, initially written by Jamie Delano. Hellblazer was a bit over a year old when Sandman #3 was published (Mar 1989). Gaiman demonstrates his familiarity with (and respect for) other creators' work on the character by including many references to their stories, both blatant and subtle.
Before we even see John himself, we see a pack of Silk Cut cigarettes, long established as his favorite brand (since at least Swamp Thing v2 #49, Jun 86).
There are multiple references to Constantine's former music career with the band Mucous Membrane, with Gaiman even having John quote a song lyric that had been published in Hellblazer #4 ("I ain't no mark for the Venus of the hardsell", 3.11.1). John's stated fondness for the song "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" (3.4.2) is a multi-layered pun in this context. It refers in general to Constantine's extensive network of occult contacts, and in specific to Swamp Thing, one of those contacts who is also a living plant.
Swamp Thing was still strongly associated with Constantine at this time. John refers to "the big green bloke" (3.9.8) as, like Morpheus, lacking in humor. John's files labeled "Brujeria", "American Gothic", "The Plant Elemental", and "Crisis" (3.10.3) all refer to adventures he had with Swamp Thing.
Gaiman includes a brief appearance by "Chas", a cab driver friend of Contantine's, who first appeared in Hellblazer #1. Constantine's concern for Chas's safety (3.12.5) is very much in character. Even at this early point in Constantine's published adventures, Chas was already notable as nearly the only friend Constantine had who hadn't (yet) been driven insane, killed, or both due to associating with Constantine.
The files on "Liverpool" and "Tibet" (3.10.3) and "the lupus affair" (3.11.3) do not refer to specific previously-published stories. Constantine was still a relatively new character, yet was supposed to have been active for many years previously. Many of his early writers, including Gaiman, here, included obscure references suggesting unchronicled adventures.
Sandman #3 ends with the almost obligatory reference to "Newcastle" (3.24.5). For the first few years of his appearances, Constantine made constant mysterious (and sometimes inconsistent) references to something awful that happened at Newcastle. The actual events were finally depicted in an extensive flashback in Hellblazer #11 (Nov 1988). A young and arrogant Constantine had attempted to deal with a demonic force by conjuring a bigger demon to stop it; this technically worked, but had resulted in a young girl being sent to Hell, and Constantine himself going mad enough to require institutionalization for two years.
Constantine's concerns about nightmares had been well founded, with almost every issue of Hellblazer showing one, often involving dead friends he had betrayed, or occult dangers he had barely escaped. After Morpheus granted his boon, the references to nightmares in Hellblazer ceased -- for a time. Being the sort of person he is, Constantine had soon gathered plenty of material for entirely new nightmares.
In Morpheus' duel with Choronzon, the demon's final move (4.19.5) is, in part, a nod to past DC continuity. "Anti-Life" is a clear reference to "The Anti-Life Equation", sought by the evil god Darkseid since one of his first appearances in New Gods #1 (Feb-Mar 1971). While different writers had presented contradictory interpretation of exactly what the Anti-Life Equation was, it was clearly Bad on a Cosmic Scale.
The "slave-twins of the Inquisition", Agony and Ecstasy, first appeared in Hellblazer #12. (These twins Agony and Ecstasy make an interesting comparison with the twins Desire and Despair. However, publication schedules make it seem unlikely that either pair was explicitly based upon the other.)
Morpheus' discussion with Lucifer at the end of this story (4.22.1-4) is a thematic reflection of Swamp Thing's journey to Hell in Swamp Thing Annual #2. Swamp Thing gains entrance to Hell with a gift of Beauty from Heaven; Morpheus escapes Hell by invoking Hope. In each case, it is explicitly pointed out that Hell depends upon the existence of such anti-hellish concepts as Beauty and Hope in order to carry out its function of punishment.
Etrigan the Demon is himself a fine example of complex continuity. Created by Jack Kirby in The Demon #1 (Aug-Sep 1972), he was an offbeat superhero whose comic book lasted only 16 issues, but who had made occasional guest appearances ever since. He had a human alter-ego as the immortal Jason Blood, half-brother to Merlin. In a story in DC Comics Presents #66 (Feb 1984), writer Len Wein had Etrigan speaking entirely in rhyme for the first time, though no explanation was offered (he had occasionally spoken in rhyme before, but usually only when casting spells). Alan Moore made use of Etrigan later that same year (Swamp Thing v2 #25-27, Jun-Aug 1984), making him much less of a superhero, emphasizing his demonic nature, and continuing the use of rhyming speech. In a subsequent Moore story, a passing reference suggests that becoming a "rhymer" denotes a promotion within the hierarchy of Hell. When Gaiman in turn uses Etrigan, he expands on the poetic notion by having different demons speak in different formal verse forms, something beyond the abilities (or ambitions) of most comic book writers. Later, perhaps deciding he had taken that a little far, Gaiman has Lucifer mock "the ridiculous vogue for rhyme to denote status -- demons who spoke exclusively in villanelles, haiku, or triolets..." (23.17.3).
Hell is an important fictional location, and had been much used by previous (and concurrent) authors. Gaiman's version of Hell derives primarily from Alan Moore's, as shown in Swamp Thing v2 Annual #2, "Down Among the Dead Men" (1985). In that story, the demon Etrigan acts as Swamp Thing's guide, much as he does here for Morpheus.
While Moore and Gaiman place the general blame for souls ending up in Hell on the individual sinners (see discussion at #23), each of them posits exceptions whereby a being of sufficient power may forcefully condemn a soul to Hell, and that soul must then remain there until released by outside forces. In Swamp Thing, Moore has Anton Arcane condemn Abby to Hell, and Matthew Cable in turn condemn Anton Arcane. In this chapter of Sandman it is implied (and will later be confirmed) that Morpheus condemned Nada to Hell ten thousand years ago (4.7.1-8).
The political structure Morpheus finds when he arrives in Hell is essentially one that had been recently discussed in Hellblazer #12 (Dec 1988), with Hell ruled by a triumvirate. In Hellblazer, however, the three rulers are named as Lucifer, Beelzebub, and Belial (Hellblazer #12.6.3). Belial had recently been featured in stories which revealed that he was the father of Etrigan (The Demon v2, #3, Mar 1987). Gaiman replaced Belial with Azazel because (according to the letters column in Sandman #9) "many sources say that Beelzebub and Belial are two names for the same creature."
This triumvirate was a relatively recent arrangement, as Gaiman has Lucifer explain: "Some years ago the dark, the shadow creature, came forth to challenge Heaven. The episode ended in... perhaps a stalemate." (4.10.6). This is referring to an Alan Moore Swamp Thing storyline that detailed the after-effects of Crisis on Infinite Earths on the spiritual plane, culminating with a war in Hell in Swamp Thing v2 #50 (Jul 1986).
Gaiman is here trying to stay respectful to existing continuity, but it seems to me that it rankles him somewhat. Morpheus seems to speak for Gaiman when he expresses doubt that anyone but Lucifer should rule Hell: "Things do not change that much, proud one." (4.10.3). Note, too, that after their initial introductions, the other two members of the triumvirate do and say almost nothing, while Lucifer gets lots of meaty dialogue. The one exception is when Beelzebub hands Morpheus his helmet (4.21.1), and that Gaiman gives this, in some sense demeaning, action to Beelzebub can be seen as another way of reinforcing Lucifer's true primacy. Gaiman's annoyance with the restrictive side of Hell's continuity was only to get worse over time, see notes to #22.
Long time Justice League villain, Doctor Destiny -- or just "Dee", as Gaiman usually refers to him, is of great importance to Sandman's initial storyline. He first fought the League in Justice League of America #5 (Jun-Jul 1961), where he was a quite ordinary-looking man, and used a variety of mad science inventions. None of these inventions were dream-related, but Gaiman still references this first appearance when Dee says "I did...foolish things. Things to gravity." (5.13.4). In JLA #19 (May 1963), Dee first used his materiopticon (then spelled with a 'c') to materialize evil versions of the JLA from their own dreams. From then on, dream manipulation was Doctor Destiny's modus operandi. In JLA #34 (Mar 1965), it was established that though Dee's materioptikon had been confiscated, he had managed to 'build' another one inside his own dreams, and use it to attack the JLA. At the end of this adventure, the JLA have Dee treated so that he will no longer be able to dream, characterized at the time as a humane way of ending his threat. Dee next appeared in JLA #61 (Mar 1968), having escaped from prison and built a new materioptikon. It was this adventure that Dee refers to when he says "I traded their faces with their enemies, I pretended I was one of their number..." (5.13.4).
There followed a ten-year hiatus, until a quite changed Doctor Destiny appeared in Justice League of America #154 (May 1978). In a monologue discussing his history, he says: "My nights became a constant torment, for all men need to dream -- and I could not! By the end of my prison term, I'd completely wasted away! I lost my hair, my skin turned waxy white, my body shriveled!" Quite a chilling verbal description, but one that the visual depiction did not support. Doctor Destiny was drawn in typical supervillain fashion, wearing form-fitting blue spandex over a muscular body. The only unclad part of him was his face, which was depicted as not just shriveled, but a literal skull (as seen in the JLA file picture in Sandman 5.11.2). It wasn't until Gaiman used the character that he was visually depicted as emaciated. This story also featured the first appearance of a ruby as part of his materioptikon, though Gaiman later retconned the ruby as having been part of the device all along (5.17.1-4).
Dee subsequently appeared in Justice League of America #175-176 (Feb - Mar 1980) and DC Comics Presents #30 (Feb 1981). In the latter story, Doctor Destiny manages to directly access the "dream continuum", though his mind becomes trapped there at the end of the story. Destiny's last major pre-Gaiman appearance was in Justice League of America Annual #1 (1983). This story involved Doctor Destiny taking over the "dream dimension" from "Sandman" (Garret Sanford aka Sandman II, see his entry at #11).
Doctor Destiny also has a brief cameo in Gaiman's own Black Orchid, written not long before Sandman.
We first see Dee inside Arkham Asylum, a well-established facility for incarcerating insane supervillains. It first appeared in Batman #258 (Sep-Oct 1974), and was most often used in connection with Batman villains. The name of the institution is, of course, a tip of the hat to horror writer H. P. Lovecraft, whose stories often featured madness and many of which were set around the fictional town of "Arkham". Dee had been held at Arkham before, and Gaiman establishes that he has been in Arkham since his last encounter with the Justice League.
Dr. Roger Huntoon (4.24.2) had been established as a doctor working in Arkham in Swamp Thing v2 #66 (Nov 1987). He's an obnoxious character who cares more about lucrative tell-all book deals than he does about his patients' welfare.
While Sandman was set squarely in the largely superhero-dominated DC Universe, relatively few superheroes appear in any detail. This chapter is an exception, featuring lengthy appearances by two members of the Justice League. At this time, the Justice League was undergoing a revival, after years of declining sales, having been relaunched by a new creative team with a new first issue (May 1987), and shortly thereafter being renamed Justice League International.
