This one feels a little like a reset button. "Calliope" retells the story from Issue 1, about imprisoning an immortal being, but everything's better this time around.
The artwork has started to take on a life of its own and the story seems to have more focus.
I struggled a little bit with the "nice fiction" tropes Gaiman uses to tell us how evil Erasmus Fry and Richard Madoc are (nice fiction being the Barbara Kingsolver trope of "not only are they black of heart, but in case you have any doubt, they also murder Jews and eat children!") When Madoc's first act was to brutally rape Calliope, I just thought, really?
A writer's blocked author gets his hands on a thousand year old muse and THAT's the first thing he does? Apart from being improbable, it leaves no room for moral ambiguity. Madoc's not doing this because he's desperately divorced from his creativity, which is a powerful motive, but because he's just plain evil. And that has the effect of dulling some of the satire as his star rises, about how he becomes vain, moves to America, etc. His journey is not from desperate writer to king of the world to Grecian fall from grace. It's from asshole to asshole.
But moving on. As usual, the god-level intrigue is far more interesting. Calliope is the daughter of the Hecatae, the three witches.
Morpheus, that lothario, once sired a child with Calliope. The child: Orpheus! Hmm...I wonder if this story of stories will find a way to retell that most famous story? I'll never tell. Until we get there anyway.
Needless to say, file Calliope's relationship with Morpheus as: "It's complicated." We are not allowed to discover exactly how complicated in this story, but it's strong enough that when Morpheus escapes his prison, he comes to free Calliope from hers.
And then we get to one of the most famously amazing endings in the story. Morpheus apparently ascribes to the Joss Whedon credo of "give 'em what they want, in the worst way possible."
The punishment for Richard Madoc? A neverending stream of inspiration. Inspiration that washes over him like a tsunami, leaving neither room nor time for actual writing or for any sort of sane thought. Once again, Morpheus's punishment is a complete removal from reality.
This issue, for me, is what made me fall in love. This is when Sandman really stops being an alternative superhero fable, and more of a ponderous journey of ideas. It becomes mind expanding, rather than diverting. And I can't wait to read the next one.
Coming up: Cats! Thousands of Them!