The Sandman #6 “24 Hours”
Recently, during one of our challenge episodes of the fantastic podcast From The Hip, my cohost and buddy Sir Jon offered me this as my challenge. Read the first trade paperback of the Neil Gaiman penned comic series The Sandman. Now this, unlike the feat of strength and pure willpower that host and former friend Vinnie hit me with was welcome. I won’t mention that one here, if you want to know what hell he forced me to endure, listen in. I as a comic fan, have long been shamed by other aficionados for not reading Gaiman’s masterwork. Over the course of a years time, I purchased all the trades and they sat on my shelf, waiting for me to get around to them. Life gets in the way, but occasionally the impetus presents itself. As we challenged each other to partake in pieces of pop culture near and dear to the challenger, but never consumed by the other party, Jon put my priorities in order. So off I went, to read the first volume, entitled Preludes and Nocturnes.
The first five issues set up this sprawling story. An occultist, in an effort to capture and control Death itself, accidentally captures Morpheus, Lord of Dreams. Held captive and powerless for many years, the story bounces between various characters that have been affected by this action. Dreaming and sleep become distorted for many people, as Morpheus is cut off from his powers. Eventually he escapes and goes about reclaiming the three magical items that help him focus his powers. John Constantine helps him reclaim his bag of sand, a trip to Hell regains his helmet, all that remains at this point is a powerful ruby.
In a bit of brilliant retconning, Gaiman reintroduces Doctor Destiny, an old DC character toiling in Arkham Asylum. The Doctor used a dream controlling gem in his early adventures fighting the Justice League, so Gaiman in an attempt to align that continuity with his rewrote the stone as Morpheus’ dreamstone, stolen during his incarceration and given to Doctor Destiny. Destiny is a shell of a man, as he was experimented on in his time at Arkham, with his ability to dream neutralized in an effort to thwart his powers. The stone returned to him as his inheritance after his mothers death, Destiny escapes Arkham and sets off on a swath of terror. Settling into a small diner, Destiny spends the next 24 hours observing the human condition, and then slowly destroying it. Told in an hour by hour fashion, the reader is invested in the mundane lives of the patrons of the diner, and bears witness to the increasing horror as Destiny turns lives inside out, pits husbands against wives and coerces everyone into murder and dismemberment. The issue ends with Morpheus arriving to collect his stone, but entirely too late to save anyone.
A perfect storm of Gaiman’s storytelling coupled with Mike Dringenberg and Malcolm Jones III art puts 24 Hours in the pantheon of all time greatest single issues. Although connected to the overall story being told in the series, this issue works on its own as a singular work of horror. Watching as Destiny surveys his prey and then uses their own personal fears and weaknesses to destroy them, in mostly gruesome fashion is a classic moment in comic history. The night I read this issue, I had odd dreams. In my book, that’s an effective story. I will continue past Jon’s initial challenge and spend the next few months tearing through the rest of the series, as my addiction is real. If you enjoy great reading, let me extend the challenge to you. What’s the worst that can happen, bad dreams?