This version of the Justice League was less serious than its predecessors had been, and included a healthy dose of situation comedy alongside the standard superheroics. This is reflected in the dialogue Gaiman gives them. One running gag from JLI was that J'onn J'onzz was addicted to Oreos, which is why Gaiman has him offer some to Scott Free (5.15.5).
Gaiman also includes past Justice League continuity with his references to their multiple previous headquarters (5.11.3-5), and by the contents of their storage warehouse (seen in 5.19.3), several of which contents allude to specific earlier adventures.
Although Gaiman is happy to reference the past and present continuity of these (and other) superheroes, he seems oddly reluctant to use their noms de guerre. This story never actually uses the names "Mister Miracle" or "The Martian Manhunter". Most other characters with superhero names also have those names unmentioned within Sandman (but see the discussion of Hector Hall at #11).
Gaiman spends three and a half pages on a dream of Scott Free (aka "Mister Miracle"). This character was another Jack Kirby creation, first appearing in Mister Miracle #1 (Mar-Apr 1971). The dream recounts, in somewhat altered and symbolic form, his "origin story" in the orphanages operated by the evil "Granny Goodness" (flashback stories in Mister Miracle #6, 7, and especially 9). "Greyborders" and "Longshadows" were districts of Apokolips, the evil planet where Scott grew up. He did encounter a "Murder Machine" in his adult life (#5), but not in his youth. "...the womb, the exit, the box" (5.7.1) is a reference to "Mother Box", a nurturing piece of divine technology that, among other things, helped Scott Free escape Apokolips. Zep, Bravo, Weldun, and Auralie all appeared in Mister Miracle #9 (Jul Aug 1972), as fellow rebel "lowlies" in the "Armagetto" district. All four of them were captured by the authorities and killed.
Gaiman probably chose to use Scott Free in Sandman in order to show his dreams of trying to escape an implacable destiny -- a theme that resonates strongly with Sandman as a whole.
J'onn J'onzz, "The Martian Manhunter", was one of the earliest Silver Age heroes (first appearing in Detective Comics #225, Nov 1955), and a member of every incarnation of the Justice League. His own backstory has been subject to many retcons, but at the time of his appearance in Sandman, he was considered to be a time-lost survivor of a long-extinct race of Martians. One of his traditional weaknesses was a fear of fire, which a recently-published story had retconned as being due to the fire pits that the dying Martian race were cremated within. Dream's appearance to him as a god of fire is thus particularly significant. When Morpheus appears to J'onn as L'Zoril (5.14.5-5.15.4), he is drawn in a manner deliberately evocative of Mark Badger's stylized artwork for that recent Martian Manhunter story.
As the last member of a dead race, this character speaks to the themes of death and rebirth. His appearance also helps Gaiman to demonstrate the breadth of Dream's authority, in both time and space.
One of Dee's fellow inmates is Dr. Jonathan Crane, also known as "The Scarecrow", a frequent Batman villain (his costume can be seen depicted in 5.3.1). He is obsessed with all kinds of phobias, many of which he can chemically induce. Crane's insistence that Dee will inevitably return to Arkham is a meta-commentary on how rigid the status quo of the comic book universe tends to be: villains never actually win, they always go back to prison in the end. One of the central themes of Sandman is how such long-standing patterns can be broken, but Crane is not wise enough -- or brave enough -- to see that possibility.
The Joker, referenced by Crane at 5.3.7, is of course Batman's arch-nemesis. At the time of this story, the Joker was missing, presumed dead (though no one seriously believed that).
This chapter is largely reference-free, though the briefly-seen soap opera "Secret Hearts" (6.7.3) had been previously seen in several issues of Superman Family. That was in turn a reference to an earlier DC romance comic book named Secret Hearts, which was published from 1949 to 1971.
Some sequences in this chapter (7.1.1 - 7.2.7; 7.8.1-6) are extremely reminiscent of similar sequences in Alan Moore's Swamp Thing v2 #30 (30.1.3 - 30.2.3, 30.11.1-6). Both feature brief snapshots of horror in scattered locations (and with irregular panel borders) to sketch in a vast evil. In both stories these scenes are featured in the first few pages, to set the tone, and a single reprise page somewhat later, to remind the reader of the scale of the stakes.
For notes on Arkham Asylum see the entry at #5.
"Mister Dent", mentioned at 7.23.3 is better known as Two-Face, another Batman foe who is obsessed with the number Two, and with duality in general.
This chapter features the first brief cameo appearance by Destiny (7.13.5). While most of The Endless are original Gaiman creations, this one is not. Destiny, complete with robes, hood, book, and chain, first appeared as a horror host in Weird Mystery Tales #1 (Jul-Aug 1972). Unlike his colleagues, Destiny was very much a straight man, and they often mocked his lack of humor. Destiny himself seemed quite proud of his lack of emotion.
Destiny also appeared in Secrets of the Haunted House, where he was not just host, but also sometimes featured as a character within his own stories. He would typically utter a gnomic prophecy to one of the other characters, which would inevitably be misunderstood, leading to the twist ending. Destiny also appeared as a character in various DC superhero comics between 1980 and 1990.
In this chapter, Gaiman first introduces his version of Death. This merits but brief mention here, as she is a wholly original creation. While various personifications of the concept of Death had previously appeared in the DC universe (including a traditionally skeletal horror host), none were noticeably influential on Gaiman, except perhaps as clichés to overturn.
The fact that Gaiman's Death exists within the DC Universe does have impact on her characterization, however. In a world where beloved characters sometimes die, but almost never stay dead for long, it's much easier to accept a personification of Death who is friendly and upbeat. Her constant refusal to specify what happens after death is, at least in part, due to the wide variety of possibilities (often contradictory) which had previously been established.
For more on Death and continuity, see notes to #20.
"...seriously, don't you ever wonder about Batman?" (8.16.1). Batman's origin is not generally known to the public within the DC universe.
"And what about Robin? Now that kid was..." (Dream interrupts) "'Hey, Ma Bell, reach out and kill someone!'" (8.16.6-7). This sequence may be a subtle metacommentary on Gaiman's part. About a year and a half earlier, in Batman #428 (Jan 1989), the second Robin was killed by the Joker in a storyline titled "A Death in the Family". Controversially, DC had made the plot point subject to a reader phone-in poll; call one number if you want Robin to die, another if you want him to live. Death won, by a small margin. If Gaiman was referencing this, he had to be subtle, since the phone poll existed outside of DC continuity and could not be known by people within it. But he clearly has the comedian reference Robin in the past tense, followed by a strategic interruption, so that the next dialogue we hear isn't necessarily connected.
No major new continuity elements in this chapter, except for brief mentions of Jed, Brute, and Glob; see the entry on Garrett Sanford at issue #11, for more on them.
Abel calls out the House of Secrets as an entity in its own right (10.9.3). The House was on rare occasions an active participant in stories in House of Secrets, but was a nearly constant feature as a character in the magazine's letters page, where it replied to reader mail (and verbally abused Abel). The Bottle Imp and Something Nasty in the Basement seem to be inventions of Gaiman's, though the Imp is likely a reference to the story by Robert Louis Stevenson.
After several chapters of refraining from heavy use of continuity, this one dives in the deep end, introducing more than half a dozen characters who have years of complex, relevant continuity behind them
Matthew the Raven, while new to his form as a raven, was in his previous life a long-time member of Swamp Thing's supporting cast under the name Matt Cable. He dates back to the first issue of Swamp Thing (v1 #1, Oct-Nov 1972). In his early appearances, he filled the role of a Javert-like investigator, pursuing the swamp monster to punish it for a crime that it had not, in fact, committed. He eventually discovered the truth and became Swamp Thing's friend and ally (#13, Nov-Dec 1974).
In the second volume of Swamp Thing, writer Marty Pasko reintroduced Matt after a long absence, now married to another returning cast member, Abigail Arcane (#17, Oct 1983). In the intervening time, it was revealed, Matt had been subjected to electroshock treatments by mad scientists, leaving him traumatized and, eventually, alcoholic. The electroshock had also left Matt with the ability to change reality around him - one might say, the ability to make his dreams manifest. Unfortunately, this 'power' was largely outside of his conscious control, and mostly created monsters when he had delirium tremens. After a fairly chaotic series of events (#18-19), these Matt-created monsters ceased appearing, though there was no overt resolution to the story at this time.
Shortly thereafter, Alan Moore took over writing Swamp Thing (Swamp Thing v2 #20, Jan 1984). He made many sweeping changes, but retained Matt and Abby Cable in the cast. Moore gradually revealed that Matt's powers were now under his conscious control. Matt made little use of these powers outside of manifesting drunken sex fantasies, as his marriage to Abby deteriorated (Swamp Thing v2 #22-25).
Meanwhile, the ghost of his wife's uncle, the evil sorcerer Anton Arcane, was subtly influencing Matt. Arcane arranged for Matt to crash his car while drunk, becoming fatally injured (Swamp Thing v2 #26). Arcane's spirit offered to save Matt's life if Matt would simply let Arcane's spirit inside of Matt's body (Swamp Thing v2 #27). Once Arcane had possession of Matt's body, he also had access to Matt's powers, and began to use them for evil purposes. After a climactic battle against Swamp Thing, Arcane was sufficiently weakened that Matt was able to regain control of his own body and powers. Matt had just enough strength to send Arcane back to Hell (literally), before lapsing into a coma (Swamp Thing v2 #31, Dec 1984).
Matt remained in that coma for years. Eventually, Alan Moore left Swamp Thing, and Rick Veitch took over as writer. In Swamp Thing v2 #84 (Mar 1989), published the same month as Sandman #3, there was a crossover between the two books. As Matt lay comatose in his hospital bed, his mind went into the Dreaming, meeting both Eve and Morpheus. Eve brought Matt to a realization of how selfish he had been, and how much pain he had inflicted on his wife. Morpheus greets Matthew as "one who may yet go far... if you follow your dreams" -- but then convinces him to commit suicide in order to finally free Abby from her bonds to him. Matt briefly returns to consciousness, just long enough to smash his life support equipment.
When we next meet Matthew eight months later, in the pages of A Doll's House (Sandman #11, Dec 1989), he has become Dream's Raven. The agreement in continuity between Sandman and Swamp Thing suggests that there was active collaboration between Gaiman and Veitch.
Matthew's primary role in Sandman is that of the everyman observer. As a newcomer to the Dreaming, he can ask questions which the reader also wants answers for, allowing Gaiman to insert exposition into the story in a natural manner. Despite being a raven, his personality is still very much that of a "regular guy", and he is an easier character for readers to sympathize and empathize with than the cold, remote figure of Morpheus.
