As I Go Along: The Sandman #5 ‘A Game of You’

Note: “As I Go Along” is a weekly 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.

“Everybody has a secret world inside of them. I mean everybody. All of the people in the whole world, I mean everybody — no matter how dull and boring they are on the outside. Inside them they’ve all got unimaginable, magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing worlds… Not just one world. Hundreds of them. Thousands, maybe.”

In the fifth “Sandman” collection, Dream once again took a backseat, watching the stories’ events from afar, only intervening at the end. Once again, Gaiman takes a tiny thread from an earlier work and weaves it into an beautiful and intricate quilt.  “A Game of You” is centered around Barbie, who we first met as a resident of the same house as Rose Walker in “The Doll’s House.” At the time, she was married to a man named Ken (imagine that), but they’ve divorced, and Barbie’s moved to big, bad New York City, where she lives with many of the interesting cast of characters who make up the story. But more has changed than Barbie’s marital status and place of residence. Chief among these changes: she no longer dreams.

From the outset, it appears this is a story about Barbie’s dreams returning, and as a result, her return to The Land as Princess Barbara, and eventually the skerry’s demise. “A Game of You” is that story, but more so it is a tale, as the title implies, about the question of identity. The reader must consider who and what each character in the collection is, as the characters do themselves.

Barbie, of course, is two different people, depending on whether she is awake or asleep. In the real world, she is a New York tenement dweller struggling to find her way in life following her divorce. No one depends on her but herself, and she is having a hard time keeping even that much responsibility in line. Yet in her dreams Barbie is quite the opposite. She is a princess on a magical quest to save the known world. Everyone and everything needs and depends on her.

Each of the characters has their own “game.” Wanda is a pre-operative transexual, born Alvin Mann in what she’d likely think of as a previous life. However, Wanda is scared of surgery, or perhaps just one surgery in particular, that which would make her a woman in body as well as mind. Throughout the story, Wanda struggles with her gender, and the question of her identity, or “game of Wanda” ends with her being buried in the Midwest by her traditional, God-fearing parents, who refuse to acknowledge the existence of their “son’s” other life, shunning all mention or hints to it. Or does it? Barbie dreams of Death whispering in Wanda’s ear, only she’s in the “perfect female body.” Whatever Death whispers, it makes Wanda smile.

While this volume was missing perhaps my favorite part of the “Sandman” series: the growth and development of the immortal Dream, “A Game of You” offered up some great elements of its own to separate it from previous collections. Most notably, the pacing of the plot and its various cliffhanger endings. While every “Sandman” book begs the turn of the page and “just one issue more before bed” turning into 3, I don’t know if any of the others has made me so desperate to find out what happens next in terms of plot. Furthermore, although it seems like it’d be difficult to expand the series’ mythology when Dream’s not really around, we did learn about the “distant skerries of dream,” places like The Land, where some people return every night, as well as further proof of Dream’s power, albeit indirectly. When Thessaly brings Hazel and Foxglove into the Dreaming, she does so with witchcraft that moves the moon and has dire consequences on Earth: changing the tides and bringing an apocalyptic hurricane into New York City. Clearly, the Dreaming and “reality” are not so separate as they appear.


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