To begin, panic. Sheer, bloody panic. As John Dee abuses the power of the Sandman’s dreamstone in Sound and Fury, the result causes many people across the globe to have bad dreams, which then results in chaotic murder and destruction.
In the midst of this, Dream confronts Dee and demands to know what he’s doing with the ruby and why. Dee explains that he’s driving the world mad in order to have revenge and to feel powerful. Dream pleads with Dee to stop, return the ruby to him, and repair the damage he’s done. But power corrupts the corruptible, and Dee instead decides that he will try to kill Dream and take the power for his own. The two of them enter the Dreaming to wage this battle.
Dee dreams that he is Julius Caesar, and that three soothsayers come to him. They wish upon him that all his dreams will come true, and Dee comments that he once had a dream about raping his own mother. At first, the soothsayers tell him that the dream means that he will rule the world, which pleases Dee, but then they claim otherwise. “It doesn’t mean anything,” they say. “No more than this: you had a dream about raping your mother.” Dee’s mother then appears in his dream as nothing more than a picture (which is probably all Dee had to remember her by while at Arkham Asylum), and scolds him for having such a disgusting dream.
Two monoliths appear, warning him to “beware the ideas of March,” then transforming into two hideous brides of Frankenstein before Dee subconsciously uses the power of the ruby to make them disappear. He then realizes where he is and why, and begins launching an assault on the Dreaming itself, demanding that Dream come out and confront him. This is also the point at which we see Dream’s brother Destiny for the first time, hesitant to turn the page of his all-knowing book.
Fearful for the safety of the dreamers, Dream obeys and Dee begins crushing the ruby, believing that by destroying it he will then destroy Dream. The ruby is destroyed, but instead of destroying Dream, it restores all of his power to him. Dream appears as a towering giant, and Dee a miniscule, naked figure in the palm of his hand (which becomes comical when he asks Dream if he intends to kill him while scratching his buttocks). Dream instead decides to thank Dee for his service by returning him to Arkham unharmed. Upon their return, the Scarecrow (a.k.a. Doctor Jonathan Crane) greets them, quoting Faust: “It is a comfort in wretchedness to have companions of woe.” They then walk back to Dee’s cell in a panel reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz, with Dee saying “There’s no place like home.”
In a single night, Dream sets about repairing the damages Dee set in motion, which is a statement on the supreme power he now possesses. Perhaps for the first time since its opening, Arkham Asylum is silent as its inmates sleep peacefully.
No doubt, the old Dream would have simply crushed Dee’s life out for what he’d done (or done far worse things), but perhaps the reason he doesn’t is because Dee seems so insignificant to him now that his power is completely restored. And really, Dee had only been partially responsible for Dream’s weakness. It would be like killing one ant when an entire army has invaded your home, and Dream already dealt with Burgess (the queen ant in this analogy).
What’s more interesting are the ways in which Dream attempts to combat Dee. The dreams Dee has before realizing that he’s in the Dreaming are obviously meant either to deter him or make him feel feeble before Dream. Obviously, Dream probably had knowledge of the kind of dreams and nightmares Dee had in the past, and drew off of them. And when Dee offers up the fact that he had a dream about raping his mother, Dream takes full advantage of the opening in Dee’s defenses.
Alternatively, Dee’s dreams could just be his subconscious showing him (and us) his deepest fears. He wants to be king of dreams so that he can be king of the world, and therefore he wants the dreams to have meaning. If the dreams are insignificant–if they mean nothing more than that he simply had a dream about raping his mother–then that means he doesn’t have meaning; that he’s insignificant, and that scares Dee more than anything.
Hy Bender’s Sandman Companion offers some interesting tidbits about the artwork of Sound and Fury, as well. For example, Neil Gaiman had originally written that in the fourth panel of the issue, the Sandman should be completely white as he creates the ruby dreamstone. However, the idea never made it to the printed page.
Another part about the artwork that Neil himself is particularly fond of starts in Passengers, with Arkham Asylum being the frame for the first few panels. This is mirrored in Sound and Fury, where Arkham is shown within the folds of Dream’s robe.
Like Passengers and 24 Hours, Sound and Fury displays Gaiman as a writer just starting to find his voice. Unfortunately, when looked at in comparison to the former two, Sound and Fury just simply isn’t as good. Perhaps this is because there are really only two characters in the entire issue (Dream and John Dee), and we’re so used to there being multiple well-developed characters. With only two characters, there’s less room to move around and fewer possibilities for an ending readers won’t be expecting. Sound and Fury could only end one of two ways–either John Dee wins and becomes the next Sandman, or Dream wins and has all of his power restored to him. Since we’ve only just been introduced to Dream, and since he’s obviously the main character of the series, it wouldn’t make sense to kill him off this quickly (although early cancellation was certainly an issue Gaiman worried about while writing the first 8 issues).
Luckily, the issues that follow Sound and Fury become increasingly less predictable, which is part of what makes The Sandman as good as it is. While you may at least suspect what’s coming at the turn of the page, it usually happens in a way that surprises you. By the end of the Doll’s House story arch, Gaiman becomes a master at taking classic archetypes and turning them in a different direction.
Next: Death is Before Me Today.