Despite these basic functions, which could easily have been fulfilled by a newly-invented character (as, indeed, Nuala partially does in the later books), Gaiman makes frequent use of Matthew's established continuity, though always through allusion, and never using any names. These references will be listed in the notes for individual issues.
In 1974, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby created a new version of Sandman-as-superhero, in The Sandman #1 (Winter 1974). This Sandman was a red-and-gold clad character who lived in a high-tech Dream Dome from which he observed the Dream Stream. He had two nightmares, Brute and Glob, as assistants, though he didn't seem to trust them much. They were kept caged unless he needed their strength in an emergency. They could be released remotely by use of the Sandman's special "hypnosonic" whistle. This whistle had other powers as well, apparently whatever the plot required. The Sandman was also equipped with "sand cartridges", which could put people to sleep.
Brute and Glob are a rare case where Gaiman simplified prior characterization, rather than building upon it. Although Gaiman refers to the pair as "brute strength and base cunning" (11.23.3), in their original appearances, Brute was notably more cunning than Glob.
Though this Sandman did fight some typical comic book supervillains, his stories were always entangled with the dreams of young children, usually one particular orphan boy named Jed. In The Sandman #1, Jed is living with his grandfather, Ezra Paulsen, in a lighthouse on Dolphin Island, near Cape Kennedy. In The Sandman #5, however, Jed's grandfather dies, and Jed is taken away by his aunt Clarice and uncle Barnaby, to live with them and his cousins, Susan and Bruce. This new home is like a fairy tale -- Grimm, not Disney. Jed is treated as slave labor, and simultaneously expected to be grateful for the few scraps they allow him. (How Jed, stated to be an orphan, can be Rose Walker's sister, when Rose's mother is still alive is a complex issue, discussed at length in The Annotated Sandman volume one, pgs.298-299.)
The Sandman ceased publication with #6 (Dec-Jan 1975-1976), although a seventh story had been completed, and was eventually published in Best of DC Blue Ribbon Digest #22 (Mar 1982). Perhaps the appearance of this story sparked interest by writer Roy Thomas, who made use of this Sandman character just under a year later, in Wonder Woman #300 (Feb 1983).
Originally, this Sandman had been described as "...a legendary figure, eternal and immortal, who shares with man and beast all the secrets of the ages." (The Sandman #1.2.1). Thomas apparently wanted to make him more of a typical superhero, so gave him a mortal identity and an "origin story". Dr. Garrett Sanford was a dream researcher who had built a dream-monitoring device. Sanford became trapped in the dream realm. There, he assumed the superheroic identity of "The Sandman", and eventually worked out how to return to the physical world, albeit only for an hour at a time (Wonder Woman 300.26-29). Thomas also made this Sandman more 'adult' by having him act like a creepy stalker, 'in love' with Wonder Woman, though at the end of the story, he is shamed into leaving her alone.
Shortly after the Wonder Woman story, Sanford appeared in Justice League of America Annual #1 (1983), where he helped the League battle Doctor Destiny.
Gaiman retcons all these characters by establishing that Brute and Glob were attempting to turn Garret Sanford into a replacement, puppet version of Dream, trapped within Jed's dreams. The strong implication is that all of Sanford's adventures as The Sandman were arranged by Brute and Glob.
Wonder Woman #300 (Feb 1983) introduced another character who would become significantly tied to Gaiman's Sandman. For part of that story, Wonder Woman accidentally travels to Earth-2, and meets her "Golden Age" counterpart, a Wonder Woman who was first active during World War II. By the then-present of 1983, this Earth-2 Wonder Woman had married her long-time beau, Steve Trevor. The couple introduces the Earth-1 Wonder Woman to their previously unseen daughter, now in her late teens, named Hippolyta. Hippolyta was then in training to become a superhero herself.
About a year later, Hippolyta made her costumed debut as The Fury in Infinity, Inc. #1 (Mar 1984). The Fury had superhuman strength, agility, and resistance to damage. There was no particular reason expressed for her choice of the name "The Fury" at this time.
Hippolyta, or "Lyta" as she was usually called, was in a romantic relationship with teammate Hector Hall, AKA "The Silver Scarab", himself the child of the Golden Age heroes Hawkman and Hawkgirl. Though they often argued, the couple became engaged in Infinity Inc. #12 (Mar 1985). Their happiness was to be short-lived.
In Infinity, Inc. #25 (Mar 1986), Lyta had to cope with the effective "death" of her parents, who had just been written out of continuity in Crisis on Infinite Earths #12, published earlier that month. Lyta and her teammates still remembered the Pre-Crisis continuity, but the bulk of the world did not, leaving Lyta feeling disconnected and adrift. Shortly thereafter, a well-meaning telepathic teammate erased her memory of her parents.
As discussed in the letter column of Infinity Inc. #32, this memory-wiping was Roy Thomas' solution to a problem imposed by higher editorial powers at DC. It would soon be forbidden to even mention the Golden Age versions of their major heroes (such as Wonder Woman) in any DC comics, and Thomas was unwilling to simply go silent on that front without there being an in-story reason for that silence. This was merely a stop-gap measure, though, because Lyta's character now had deeply existential problems from a writing standpoint. "The Fury" wasn't a very distinctive name; her powers, though useful, were neither unique nor flashy -- what purpose did she serve? Originally, the main motivation to write about her was "Wouldn't it be neat if Wonder Woman had a daughter who became a superhero?" Without that fundamental element, was The Fury still interesting enough to write about? She had developed her own characterization and plotlines, but would they be enough?
In Infinity Inc. #32 (Nov 1986), Lyta discovered she was pregnant with Hector's child, but as the two of them were having relationship difficulties, she did not reveal this to him. Not long after this, Hector broke off his relationship with Lyta entirely. (This was due to his having being possessed by an evil spirit, but Lyta didn't know that at the time).
Thomas was also at this time preparing to end the long running comic All-Star Squadron, which had been focused on Earth-2 heroes during WWII, and replace it with Young All-Stars, which would fill a similar role, by telling stories of WWII era superheroes on the new, unified, Post-Crisis DC Earth. Thomas was certainly willing to retcon, but he still wanted these stories to link up to the previously established continuity as much as possible. One of his primary tools to accomplish this was the invention of new heroes that filled the approximate story roles of the old ones.
In a story in Secret Origins (v3 #12, Mar 1987), Lyta discovers that she is the daughter of an earlier "Fury", who operated during WWII. Helena Kosmatos was a teenage girl during the Nazi occupation of Greece. She stumbled upon an ancient cavern underneath the Areopagus ('Hill of Ares', near the Acropolis), wherein she met the three furies of ancient myth: Alecto, Megaera, and Tisiphone. These claimed to be "the living incarnation of impersonal justice", especially punishing crimes against women. Helena, wishing to avenge her mother's death, asks for their help, and Tisiphone imbues her with superpowers. These come at a price, however, as Helena is periodically possessed by Tisiphone to carry out murderous vengeance. (A character who may be Helena Kosmatos appears in Sandman #64.)
Back in Infinity, Inc., the retconned details of Lyta's upbringing were gradually made apparent. Steve Trevor was now established as her foster father, not her biological one, and he was married to a different Golden Age superheroine. Lyta continued to have emotional troubles, and was put on enforced maternity leave (Infinity, Inc. #42, Sep 1987). In that same issue, Hector Hall's possession led to his death, leaving Lyta emotionally shattered, without the company of her colleagues for support, and facing the prospect of becoming a single mother. Lyta went home to her parents.
As Lyta stayed at home, she was being creepily observed at night by a red-and-gold-clad figure, The Sandman. He tried to avoid being seen, but was eventually confronted and captured by a teammate of Lyta's. When his mask was removed, it revealed the face of Hector Hall!
Hector explained (in Infinity Inc. #50, May 1988) how, after his body had been taken over, his soul had been cast into a "dreamworld". He had been rescued by Brute and Glob, who told him about Garret Sanford's career as The Sandman. They related that Sanford eventually went mad and died, and that they had implanted Hector Hall's soul into Garret Sanford's empty body, while at the same time modifying that body to look like Hall's original one.
Once Hall had gained some understanding of Sanford's technology, he began using it to look in on "the one person I left behind who means the most to me." (Infinity, Inc. #50.11.2). Hector shares Sanford's restriction of only being able to manifest physically for the one hour in twenty-four, so decided that it was better if Lyta thought of him as dead.
There is a curious parallel here. The Garrett Sanford Sandman used his powers to creepily stalk Wonder Woman; his successor uses those same powers to stalk "Wonder Woman's daughter". This 'narrative echo' may or may not have been deliberate on Thomas' part. Gaiman, however, uses exactly this sort of echoing throughout Sandman.
At the end of Infinity Inc. #50, Hector (re)proposes to Lyta, and the two are married in II #51 (Jun 1988). They go to live together in the Dream Dome, and are not seen again until Gaiman picks them up about a year and a half later in The Doll's House.
The various foes that Hector mentions during The Doll's House are all Gaiman inventions, though they are similar to ones shown in the mid-70s The Sandman. "The Toad-Dancers of Pluto" (11.14.1) are evocative of the "Frog Men" who The Sandman faced in The Sandman #5. "Doctor Lobster" (11.22.5) brings to mind "Doctor Spider", who The Sandman fought in TS #2 and #6.
Gaiman's characterization and dialogue for Hector Hall are far more like that of the 1970s Sandman than the personality which Hector had displayed in the pages Infinity Inc. This may indicate that Brute and Glob have modified him somehow.
Gaiman's treatment of Hippolyta Hall may have been influenced by Alan Moore's handling of Liz Tremayne in Swamp Thing. Both were pre-existing characters, tied to the continuity the new author was working with. Both were first introduced as emotionally strong, independent women, who subsequently had that strength ground out of them by the men they loved. Both were shuffled offstage early in the writer's run, only to return years later, much changed. At the end of each writer's run, both characters were left in a partially healed condition, but by no means as strong as they had been at their peak, and with their personal stories left incomplete, for other writers to continue (or not). These parallels are intriguing, though far from conclusive.
The montage of Lyta reminiscing (12.9.2-6) is accurate to her previously established history, though Gaiman adds his own spin on it, particularly with the line: "They [Lyta and Hector] came out of the closet on the costume stuff together," drawing a parallel between superheroics and homosexuality, and hinting that Lyta feels shame about "the costume stuff".
Lyta's sense of disconnection throughout this chapter can only partially be attributed to her unusual living arrangements. She feels disconnected from her past because various writers and editors have disconnected her past from her. Continuity here becomes metaphor.
Hector Hall is the only super-powered character appearing in Sandman who uses a "superhero name". Even the original "Sandman", Wesley Dodds, is never referred to using that name. With Hall, we see one possible explanation for why Gaiman avoids those sorts of names elsewhere in the narrative: because they are silly (at least to those not used to them as a genre trope). When Morpheus hears Hall call himself "The Sandman" (12.17.3), Morpheus laughs out loud for the first and only time in the entirety of Gaiman's work.
