The Sandman Vol. 5: A Game of You
written by Neil Gaiman
illustrated by Shawn McManus, Colleen Doran, Bryant Talbot, George Pratt, Stan Woch, and Dick Giordano
DC Comics/Vertigo (1993)
Where previous volumes in the Sandman series have walked along a dark path, A Game of You takes a bit more of an adventurous approach through the eyes of a troubled young woman named Barbie, while Morpheus is a minor character who only makes a cameo appearance. The story still has its share of dark elements, but where previous volumes had a clearer horror tinge to them, this volume reminded me more of Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz.
Barbie's a bit of a washout cover girl reduced to living in a New York City slum with an eclectic band of neighbors, including her transvestite best friend, Wanda. She hasn't dreamed in a long time, and now--years later--her dreams have come looking for her. So, while a hurricane looms off the coast in her world, Barbie dreams for the first time in ages, back in the same landscape she knew as a little girl. There's a sinister force called the Cuckoo, however, that wants her destroyed so it can escape the dreamworld and infect Barbie's world and many others. This leads to a few of Barbie's friends following into her dream to save her, while Wanda stays behind and guards Barbie's sleeping self from harm.
This story, while a bit understated compared to other stories with the Sandman, really exemplified Gaiman's ability to take disparate and seemingly unrelated pieces and bringing them together in such a way that it makes total sense at the end. As for the artwork, it seemed to really carry that early 90s vibe, though don't press me to explain that. I just remember reading a few comics from that time and seeing some of the frames in this book brought that all back. So, I guess there's a good nostalgia trip for anyone who read comics back in those days.
The characters, for the most part, were incredibly well defined as the story progressed. Thessaly, one of Barbie's neighbors with a knack for witchcraft, had to be my favorite from the book. Just imagine a mousy brunette in glasses with no compunction towards snapping the neck of anyone who assaults her. The dreamland characters were a tad annoying, and the one I liked the most even wound up getting killed first--how do ya like that.
A Game of You is basically just one more clear example of how damned good Neil Gaiman is at storytelling. I just hope there's more of Dream in the sixth volume--or Death. She's cool too.