Morpheus isn’t like Batman, or Harry Potter, wherein you expect to run into them on a regular basis, or they’ve so saturated culture that you know they’ll never be too far away. He’s more like Number Ten Ox and Li Kao, or Totoro – he has a canon with a distinct beginning and end, and is rarely seen outside of it.
I first met Morpheus back in high school – by then the Sandman series had been long over and done with. Until that point, I had never read graphic novels, so I got to know Morpheus via the anime tangent. There was an article about Gaiman and Yoshitaka Amano’s Dream Hunters in a now-defunct anime magazine and it gave me my first glimpse of the Dream King as an androgynous Asian pop star Final Fantasy character.
My sister would facilitate my formal introduction to Morpheus by getting her hands on someone’s copy of Preludes and Nocturnes and feeding me just enough about it to get me reading (“He curses this guy into eternal dream-within-a-dreams,” she said, and “it turns out he’s the younger brother of Death”).
It took me a while to get over the fact that this Morpheus wasn’t at all an androgynous Asian pop star Final Fantasy character, and I had to ease myself into reading long-form Western comics, with (at least with the early books) trippy ‘80s type coloring, but by the time Morpheus had cursed Burgess Jr., I was pretty committed.
Throughout high school and the early parts of college, I found myself journeying with the King of Dreams. We went to the Dreaming, and Hell, and the Soft Places. We were in revolutionary France, and mythological Africa, and that place cats go when they dream. I learned his many names and titles, and met his employees, family, lovers.
Morpheus is not what I’d call a pleasant traveling companion. He’s pretty moody, and you learn that you should never, never piss him off (unless you want to be cursed with eternal waking, or damned to hell for 10,000 years, or be trapped in a chest in the heart of the Dreaming).
But every now and then, he’ll do something to surprise you, like cutting his youngest sister some slack, or accepting Hob Gadling as a friend, or helping out a boy lost in the shifting zones.
And you just knew that if you followed him long enough, you’d be in for a universe of wonder. You’d never see your world the same way again, not after you’ve dueled with demons, and watched a play with the King and Queen of Faerie, and found the paths to Lucien’s Library, or the Threshold of Desire, and you’ve faced the man with teeth for eyes, or the Furies, or the thousand pantheons of ancient gods.
In the last part of the series, I got to watch Morpheus die. I knew it was coming, but that didn’t make it any easier, even when I knew Death was his sister, and he’d be in good hands when the time came for him to go. Everyone we’d run into on the whole journey turned up to mourn him. I wanted to have a drink with Lucien, or the Cluracan, and tell them I’d miss him too.
I knew that technically, Dream of the Endless was still around. Except now his name was Daniel, and he didn’t have the black speech balloons with big white text, and he had the Emerald instead of the Ruby. I’m sure Daniel’s a nice guy. But he’s not Morpheus.
After his death in the comics, Morpheus would make just a few more public appearances – for Endless Nights, for instance, and the Amano and P. Craig Russell versions of Dream Hunters. But, largely, there was the feeling that it was All Over and Done With – I’d seen all there was of Morpheus, read every story, every word, seen every variation of him by every artist to ever touch the series.
The ghost of him remained in new fanart or fanfics. Similarly, there’d be little surprises like the Sandman 20th anniversary poster, or the Sandman Absolute Editions with new colors (or more recently, things like Marc Hempel churning out a lot of Sandman-related shit on his Tumblr, or John Watkiss and Jill Thompson’s would’a-been-Sandman-movie art surfacing on the web).
But it wasn’t the same. The journey had ended for me as a reader, and though I could (and would) return to the Sandman series over and over through the years, it would always be with the knowledge that I’d trod this ground before. Even when I’d go on to discover bits and pieces of art and dialogue I’d never noticed before, or see a story in a new light, or relate with story bits I never did before, I’d never really be as surprised as I first was, say, when Morpheus says his good-byes to his son, or goes to confront Lucifer, or appears in chibi form in a Jill Thompson story.
And then suddenly, one day, Neil Gaiman appears in a video to say that there’s still a Sandman story that hasn’t been told. The first bit of art came up. And I got that feeling of seeing an old friend whom you’d never thought you’d see again.
I wonder how he’s changed – it’s been years since Neil Gaiman’s written Morpheus, and though the new story will technically be a prequel (or something), I don’t doubt he’ll be different in some respects. Maybe a lot of respects. But it’ll still be him, in the same yarn I started reading back in High School. Here’s the story continuing (or stretching back, or mutating), off into ground I can’t even imagine.
I’m looking forward to journeying with the King of Dreams again, even if just for a little while.
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All images belong to their respective copyright holders. DC/Vertigo, probably.