When Rose and Gilbert check into the hotel with the "Cereal Convention", the guest list (12.11.8) includes "The Family Man"; see notes to #14, below.
Johanna Constantine is an invention of Gaiman's. A story in Hellblazer Annual #1 (Oct 1989) suggested that the Constantine family had contained troublesome sorcerers going back at least to just-post-Arthurian England. Gaiman expanded upon this by creating Johanna Constantine (and Hob's brief references to meeting a Jack Constantine). Morpheus' description of her, "Her kind walk amidst the flotsam of lives they have sacrificed, for their own purposes" (13.20.4) could equally apply to John Constantine.
Hob's mention of "...a bloke as calls himself Blood I've met half-a-dozen times now, although he doesn't always remember me." (13.22.4) is referring to Jason Blood, the human form of the demon Etrigan (see entry at issue #4). Several earlier stories featured Jason Blood having his memories altered by Merlin, or by Etrigan himself, which may explain why he sometimes doesn't recognize Hob.
"Collectors" features many serial killer characters, most of them original to Gaiman. He does perhaps make an ironic nod to the confusion of multiple versions of superheroes by including references to two different killers named "The Devil (Oregon)" and "The Devil (Kentucky)" (12.11.8; 14.3.2). Two of the killers, each notable by their absence, are borrowed from earlier DC material.
The missing guest of honor, "The Family Man", presents an interesting case, as Gaiman is here not interacting with past continuity, but to stories being published simultaneously with his own, in the pages of Hellblazer. References on both the plot and thematic level make it clear that Gaiman and Delano (the writer of Hellblazer at that time) were coordinating their work. The Family Man had been the subject of a very recent storyline in Hellblazer. An elderly, English serial killer specializing in killing entire families at once, he was unable to make the convention due to being killed himself by John Constantine.
The other missing killer is "The Bogeyman", who had appeared a few years previously in Alan Moore's Swamp Thing v2 #44 (Jan 1986). In Moore's story, this "Bogeyman" (never otherwise named) asks a stranger to pick a number between 1 and 164 (that being the number of people the Bogeyman has killed). He does this to demonstrate that he vividly remembers the eyes of each of his victims, and can describe them easily when presented with a number. Whenever this happens in the story, those eyes are also depicted in close-up flashback in the art. All of the Bogeyman's scenes are depicted in first person, from his point of view, so his own eyes are never seen by the reader. When Gaiman references the Bogeyman's memory trick in Sandman, he has the artist instead draw a close-up image of the eyes of the false, impersonating Bogeyman -- who is going to be a victim very soon himself.
In the Swamp Thing story where he appeared, The Bogeyman died out in the middle of the swamps, with no witnesses to speak of. Most readers of Sandman during its early days were also followers of Swamp Thing and could be expected to remember that story and immediately identify the imposter as an imposter. But when the Corinthian also identifies the imposter, and does so apparently by the same means as the reader (awareness of the previous story), that is another signal to the reader that the Corinthian is no ordinary man.
The closing scene, of Matthew and Gilbert in Jed's hospital room, contains several allusions to Matthew's pre-raven life as Matt Cable. "This place really gives me the, y'know heebie jeebies. Personal reasons, from back before I was a raven." (15.23.4) "I did some rotten things, near the end. You know how it is. Let's just say I'm glad all that stuff is in the past. And in another life..." (15.23.9) These are Gaiman's first (rather coy) acknowledgment to Swamp Thing readers that the two Matthews are the same. See Matthew's entry at #11 for more details.
Again, Matthew alludes to his previous life: "Take it from me -- death isn't that bad. You get used to it. I did. I wasn't having much of a life, mind you." (16.9.3). See Matthew's entry at #11 for more details.
Desire's appearance in the final scene is strongly reminiscent of that worn by various actresses playing Catwoman from the Batman television show and film of 1966. In the continuity of the comics themselves, Catwoman never wore that exact outfit, but the reference seemed worth calling out nonetheless.
"An old man in Sunderland who owned the universe, and who kept it in a jam-jar in the dust cupboard under his stairs..."(17.20.2). It is just barely possible that this is an allusion to a character named "Sunderland" who was prominent in one of Alan Moore's first stories for Swamp Thing. He was an old man who acted as arrogantly as if he owned the universe. The story also features a subterranean container of something which seems worthless, but proves to be of great power. I admit these connections are tenuous, and the similarity may be entirely coincidence.
Although this story contains no direct references to past DC continuity, I argue that it is, on an allegorical level, about DC continuity.
When the Cat of Dreams says, "They changed the universe from the beginning of all things, until the end of time" (18.19.3), he is explaining the same fictional process that took place in Crisis on Infinite Earths, even using similar language.
When one of the cats near the end of the story says "I would like to see anyone -- prophet, king or god -- persuade a thousand cats to do anything at the same time. No, it will never happen" (18.23.3-4), I posit that Gaiman is drawing a connection between cats and the writers and editors of DC Comics (and by extension, any other company with large, complex continuities). Their dream of a single, unified continuity would require all the writers and editors to work together in perfect harmony. And that seems just as unlikely as getting a thousand cats to do so.
Urania Blackwell, aka "Element Girl", was introduced in Metamorpho, The Element Man, #10 (Jan-Feb, 1967) as a female counterpart to the title character. They shared a similar origin, each getting their powers from a mysterious Egyptian artifact, The Orb of Ra. They could change the shape of their bodies at will, at the same time transmuting themselves partially or completely into any element that was contained within an ordinary human body (even in trace amounts). However, the 'default' state of their bodies became a grotesque patchwork, and they could only appear human by using masks and concealing clothing.
Gaiman depicts Urania's origin during a dream sequence during "Facade"; it had never actually been shown before, just mentioned briefly. "Triangle", her CIA handler, is Gaiman's creation, but had previously appeared in Swamp Thing v2 Annual #5 (Aug 1989).
In the pages of Metamorpho, Urania was a brash, self-assured secret agent, not at all the shell-shocked veteran that Gaiman depicts (making her an interesting comparison to Hippolyta Hall, above). Urania hadn't appeared in any stories since Metamorpho #17 (Mar-Apr 1968), so it was reasonable to infer that something had happened to her. That issue also featured the death of Algon, the 2,000 year old metamorph referred to by Gaiman.
"For some folks, death is a release, and for others death is an abomination, a terrible thing. But in the end, I'm there for all of them." (20.25.3). Gaiman may be responding, here, to another writer's (mis-)use of what he perceived as "his" character, Death. A few months prior to this, writer Cary Bates had used Gaiman's Death character in Captain Atom #42 (Jun 1990). Gaiman's Death had only appeared twice prior (Sandman #8 and #13), so she was probably regarded as a minor character at this point. It's unclear whether Bates sought permission to use Gaiman's Death from Gaiman's editor, but Gaiman himself was apparently not consulted. In Bates' story, Gaiman's Death describes herself as merely one of many aspects of death (specifically, "…death as the release… …as mercy, as compassion…" Captain Atom #42.6.1-2), and appears alongside several other "aspects", such as The Black Racer and Nekron. This was not at all Gaiman's conception of the character, and he was allegedly quite angry. The speech Gaiman gives to Death, above, may have been meant specifically to help counter any future misconceptions of the character. In the letter column to issue #37 (May, 1992), Gaiman explicitly responds to a reader discussing that Captain Atom story: "Death is Death. When the Black Racer goes to his eventual reward or otherwise, she'll be the one telling him to hang up his skis."
This chapter contains more allusions to Matthew's continuity. When Matthew tells Lucien "I was more a man of action when I was alive" (22.2.3), this refers to his career as a government operative during volume 1 of Swamp Thing. And Matthew "...knew there was a hell... y'see I did this deal once, but it all turned to shit" (22.8.4): he's talking about his deal with Anton Arcane. See Matthew's entry at issue #11 for more details.
The Fashion Thing (see entry at #2) may be depicted at 22.3.4, though her appearance is variable enough to leave this in doubt.
"'And the Lord said unto him, therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken upon him sevenfold. And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him. And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the Land of Nod, on the east of Eden.' Where you still live, eh?" (22.10.6-7). Gaiman here identifies Cain explicitly with the biblical figure of the same name. Cain's 'mark' had never been shown before, but he always had been shown with lots of hair. This biblical identification may be seen as a contradiction of references both earlier and later in Sandman, where Gaiman seems to say that Cain is a pre-human archetype. See section II, above, for some discussion of Gaiman's handling of Christianity.
For more about Lyta's 'father', Steve (22.12.2), see her entry at issue #11.
"…money's not a problem." (22.12.6). Both Lyta and her husband, Hector, had wealthy parents, who presumably either left Lyta lots of money in their wills, or are directly supporting her if still alive. (The precise status of these parents was quite unclear by now, due to the many retcons of the late 1980s.)
About a year after Sandman #4's "A Hope in Hell" was published, a new comic book starring Etrigan The Demon had debuted. Its initial storyline was largely set in Hell, and concerned Etrigan's attempts to overthrow the Triumvirate (which had gone back to featuring Belial instead of Azazel), rule Hell himself, and ultimately make war on Heaven. Through guile and demagoguery, Etrigan raises demonic armies which conquer Azazel and Beelzebub. When Etrigan assaults Lucifer's palace, Lucifer surrenders, apparently out of boredom. As Etrigan attempts to throw Lucifer into "the Pit", however, Lucifer casually frees himself and flies off, expressing disappointment in Etrigan. Shortly thereafter, Merlin and Jason Blood manage to send Etrigan back to Earth, ending his short reign and leaving Hell's politics in an uncertain state.
It seems to me that the characterization of Lucifer in The Demon was based on Gaiman's. The writer of The Demon may even have known what Gaiman planned to do with Lucifer soon after, as the editors and writers of various comics usually consulted each other when it looked like storylines would overlap. But this particular overlapping was not to prove congenial.
Gaiman had originally planned to have Morpheus journey to Hell in this chapter, immediately after the family meeting. His editor ordered Gaiman to delay that plot by a month in order to not damage the continuity of The Demon. Gaiman complained, feeling that here wasn't much overlap in readership between the two books. He may, I infer, also have been feeling like he deserved to win this conflict; Sandman was selling remarkable numbers and had already begun to appear in collected volumes, which Gaiman must have at least hoped would become perennial sellers; The Demon was selling much less and had no prospects of ever being so collected. Nonetheless, his editor insisted, and Gaiman grudgingly acquiesced. In time, he came to view the delay as a positive one for his story. (See The Sandman Companion, pgs.99-100 for more discussion of the disagreement.)
This is the context for Lucifer's rather mocking lines "...recently one of the minor demons -- some little yellow rhymer -- thought to declare himself a king of Hell, to usurp the triumvirate... It came to nothing. These things never do." (22.19.2).
