As I Go Along: The Sandman #8: Worlds’ End

Note: “As I Go Along” is a new feature in which I review and discuss the best graphic novels and series that I haven’t yet had a chance to read. These are the titles your comic-loving friends have been trying to push into your hands for years, only now I’ll be doing the pushing (or telling you not to bother). The post will include spoilers for those who have not yet read the work.

When a world ends, there’s always something left over. A story, perhaps, or a vision, or a hope. This inn is a refuge, after the lights go out. For a while.

After the action-packed collection “Brief Lives,” which revealed some oft-mentioned but (previously) never spoken history of the “lives” of The Endless, we took another step back in “Worlds’ End,” which was a collection of semi-related short stories set in the “Sandman” universe, much like “Dream Country” and “Fables and Reflections.” What sets “World’s End” apart from those collections however, is that it builds to a specific endpoint. From the beginning of the story, we know that something momentous is brewing, and that all the interesting stories we’re hearing are almost meant to distract us and prevent us from remembering that fact.

“Worlds’ End” begins with two travelers from the world we’re all familiar with, Brant Tucker and Charlene Mooney, getting into a car crash when it mysteriously begins snowing in the middle of summer. While still in a daze, a mysterious hedgehog directs Brant to an inn unlike any he (or we) are familiar with—the “Worlds’ End, a free house.”

It’s later discovered that the inn is one of four where those travelling between dimensions, can stowaway during “reality storms,” which come as the result of particularly significant events. What sets “World’s End” apart from the early short story collections is that it builds to a specific endpoint. From early on, we know that something momentous is brewing, and that all the interesting stories we’re hearing are almost meant to distract and prevent us from remembering that fact. That endpoint is the inn’s guests gathering at a window to watch an enormous funeral procession in the sky, which is led by Desire and includes most of The Endless, more than a few residents of The Dreaming, and a number of other characters Morpheus has interacted with over the course of the series. As such, the most prevalent guess as to who lies in the coffin is Morpheus himself. The procession ends with Death stopping and looking through the inn’s window as the crescent moon behind her is covered in what is likely blood.

The thing is, it’s never actually confirmed that it’s Dream’s funeral we’re seeing. At least not yet. Although that big ending is forever chugging towards us, “Worlds’ End” might just be all about Neil Gaiman reminding the reader that what’s important in a really good story is the distance, not the destination (the telling, not the ending or the stakes). Instead of telling us why people (beings is more accurate) from so many realms are caught in a reality storm (or why we should give a shit), the whole “the world is coming to an end” thing is really just a backdrop for the stories the travelers are telling.

In the end, we learn that Brant is actually recounting the stories he heard at the Worlds’ End to a regular bartender, and that Charlene has ceased to exist (as she chose to stay and work at the inn). So it turns out, what originally appeared to be the frame story, all the travelers gathering, was actually wrapped up in another frame story. Frameception.

Although the stories within “Worlds’ End” have little impact on the main arc, they’re still an incredibly diverse, fantastic read. Despite the distinctiveness that each story (and fictional storyteller) brings, these six separate issues ultimately feel like one complete volume. Somehow, the pieces of the puzzle all fit. My two favorites were indubitably the first, “A Tale of Two Cities,” which Gaiman has admitted is utterly Lovecraftian, and “Hob’s Leviathan,” just because I’ve been captivated by Hob Gadling since we first heard his life story in “The Doll’s House.”

“Worlds’ End” had its fantastic moments, but at the end of the day, the stories I most want to hear are those of The Endless. As such, I’m looking forward to “The Kindly Ones,” the longest “Sandman” collection, which fixes the spotlight back on Dream.




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