Morpheus of the Endless has had many trials throughout the ages... but none quite as strange as the one he must face in "The Sandman, Volume Four: Season of Mists." The fourth collection of Neil Gaiman's classic Sandman series centers on sudden changes in the world of Hell, and the terrifying choice that the Lord of Dreams must make -- who does it go to?
After a disastrous meeting with the other Endless, Morpheus goes to Hell to set free his onetime lover, Nada. But when he gets there, he finds that Lucifer is tired of being the lord of Hell, and is shutting the whole place down -- and he gives ownership of it to Morpheus. In the meantime, the souls of the damned are roaming Earth, and the anguished demons have nowhere to go.
Morpheus isn't interested in ruling Hell, so soon various powers appear to claim Hell -- Norse, Japanese and Egyptian gods, a trio of powerful demons, Order, Chaos, a Faerie diplomat, and a pair of angels are sent to watch the proceedings. Threats, bribes and tricks ensue, leaving Morpheus with a seemingly-impossible choice to make.
Just a warning: This comic book, despite its brilliant storytelling, left me with a sort of squirmy feeling, because it bases itself on Christian theology that many people actually believe in (heaven, hell, Satan, angels, God, etc). But it isn't in line with those beliefs, so some parts of it come across as... uncomfortable.
However, you should always keep in mind that it is merely fiction. "Season of Mists" is epic in scope -- it encompasses different worlds, dimensions and lands in a seeemingly endless, wondrously terrifying universe. Gaiman is absolutely brilliant at conjuring the exquisite and the grotesque, the eerie and the strange -- and he manages all of those here.
And the art really helps here -- the bleak, raw wastes of Hell, the snowflake beauty of the angels, the visceral grotesqueness of the demons (one is a lumpen creature with a melting eyeless head and toothy mouths for nipples), and the twilit, mildly unnerving realm of Dreaming.
As for Morpheus himself, this story is a surprisingly personal one. He's given a realm he doesn't want, but doesn't seem to have any good way of ridding himself of it (at least, not at first). And the Lord of Dream has to face up to his own misdeeds -- namely, he FINALLY figures out that he was horrible to Nada, and that his punishment of her was cruel. The way their story is wrapped up is painful, but still very touching.
"The Sandman Volume Four: Season of Mists" made me uncomfortable with some of its handling of Christian theology, but there is no denying that it is a richly-imagined, powerful story by a master storyteller.