"Ten billion years spent providing a place for dead mortals to torture themselves. And like all masochists they called the shots -- "burn me" "freeze me" "hurt me"... And we did." (23.16.5). Gaiman is here echoing the nature of Hell laid out by Etrigan in Alan Moore's Swamp Thing: "Think you God built this place, wishing man ill and not lusts uncontrolled or swords unsheathed? Not God, my friend, the truth's more hideous still: these halls were carved by men while yet they breathed. God is no parent or policeman grim dispensing treats or punishment to all. Each soul climbs or descends by its own whim. He mourns, but he cannot prevent their fall." This "sinner-centric" notion of Hell is not the complete picture; see notes to #4 and #27.
"If I had not rebelled, another would have, in my stead. Raguel, perhaps..." The angel Raguel appears briefly in The Books of Magic, where he is referred to as "to whom has been entrusted the vengeance of the lord." This is generally understood to identify him with the superhero The Spectre. The identification is usually made in deniable terms, so as not to offend Christians; for instance, when, later in The Books of Magic, the Spectre shows up, the protagonist mentions the angels from earlier and says "he looked like one of them."
In this chapter, Gaiman introduces many factions wishing to gain control of Lucifer's Hell. Most of these are based on world folklore and mythology, and not (except where noted) on any previous uses of similar mythology within earlier DC comics.
The Lords of Order and the Lords of Chaos were introduced into DC continuity in a Dr. Fate story (DC Special Series v2, #10, Jan 1978). They are generally assumed to have been inspired by the "Eternal Champion" stories of Michael Moorcock (see, for instance, The Sandman Companion, p.104). While previous appearances had utilized the device of a Lord of Order incarnated as a static object carried by a mortal servant, the object in question had never before Gaiman been one so prosaic as a cardboard box!
Given the history of influence of Swamp Thing on Neil Gaiman, it is possible that "The Merkin -- she whose womb spawns spiders" (24.17.2) may have been inspired by a matriarchal spider-demon called "The Fate Mother" who had recently appeared in Swamp Thing (v2 #97, Jul 1990). If so, however, the differences in name and appearance mark Gaiman's intention that they not be read as the same character.
Rowland Paine's dream on page 2 is strongly reminiscent of an extended dream sequence from Hellblazer #13 (Dec 1988), which Gaiman would certainly have read.
"...one of them has some of your essence in him. He is a vessel for a fraction of your soul." (26.15.1). This is Wesley Dodds (aka Sandman I, see his entry at #1). Here, Gaiman engages Dodds' relatively recent continuity. In his capacity as a member of the Justice Society of America, Dodds had last appeared in a special one-shot comic book The Last Days of the JSA (Sep 1986, five years prior to Season of Mists). This story was conceived at least partially as a way to gracefully 'retire' the JSA. With the newly-unified Post-Crisis Universe, any 'modern' stories dealing with the JSA would inevitably be about a bunch of old codgers aged 60 or more. This was seen as unacceptable, but it was also undesirable to 'kill' the characters, as that would upset long-time fans. The compromise was a story which 'concluded' by having the JSA trapped in an eternal battle to hold off the forces of Ragnarok.
Gaiman severely retcons the JSA story. The Ragnarok that the JSA are trying to prevent is revealed to not be the 'real' Ragnarok, but a 'notional' one created by Odin as a strategizing tool. When Odin discovers the JSA in there, including the Wesley Dodds version of Sandman, he uses them as bargaining chips with Morpheus. Gaiman uses this to help underscore the basic inhumanity of both the gods and the Endless: neither party in the proposed deal shows any concern over the fates of the JSA as people, they are just treated as bargaining chips. When Odin's proposed bargain falls through, neither he nor Morpheus attempts to do anything about the JSA.
"For many years now, myself and some of my fellow Lords of Order have been collecting the dream-essences of the newly dead, for purposes of our own" (26.17.2), Gaiman is referring to some adventures of the Justice League a few years earlier. In these, they fought The Grey Man, a former mortal who had been charged by the Lords of Order with the aforesaid collection, but had been driven mad by the conditions of that job.
"Marilyn Monroe is ours now, as are King Kong and Lady Liberty" (26.18.4).
"Lady Liberty" is typically taken to be either an abstract personification of American ideals of freedom, or the statue of that personification in New York's harbor. It's also the name of a minor DC superheroine from the 1980s, whom Gaiman was presumably aware of, though probably not deliberately referencing.
"...surprised not to see a representative from the Greek gods here. Perhaps they know something my people do not." "It's all internal politics, old friend. It leaves no room for travel." (27.2.6) The Greek Gods, as opposed to the other pantheons mentioned here, were a frequent element of DC continuity, most often in the pages of Wonder Woman. They did, indeed, experience a good deal of "internal politics" there, but the statement may well have been intended ironically. Three months after this was published, in September 1991, the "War of the Gods" crossover event began, putting the Greek Gods in conflict against several other pantheons in the pages of over a dozen different DC comics. Given the long lead times necessary to organize (and publicize) such crossovers, Gaiman would almost certainly have been aware of this impending one.
"There must be a Hell. There must be a place for the demons; a place for the damned. Hell is Heaven's reflection. It is Heaven's shadow. They define each other. Reward and Punishment; hope and despair. There must be a Hell, for without Hell, Heaven has no meaning." (27.8.5-6). Discussing this in The Sandman Companion, Gaiman explains: "Sandman is a comic book that's part of the DC Universe, and the DC Universe has always portrayed hell as having been created by the creator of the angels." (TSC, p.105). On the other hand, Gaiman equivocates about whether or not that creator is "...necessarily the same as the Judeo-Christian god." (ibid).
For more on The Fashion Thing, whom Dream orders to tend to Nada (27.24.3), see her entry at #2.
"...your twin sister died soon after your birth." (29.13.1). In Hellblazer issues #39-40 (Mar-Apr 1991, the finale of writer Jamie Delano's initial run, and several months prior to Sandman #29), John Constantine discovered that he had been a twin, but had killed his sibling in the womb. Gaiman here suggests that this is a recurring theme in the black sheep of the Constantine family.
"I once dreamed I was making out with Weirdzo Lila Lake. ... The Weirdzos, from the old Hyperman comics. They lived on this square planet somewhere in outer space, and they did everything backwards. "Us do opposite of Earth things in Weirdzo World." They had these white faces, like they were made of crystal or something, and, like, they were all Hyperman or his friends. And all the women were Lila Lake. They had this Weirdzo Code..." (32.16.8-13.17.1). To a long-time DC reader, these "Weirdzos" are instantly recognizable as "Bizarros" from the pages of various Superman comics, accurate in every detail but their names. The original Bizarro was created in 1958. The character grew popular, and featured in more stories, gradually accumulating its own sub-mythology over the 1960s. In the Post-Crisis continuity, Bizarro was far less developed, and was generally used as a source of pathos, rather than humor.
Gaiman wants to engage with metaphors from old DC comics as comics, as cultural artifacts that Wanda read in her childhood. In 1991, this kind of playful interaction of fictions looping back on themselves would have been welcomed in a postmodern prose novel. In the corporate world of DC comics, it was considered a step too far. Having a Superman comic book appear within a DC Universe book would be a fundamental violation of continuity.
By editorial decree, Gaiman's references to "Superman" and "Bizarro" in the script had to be changed to the fictional-within-the-fiction "Hyperman" and "Weirdzo" (The Sandman Companion, p.125). Interestingly, the original publication of #32 still used the word "Bizarro" on page 17, panel 8. This oversight was corrected in subsequent reprints.
The "Room Patrol" (35.5.1-3) is a punning reference to the DC superteam Doom Patrol. Originally created in 1964, Doom Patrol was notable for being one of the first superhero franchises to kill off some of the protagonists. At the time Gaiman was writing A Game of You, Doom Patrol was enjoying a creative revival at the hands of British writer Grant Morrison, who was using the venue to tell increasingly surreal, dadaist stories, whose readership significantly overlapped with Sandman's.
"Pathetic, bespectacled, rejected Perry Porter is secretly The Amazing Spider. Gawky, bespectacled, unloved Clint Clarke is really Hyperman." (36.4.7). The Hyperman reference continues the thinly-disguised use of Superman, as discussed in the notes to #32. "Perry Porter" is a similar thin disguise for the Marvel Comics character Peter Parker (aka "The Amazing Spider-Man").
"She acts according to her nature. Is that evil?" (37.2.2). This is an echo (perhaps unconscious) of an Alan Moore sequence: "Aphid eats leaf. Ladybug eats aphid. Soil absorbs dead ladybug. Plant feeds upon soil... Is aphid evil? Is ladybug evil? Is soil evil? Where is evil, in all the wood?" (Swamp Thing v2 #47.18.6).
The "Hyperman 80pg. Giant" comic book that Barbie buys for Wanda (37.20.1) is a very slightly altered version of the somewhat famous cover to Superman #202 (Jan 1968).
In the first issue of Tales of Ghost Castle, Lucien had a pet werewolf named Rover. Gaiman may have had this in mind when he decided to feature Lucien in this werewolf-themed story.
Lyta's reference to Melrose (40.2.4) establishes that she is now living in Los Angeles. The super-team Infinity, Inc., which she was once a member of, was based in LA.
"So, here we are, all three of us. Just like the old days. And we've even got an audience. Let's tell stories." (40.9.1). Gaiman is referencing Cain, Abel, and Eve's past history as self-aware "horror hosts", see notes at #2.
Cain says, in reaction to Abel's story, "They didn't even look remotely human. None of us did, back then." (40.18.6). See notes at #22 for more discussion of this.
Cain's murderous anger at Abel giving too much information away is a deliberate callback to a similar scene in Alan Moore's Swamp Thing.
The Fashion Thing (see entry at #2) may be depicted at 42.14.5, though her appearance is variable enough to leave this in doubt.
The discussion of immortals on the first page of this chapter is a subtle engagement with DC continuity. Immortality is a classic fictional trope, and many DC characters have been established to be immortal, or at least incredibly long-lived. Gaiman avoids any difficulty by using large enough numbers to encompass all such previous immortal characters, while being coy enough about details to avoid explicitly identifying any particular one of them.
"(The first Atlantis. The other lands that bore that name were shadows, echo-Atlantises, myth lands, and they came later.)" (43.1.2). Again, Atlantis is a common storytelling trope, and had shown up in previous DC stories many different times, often with contradictory details, since at least 1939. Gaiman cuts through the contradictions by, again, acknowledging that there are multiple versions, but not identifying any one of them. He claims that there is one, true "first Atlantis", but carefully avoids identifying which one it is. In The Books of Magic, Gaiman has an Atlantean wizard say "...where humanity gets it wrong, by your time, is in imagining Atlantis as having any kind of quantifiable existence. Which of course it hasn't; not in the way they imagine, anyway. There have been an awful lot of Atlantises, will be quite a few more. It's just a symbol... The true Atlantis is inside you... Atlantis is the shadow-land, the birth-place of civilization, the fair land in the west that is lost to us, but remains forever, true birthplace and true goal."
