The Sandman has returned to his country of dreams, but his long absence is still showing -- he's gotten his magical items back, but not all of his followers. "The Sandman Vol. 2: The Doll's House" picks up some threads from the first collection of Sandman stories, and while the story is often confusing and scattered, Neil Gaiman's writing is a glittering jewel of sadness, horror and beauty.
Among the current-day stories, we get some Dream backstory. As part of his coming-of-age ritual, a young boy is told of how a beautiful woman fell in love with Lord Kai'ckul, king of the dream realm. And we see a story of a man untouched by Death, and his ups-and-downs over the centuries as he keeps meeting with his Endless friend.
In the present, Dream learns that a dream vortex has appeared. That vortex is Rose Walker, the granddaughter of Unity Kinkaid (who has slept most of her life), who is searching for her imprisoned little brother. She goes to live at a boarding house full of eccentrics, and is taken under the wing of the mysterious Gilbert (who looks a lot like G.K. Chesterton, and is named "Gilbert").
Additionally, some of Dream's creatures have escaped -- the horrifying Corinthian, who is the guest of honor at a serial-killer convention; Brute and Glob, who have made their own "New Sandman" out of a dead superhero; and Fiddler's Green, who is already close to the dream vortex...
"The Sandman Vol. 2: The Doll's House" is a somewhat messy story -- the two "past" stories feel disconnected from the rest of the book, and it takes awhile for some of the subplots to fully flower. Additionally, I was a little confused by the sudden inclusion of a pair of DC superheroes who have been folded into the world of Dreams -- although their story is the beginning of a much larger, more pivotal one.
And as the story winds on, Neil Gaiman's spellbinding style draws you in -- he fills these pages with bloody horror, love, sorrow, and the occasional glimpse of the lonely lives of the Endless. His style that is all glassy edges and lush poetry, and he pops in some moments of ghastliness (the Corinthan finally taking off his glasses, revealing empty sockets lined with teeth) as well as some moments of warmth (Unity's final shared dream with Rose).
Similarly, Gaiman's characters are a mixture of the lovable and the horrifying -- we get to see Morpheus as he has been throughout the centuries, as well as his flaky, devious sibling Desire (whom I desperately want to sock in the mouth) and the ghastly Corinthian. And he spins up the down-to-earth Rose, as well as a motley band of eccentric characters -- the lace-shrouded lesbians and the creepy yuppies spring to mind, as well as the genial Gilbert.
While some parts of it are clunky, "The Sandman Volume 2: The Doll's House" gradually twines together its many subplots, and sets the stage for what is to come.