Later in this chapter, Pharamond asks Dream if he'll be traveling "…..off-plane?", but Dream assures that he'll only be traveling on "This Earth" (43.11.4). This is one of the first direct references to multiple worlds since Crisis on Infinite Earths. For more discussion on this, see the notes to Worlds End, below.
In this issue, Gaiman playfully alludes to Matthew the Raven's mortal life in several ways. For more context on these, see Matthew's entry at #11.
On Matthew's driving ability: "I killed myself drunk driving, didn't I? I mean, the first time." (45.6.2).
On seeing a disturbed policeman:
Morpheus: "He is troubled by delusory insects."
Matthew: "Bugs. Yeah. I been there." (45.6.6).
When Matt first had trouble with delirium tremens, he often saw giant insectoid monsters, which his powers then made real. And when Arcane appeared at the scene of Matt's car wreck to offer to save his life, he did so in the shape of a fly -- which Matt seemed to believe was a hallucination.
On approaching a strip club: "Hey, I haven't been in a place like this since I had hands. I used to love these places. I mean, my wife didn't mind... Okay, maybe she'd've minded if she knew." (45.15.3-4). While it had never been previously established that Matt went to strip clubs, it was in character for him both to do so, and to keep it secret from his wife, who very probably would have minded.
Matthew's one panel in illusionary human shape (45.16.7) is consistent with the appearance of his mortal self.
The apparent nonsense phrase "the allen is an alien" (46.22.2) may be referring to contemporary events in the pages of Flash. Barry Allen, the second Flash, had died during Crisis on Infinite Earths. The role of Flash was taken up by his protégé, Wally West. During West's tenure, there was frequent discussion about how Barry Allen had accomplished all his super-feats, occasionally accompanied by speculation about whether Allen had been completely human. Shortly after this story was published, "Barry Allen" returned, but was later revealed to be a supervillain in disguise. Gaiman may perhaps have deliberately planted his line as a red herring for that story.
Destruction recalls a discussion he had with Death, "a long time ago, a long way from here" (48.14.4-15.1). The crystals and the clothing are suggestive of the planet Krypton. Jill Thompson has confirmed in an interview that this is a deliberate reference on Gaiman's part.
Although there is no verbal reference in this story, no long-time DC reader could see a city inside a bottle without thinking of The Bottle-City of Kandor. First appearing in 1958, Kandor was a city from Superman's home planet of Krypton which had been stolen, shrunk, and bottled by the alien villain known as Brainiac. Superman defeated Brainiac and took custody of Kandor, but was unable to restore it to full size. The Bottle-City was kept safe in Superman's Fortress of Solitude, and featured as an element in many stories over the years.
Since the planet Krypton had been destroyed (after Kandor was stolen), Kandor served as a preserved remnant of a lost culture in its Golden Age. Gaiman is clearly echoing this by similarly preserving Baghdad.
Worlds End is based upon a premise which, though a classic of fantasy literature, had come to be seen as subversive in the context of its original publication. After Crisis on Infinite Earths, the official company line for many years was that there were no such things as alternate universes. Naturally, many writers chafed at this restriction, and tried to sneak around it in various ways. Worlds End was the first story since Crisis... to bald-facedly deal with the concept of alternate universes again.
Why was Gaiman allowed to do this? The fact that by this time Sandman was by far DC's best-selling comic probably had a lot to do with it; that sort of success brings personal clout as well. As well, DC editorial was probably beginning to realize by then (more than six years after Crisis... ended) that the dream of the unified coherent universe was neither achievable nor terribly desirable.
Gaiman's use of a "reality storm" in this storyline seems deliberately evocative of the red skies and stormy weather that accompanied the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths.
The mysterious voice on page 5 is identified in Gaiman’s script (per Klinger) as belonging to Master Redlaw, a hedgehog character that Gaiman had created for The Books of Magic. The hedgehog may be partially seen in 51.5.4.
At the end of this tale from the genre of swords & sorcery, Gaiman gives a cameo to two short-lived DC swords & sorcery characters from the 1970s. The first character speaking in 52.25.5 is Claw the Unconquered; standing just behind him is Stalker the Soulless. Each was first published in 1975. Claw lasted for 12 issues, Stalker, only 4.
Brant Tucker has a one panel vision (54.2.1) of three translucent figures. These are recognizably the same as some characters who appeared in Gaiman's The Books of Magic, issue 4 (1991). The scene was set very near the end of the universe. All the inhabitants of the universe had been assimilated into a few primal archetypes; pictured here are the Fool, the King and the Queen. Gaiman probably chose to include them as shorthand to indicate to attentive readers just how vast the scope of the reality storm is.
Brant asks the unnamed monk "How many Americas are there?" and is answered "Many. Many-many-many. But perhaps less than there used to be." (54.2.5). This may perhaps be a subtle dig at the now-failed editorial goals of Crisis on Infinite Earths.
"Prez, the first teenage president!" was a pre-existing DC character, but one so outre that he was generally considered not to be part of the DC Universe proper. Created by Joe Simon in 1973, Prez lasted a mere four issues before being canceled. It was a very strange comic book, existing on a satirical level that few comic book fans of that era were prepared to appreciate.
Gaiman's retelling of Prez's early years is largely accurate, merely changing the emphasis of presentation (and mixing in messianic tropes not found in the original). Prez #1 depicted Prez fixing the clocks of Steadfast and being maneuvered into politics by Boss Smiley. The original version of Boss Smiley had a face that was literally the same as the classic "smiley button", even more abstract than his depiction in Sandman. On the other hand, he was portrayed simply as a powerful corrupt political boss, not as a Satan figure.
The depiction of Prez's election parade in Sandman (54.9.5) is a restaging of the cover of Prez #1 (complete with smiley button). The Native American at the left of the panel is Eagle Free, whom Prez appointed head of the FBI. Eagle Free could communicate with animals, and usually had lots of animals in his vicinity; his monkey friend, Ibsen, is sitting next to Prez.
Prez was the victim of an assassination attempt at the end of Prez #2, a story that continued to #3. The cover of Prez #3 featured Prez in the crosshairs of a sniper's scope, though in a different context to the scene in Sandman (54.12.7). In Prez, Prez was wounded in the arm, but no one died. Gaiman establishes that the would-be assassin, in a parallel to the real world John Hinckley, Jr., was obsessed with "prominent television personality, and former boxer, Ted Grant" (54.13.4); Grant would be known to DC readers as the minor superhero "Wildcat", which is why he is depicted in costume. Wildcat dated back to 1942, and had been used a great deal by Roy Thomas during the 1980s. As is his usual practice, Gaiman avoids any mention of Grant's "superhero name".
Prez's assistant, Martha (54.14.1-4), was first clearly depicted in Prez #2. She is his Vice President -- and his mother!
"You can afford it." (57.7.2). See note on Lyta's finances at #22.
"…someone who'd turn her back on stardom and a Virginia mansion…" (57.20.4). Infinity, Inc. was more engaged with the media than most superhero teams, which counts as a kind of stardom. Lyta's parents did in fact have a mansion in Virginia.
The glass forest on page 11 may be inspired by The Glass Forest that existed on Superman's home planet of Krypton (pre-Crisis). It may or may not be a deliberate reference, but there are enough definite references to Silver- Age Superman stories in Sandman to make it plausible.
The image of ravens flying over Hell (63.23.1-2) is reminiscent of Alan Moore's Swamp Thing v2 #49 (Jun 1986).
The "embryonic silicon dreams" (64.5.4) call to mind Alan Moore's Swamp Thing v2 #60 (May, 1987), which had a frame story of a techno-organic alien telling her 'children' a story to get them to sleep.
"I can't say your last name, dearie." "They never get my name right. Call me Helena, my dear." (64.8.3). This Helena may well be Lyta's birth mother, the Golden Age Fury (see Lyta's entry at #11).
"And I am proud of you. Alla you. Wyciezbsky, O'Brien, McTavish, Silverstein, Pucci, and the little Norwegian." (66.15.3). Gaiman is referencing the trope, common to DC war comics, of having a group of fighters of many different nationalities working together in a unit. Perhaps the most notable example of this was Blackhawk. Given that these names are assigned to black bats (and the general importance of black birds to the storyline), the Blackhawk reference may well have been intentional.
"We have taken vengeance on worlds and on universes." (66.16.6). Again, Gaiman makes free with the concept of multiple universes.
When Mazikeen tries to make Delirium go away, Del essentially threatens to retcon Mazikeen (68.7.3), an example of Gaiman's playful use of the idea of continuity.
In The Wake, Gaiman states explicitly, multiple times, that everyone in the universe takes part in the ceremony, at least as audience. Hence, he includes cameo appearances by a number of familiar DC characters.
Superman, Batman, and The Martian Manhunter (see his entry at #5, above) converse about their dreams (71.22.1). "...where I'm a newsreader..." Superman (pre-Crisis) had been a television anchorman for a time during the 1970s. "…I've got an ant's head…" This was due to the effects of Red Kryptonite. "...where I'm a gorilla." I have been unable to determine any story that quite fits this, but several close matches are noted in the endnotes. "...I had this weird virus and I had to keep going forward in time until the end of the universe." Again, I haven't been able to find an exact match, but have some partial matches in the endnotes. "The one I hate is where I'm just an actor on a strange television version of my life". Superman and Batman have, of course, both been featured in live action television shows, but The Martian Manhunter had not, so has had no such dreams. Gaiman had intended to include a visual joke in this panel: "...the original panel was a much longer shot, further back. It showed Clark Kent with his Superman cape coming out from under his suit, and Clark looking around in an attempt to see it as he's talking. ... DC's Superman editor said it "showed disrespect to the character" and made us redraw the panel." (The Sandman Companion, 213). As Jim Croce sang, "You don't tug on Superman's cape".
In the next panel (71.22.2), three of DC's most important mystical heroes meet: John Constantine (see entry at issue #3), Dr. Occult, and The Phantom Stranger. About five years earlier, Gaiman had used all three characters in The Books of Magic, where he had Constantine refer to them self-deprecatingly as "The Trenchcoat Brigade". Constantine's line here, "Nice trench coat", is a clear call-back to the earlier gag.
The Wake spends a lot of time with Matthew the Raven. Fittingly, there are a few last call-backs to his mortal life. Daniel alludes to his reality-warping powers at 71.15.5. Later, in discussion with Lucien:
Matthew: "I don't drink. I stopped drinking the hard way."
Lucien: "'The night can make a man more brave... ...but not more sober.' I take your point." (71.19.4).
Lucien, as befits a storyteller who is aware of the stories he is embedded in, is quoting the narration from the sequence in Swamp Thing where Matt died while driving drunk. This echoes a complex pop culture joke on Alan Moore's part. That issue of Swamp Thing had been partially narrated by the rhyming Demon Etrigan, and the flaming wreckage of Matt's car had landed beside a billboard reading "Burma Shave". (For those readers too young to remember, Burma Shave was a shaving cream corporation that used to put up multi-part billboards along roadways. Each billboard would be one phrase of an advertising slogan, often a doggerel poem. The final billboard would always read "Burma Shave".) For more context, see Matthew's entry at issue #11.
During the funeral, we see that one of the guests is Darkseid (72.7.4). For more on him, see the notes to #4, above.
"My name is Wesley Dodds." (72.11.1). Though he has appeared before in Sandman (see his entry at #1), this is the first time that Dodds has had a speaking part. His characterization here is more nuanced, largely due to matters of outside continuity. Inspired by Dodds' appearance in the first chapter of Sandman, another creator, Matt Wagner, revived the character in a comic book titled Sandman Mystery Theater (1993 - 1998), detailing Wesley Dodds' early adventures as The Sandman. This new comic gave Dodds a far more interesting characterization than he (or, to be fair, any other comic book hero) had had in the 1940s. In 1995, only a short time before The Wake, Gaiman and Wagner had co-written a crossover of sorts between the two Sandmen, titled Sandman Midnight Theatre. It largely concerns Wesley Dodds investigating a blackmail ring run from within Roderick Burgess' Order of Ancient Mysteries in 1939. At one point Dodds, while searching Burgess' mansion, stumbles upon Morpheus' prison. Dream briefly speaks to Dodds, then tells him "Now, forget." Thus the line in The Wake, "I only met the dead gentleman once. We, uh, didn't talk." (72.11.1) is only reflecting Dodds' imperfect memory. Dian, referenced in the next panel, was Dodds' long-time lover, a relationship that had been greatly expanded upon by Wagner.
And how was Dodds able to appear in The Wake, when we last saw him trapped in Ragnarok (see #26, above)? In the meantime, another comic detailed the JSA being released from the Ragnarok battle.
Seven years after the completion of Sandman, Gaiman wrote a follow-up volume, Endless Nights. This consisted of seven stories, each featuring a different member of The Endless. Most of these were unconcerned with DC continuity, but the Dream story, "The Heart of a Star", was deeply enmeshed with it.
Killalla's blue skin, white hair, and manipulation of green light energy all mark her as related to The Guardians of the Universe, who had long been an important element of DC continuity. This is positively confirmed when she names her home planet as Oa.
Oa has a large and complex backstory, which was frequently retconned. The full details are beyond the scope of this paper. That said, it's worth listing some of the backstory elements that have thematic resonance here:
· Oans have always had severe gender issues. Though the specific details and explanations changed over time, it was always the case that "modern" Oans were entirely divided into separate cultures by gender. In some versions, the females had emigrated to an entirely separate planet! The physical appearances of the males and females also greatly diverged. By showing a female Oan with blue skin and white hair, Gaiman is establishing that his story takes place before the first such divergence. One might even infer that Killalla's romantic transgressions were part of what caused this gender rift.
· An Oan scientist named Krona attempted to observe the beginning of the universe. This cosmic transgression had disastrous results. Specifics vary, but it is most commonly expressed as "The creation of evil". Gaiman's story may be a depiction of the universe before "evil". Dream and Desire are still friends, and Delight has not yet become Delirium. But this is not entirely consistent, since if there is not yet any evil, then why would there be such a thing as "police" (one of Killalla's functions, see below)?
· Oan guilt over the creation of evil led them to create a number of entities intended to act as "cosmic policemen". These met with limited success, but the Oans never stopped trying. When Dream refers to Killalla as "one of the five high (priest-artist-police-entities) of her culture", Gaiman may be implying that Killalla is part of an early such group.
Mizar is the name of a real star, and our first clue as to the nature of this gathering.
Rao had long been established as the name of a Kryptonian solar deity. Late in this story, Gaiman suggests that it was Despair that prompted Krypton to be created unstable in the first place -- and also that there should be a single survivor (Superman).
Sol is, of course, one of the names of our very own Sun. Gaiman plays with the standard question of "Why would alien races all look very similar to humans" by suggesting that humans (and Martians, Saturnians, etc.) look like Oans, because of Sol's admiration of Killalla. At the end of the story, it is revealed that the narrator is an older Sol, speaking to a not-yet-woken planet. This structure, of a parent telling a child a story as they hang in the void of space, strongly recalls Alan Moore's Swamp Thing #60 (May 1987).
In 2012, Gaiman began writing a prequel to the Sandman saga, titled Sandman: Overture. While this story was deeply involved with the continuity of Sandman itself, it had relatively little to do with DC continuity outside of that. One might argue that some of the characters (especially the various versions of Dream) were evocative of some DC characters, but in no case was the parallel definitive.
One could argue that the overall structure of the story, like “A Dream of a Thousand Cats” before it, was a commentary on the way that DC frequently (since the mid-80s) restarted their whole continuity from scratch. Chapter 3 (SO3.1.4) arguably contains some references to specific past DC “crises”: “There are WAVE RIDERS and PLANET EATERS.” “Waverider” was the name of a time-traveling hero introduced during 1991’s crossover event “Armageddon 2001”. There was a story in a 1959 issue of Strange Adventures titled “Peril of the Planet Eater”, and the Legion of Super-Heroes several times faced creatures known as Sun-Eaters. The red clouds depicted in SO3.3.3 (and later in SO5.4-5) may be an allusion to the red skies seen in Crisis on Infinite Earths.
“Warriors who are WORLDS” (SO3.1.4) is at least partially a reference to Mogo of the Green Lantern Corps, a sentient planet character created by Alan Moore, and depicted on the bottom right corner of page 3, shortly after that text reference, . The Green Lantern Corps are specifically name-dropped on the same page (SO3.3.2), though none of them besides Mogo are depicted. That same panel, however, both mentions and depicts one particularly silly piece of pre-existing DC continuity: The Space Canine Patrol Corps. The SCPC was a spacegoing team of super-canines who invited Superboy’s pet dog, Krypto, to join them. Their immortal battle cry was “Big dog, big dog, bow, wow, wow! We'll stop evil, now, now, now!” None of the pictured dogs correspond exactly to any pre-existing SCPC members. The last time the SCPC appeared was in a very meta-textual issue of Animal Man, where they were shown to be inhabiting “Comic Book Limbo”. Hence, their appearance here subtly foreshadows that the bulk of this story is “a previous version of the continuity”.
In order to keep this paper a manageable length, there are a few subjects that I have not discussed at all. Any of them could easily be a paper in its own right. Perhaps one of you reading this will write them. If not, I may get to them someday myself. No promises, though.
· How Gaiman's own contributions to continuity have been in turn borrowed and/or retconned by later authors.
· How Gaiman made use of the serialized form to structure the reader's experience during Sandman's initial run, encouraging speculation and close re-readings while the story was still being written.
· How Gaiman's creation of The Endless may be seen as his boldest retcon, with consideration of how they fit within the larger DC Universe cosmology, and how Gaiman both establishes and undercuts their power within Sandman.
· How Gaiman's engagement with continuity was affected by contemporaneous issues in the comic book industry, such as the Creators' Rights Movement, and the growth of the Graphic Novel as a bookstore evergreen.
· Gaiman's use of DC continuity in other works, such as Green Lantern - Superman - Legend of the Green Flame (1988), Swamp Thing v2 Annual #5 (1989), The Books of Magic (1990), Death: The High Cost of Living (1993), and Death: The Time of Your Life (1996).
References to comics are in the format issue.page.panel. Though many of the referenced works have been collected in later editions, I refer to the first printings except where noted.
References to dates are always to the date printed on the cover. Due to the vagaries of American comic book distribution, these cover dates post-dated the actual date of publication by 2-3 months. Hence, a comic with a cover date of January 1989 would actually have been published in October or November of 1988.
Comics which were published less frequently than monthly sometimes listed a range of dates on the cover, or in the indicia. I have endeavored to include the full range in such cases.
Sandman itself was published monthly for most of its run, though Gaiman occasionally missed a month. This happened much more frequently as Sandman neared its conclusion; the final 19 "monthly" issues took 27 months to appear. Normally, such unreliable scheduling would lead to a writer getting at least temporarily replaced by a "fill-in", if not outright fired. But by that time, it had become clear that Sandman would conclude after Gaiman had left, and that it would stay in print in collected form for a considerable time. This led to treating Sandman differently than the standard "disposable" monthly magazine; the extra time could be viewed as a viable long-term investment. This dawning realization that Sandman would likely remain in print may actually have contributed to Gaiman's difficulty in getting issues out on time; he was playing for much larger stakes than when he started writing it, so concern for getting the end of the story "right" slowed him down.
The idea for this paper came to me several years ago, as important ideas often do, in the middle of the night. It would not let me sleep until I had gotten up and spent a few hours writing notes towards an early draft of this work. I wrote several pages worth over the next few days, but then became distracted by other projects. I worked on this on and off for several years. Though I knew a great deal about the relevant DC continuity, the further I looked, the more there was to find, and it seemed sometimes as if the paper would never stop growing. Luckily, since Sandman itself is finite, I was able to eventually call my examination of it "done enough".
Sources used in this paper include, but are not limited to:
· Leslie Klinger's Annotated Sandman
· Hy Bender's the Sandman Companion
Google (especially Google Images) and Wikipedia were also very helpful. All these sources are valuable, but none are without error. I have checked information in original sources wherever possible. Of course, any errors remaining in this paper are my own. If you note any errors or omissions, I would be delighted to correct them.
My thanks to Mark Mandel and Siderea for useful feedback and encouragement. Thanks to my father for the gift of an iPad, which made doing the research much more feasible. Thanks to Kestrell, for love, tolerance, and inspiration. Endless thanks to Neil Gaiman, without whom this would never have been necessary.
2.1 (August 11, 2013)
· More on Death/Captain Atom in #20.
· Added Raguel note in #23.
· Added notes to second Grey Man conflict in #26.
· Noted Lyta moving back to LA, and the Alan Moore echo in #40 (typo correction thanks to Vnend, 8/12).
· Added Atlantis quote from The Books of Magic in #43.
· Added interview reference for Krypton allusion in #48.
· Noted cameos at the end of #52.
· Added Glass Forest ref in #61.
· Added more details on the Superman/Batman/Martian Manhunter jokes in #71.
· Added Daniel's reference to Matthew's power in #71.
· Misc. typo fixes.
· Added Appendix 3.
· Started tracking version history.
3.0 (January 10, 2016)
· Incorporated information from volumes 3 and 4 of Annotated Sandman.
o Identified Redlaw in #51.
o Added info about Wildcat in #54.
o Mentioned Mr. E.’s absence from the Trenchcoat Brigade in an endnote
· Added new section on Sandman: Overture.
· Misc. added citations and more detailed endnotes.
· Misc. typo fixes.
· Misc. formatting improvements.
3.1 (January 15, 2016)
· Added mention of Mogo’s depiction in Sandman: Overture, #3.
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 Many of these are now in print again, in several volumes of collections titled _Crisis on Multiple Earths_.
 The term "retroactive continuity" was first used in DC comics in All-Star Squadron #18 (Feb 1983). The abbreviation "retcon" seems to have originated on the USEnet discussion group rec.arts.comics in the late 1980s, though the specific posting is now lost.
 See, for example the multiple Post-Crisis versions of Hawkman, or The Legion of Super-Heroes.
 All of these purposes are also served by the many literary and historical allusions Gaiman uses, but they are beyond the scope of this paper.
 The Brave and the Bold #93, Dec-Jan 1970-1971; DC Comics Presents #53, Jan 1983.
 Blue Devil #20, Jan 1986 through #30, Nov 1986; Annual #1, 1985; Secret Origins #24, Mar 1988.
 A later reference in a letter column (#110, Aug 1973) suggested that Goldie had drowned due to a malfunctioning sprinkler system that Abel had installed. Despite this, Goldie is mentioned as coming back for the "anniversary party" in #150 (Feb-Mar, 1978). Given the sort of stories told in HoS, perhaps Goldie is now a ghost!
 Swamp Thing v2 Annual #2.29.4
 Swamp Thing v2 #30, Nov 1984 and #31, Dec 1984.
 Justice League of America#154.30.5.
 "for the last five years" 5.12.6.
 The giant keyholes are from Justice League of America #150, Jan 1978, where the League battled The Key. The oversized playing card may relate to either The Joker, or The Royal Flush Gang, each of whom fought the League on multiple occasions. The figure at far right is the evil android Amazo, last fought in Justice League of America #243, Oct 1985.
 Martian Manhunter #4, Aug 1988
 Scarecrow had last been seen in Batman #415, Jan 1988, having been captured by Robin. His actual return to Arkham Asylum was not depicted, but can reasonably be assumed.
 Batman #429 (Jan 1989), the conclusion of the "Death in the Family" storyline (also discussed in the notes to Sandman #8). The Joker had been shot while riding a helicopter that subsequently exploded over the ocean. He did not reappear (in normal continuity until Batman #450, Jul 1990.
 Superman Family #208, Jul 1981 - #222, Sep 1982. In these stories, Linda (Supergirl) Danvers was an actress on "Secret Hearts".
 Superman #352, Oct 1980; New Teen Titans #8-9, May-Jun 1985; Captain Atom #42, Jun 1990.
 The original Robin, Dick Grayson, had taken on a more independent superhero identity of "Nightwing" in 1984. Jason Todd became Robin at this time, a role he maintained until his death in 1989. At the time of "The Sound of Her Wings", a 3rd Robin had not yet appeared (but soon would).
 She is named after Wonder Woman's mother, the legendary queen of the Amazons, depicted as a character in Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in Sandman #19.
 By publication date, she had appeared before that, in All-Star Squadron #25 (Sep 1983), but due to the wonders of time travel, that story happened after Infinity Inc. #1 in her own continuity.
 Despite Carla's allegation that Lyta's strength is related to her anger (58.4.3), there is no evidence that this is the case. Lyta has got anger management issues, and is more likely to lash out with her strength when upset.
 Infinity Inc. #27, Jun 1986.
 Infinity Inc. #38, May 1987.
 Joan Dale, "Miss America". A picture of her can be seen during Eric's interview of Lyta (57.19.8).
 All events of this paragraph took place in Infinity, Inc. #49, Apr, 1988.
 Well, that's the simple version. The more accurate picture is complex. The Family Man was introduced in Hellblazer #24, Nov 1989. The storyline ran for four issues, so if publication had gone according to what seems to have been the original plan, The Family Man would have been killed in the Jan 1990 issue, in plenty of time to explain his absence in Sandman #14, in March. However, there was a delay in production (reading between the lines, it seems likely that Delano became ill), leading to several "fill-in" issues by guest writers (including Gaiman) before Delano returned to writing Hellblazer. The Family Man storyline resumed in Hellblazer #28, Apr 1990 -- the month after Sandman #14 had appeared. Perhaps In order to partially patch over this problem, Delano has John Constantine accidentally intercept The Family Man's invitation to the convention, so that he never receives it. When examined too closely, this creates more plot holes than it closes, so, from the point of view of the Sandman reader, it's probably better to interpret matters as I have in the main text.
 Swamp Thing v2 #20, Feb 1984.
 And a flashback panel in the following issue.
 Sandman #2.1.2.
 Sandman #40.18.6.
 The Demon v3, #1, Jul 1990.
 The Demon, v3 #7, Jan 1991.
 Swamp Thing v2 Annual #2, Jan 1985.
 The Books of Magic #1.21.3, 1990.
 The Books of Magic #2.15.2, 1990.
 Gaiman had at one point been scheduled to be co-writing Swamp Thing (along with Jamie Delano) at this time, after Rick Veitch ended a lengthy tenure as writer. Veitch had been creating a complex story involving Swamp Thing traveling backwards through time. His script for #88 (originally scheduled for publication in July of 1989) featured an appearance by Jesus Christ. In an unusual and controversial move, DC declined to publish that issue at the last minute. Rick Veitch quit because of this, and Gaiman and Delano resigned the writing assignment in solidarity with him. It is possible that Gaiman viewed Doug Wheeler, who was then assigned to writing Swamp Thing, as a "scab". Whether he did or not, there is no evidence that the two of them ever collaborated, or even that Gaiman was still reading Swamp Thing at this time.
 Justice League #2, 5-6 and Justice League International #1, all 1987; Justice League America #31-32 and Justice League Europe #7-8
 This version was introduced in The Man of Steel #5, Dec 1986.
 In "pre-Crisis..." continuity, there was one universe, "Earth-Prime", which was essentially identical to our own, including the existence of DC Comics. This level of meta-fiction was not very popular, though, and was only used a few times before Crisis... removed it from continuity.
 Presumably from Mike Carlin, editor of the Superman comics from late 1987 to early 1996.
 Eventually, all these characters were brought back from the dead, as death is rarely permanent for superheroes. Eventually, some later writer wants to work with his childhood favorites, and retcons the death away. But the fallen heroes of the Doom Patrol were the first protagonists to remain dead for more than a few months.
 Swamp Thing #33, Feb 1985, pgs.16-17.
 Action Comics #18, Nov 1939.
 The Books of Magic #1.26.2-3, 1990.
 "The Return of Barry Allen", which ran from Flash #74 (Mar 1993) to #79 (Aug 1993).
 Musings, issue 1, May 1993, p.26.
 Action Comics #242, (Jul 1958).
 The stories of Kandor were considered out of continuity in the Post-Crisis DC of 1993, but many readers would still remember them.
 Grant Morrison's Animal Man had come close, in 1990, but was far more concerned with metafiction than with alternate universes.
 Prez did appear in one issue of Supergirl (#10, Sep-Oct 1974), but most fans wrote that off as an anomaly.
 In the real world, John Hinckley, Jr. shot U.S. President Ronald Reagan (non-fatally) on March 30, 1981. Hinckley was obsessed with actress Jodie Foster, and hoped to impress her by this act.
 Sensation Comics #1, Jan 1942.
 I have been unable to locate the definitive first use of this, but it was no later than Superman #239, Jun-Jul 1971.
 Blackhawk first appeared in Military Comics #1 in 1941, and has been revived intermittently since then. The most recent pre-Sandman version ran from 1989-1992.
 Starting in Superman #233, Jan 1971.
 Action Comics #296, Jan 1963. This story was reprinted in Superman #227, Jun-Jul 1970, when a 9-year-old Gaiman may well have read it (according to an article in Sandman #4, he began reading American superhero comics in Summer 1967).
 Action Comics #218, July 1956, features "The Super-Ape from Krypton". Action Comics #238, Mar 1958, features "The Super-Gorilla from Krypton" (actually a Kryptonian scientist who had been de-evolved due to an experiment gone wrong). Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #24, Oct 1957 (reprinted in Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #116, Dec, 1968), features "The Gorilla Reporter" where Jimmy Olsen has his mind accidentally swapped with that of a gorilla. Superboy #172, Mar 1971, "The World of the Super-Ape", had Superboy confront a Kryptonian gorilla. The most likely contender seems to me to be Superman #226, May 1970, "When Superman was King Kong"; Superman, under the effects of Red Kryptonite, grows to giant-size, and begins acting like King Kong, lifting Lois lane to the top of the Empire State Building. While Superman does not literally become a gorilla in this story, he does act like one, and the story also features a brief cameo by Titano the Super-Ape, dressed as Superman.
 Action Comics #387, April 1970 features Superman traveling to (and past!) the end of time, but has no virus. Superman #156, Oct 1962 (reprinted in The Best of DC, 1977), "The Last Days of Superman" has Superman believing (falsely) that he has been infected with a deadly Kryptonian virus, Virus-X, and has only a month to live; this story has no time travel element. Action Comics #362-366, Apr-Aug 1968 feature Superman actually contracting Virus-X; while this story has no time travel element, it does have a significant space travel plot point, as Superman attempts to self-immolate in "the hottest sun in the universe".
 At least he had not at the time of Sandman. Since then, he has appeared in a Justice League of America pilot, on Smallville and Supergirl, and on numerous animated cartoons.
 Again, this editor was presumably Mike Carlin; see note 40, above.
 "You Don't Mess Around With Jim", Jim Croce, ABC/Vertigo, 1972.
 The Books of Magic featured a fourth member of “The Trenchcoat brigade”, Mister E. However, he was not alive at the time of The Wake, which is why he does not appear. Not that he was dead, either – comic books can get complicated.
 Swamp Thing v2.23.1-2 (Jul 1984).
 Armageddon: Inferno #3, June 1992.
 The Guardians of the Universe first appeared in Green Lantern v2 #1, Jul 1960.
 I have been unable to locate the definitive first use of this, but it was no later than the Krypton Chronicles #1-3, Sep-Nov 1981.
 Not necessarily Earth. In the DC universe, many of the Solar System's planets have (or had) indigenous intelligent life.
 The tree-like Dream recalls the race of sentient plants from Swamp Thing #61, June 1987. One at the lower-left of the spread at the end of chapter 1 recalls Klarion the Witch-Boy. In SO2.9.1, one of the dreams seems dressed much like Superman, and may be from Krypton.
 Strange Adventures #107, August 1959.
 First appeared in Adventure Comics #352, January 1967.
 Green Lantern #188, May 1985.
 First appearing under the name Space Canine Patrol Agents, in Superboy #131, July 1966, “The Dog from the S.C.P.A!”
 Animal Man #25, July 1990.
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