The black-haired man is Abel, the other Cain. These would be familiar to most long-term readers of comics. Originally, they were the hosts for DC's watered-down versions of EC's mystery series. Cain was the host of House of Mystery, Abel the host of House of Secrets. Cain and Abel also appeared in Plop!, a DC humor title of the 1970s, along with Eve; they were drawn there by Sergio Aragones, who has appeared in Mad and currently does Groo the Wanderer, which is why Sergio did the pinup of them in Sandman Special #1.
Cain and Abel, of course, are the first two children of the first two people in Genesis, the biblical creation story. Cain slew Abel over a disagreement over their offerings to God, was marked by God, and was sent to live in the Land of Nod. In Swamp Thing #33, Alan Moore identified them as living in humanity's subconscious when Abigail Arcane Cable visited them in a dream and learned more about Swamp Thing's origins. Under Moore's terminology, a mystery may be shared, but a secret must be forgotten if one tries to tell it. Since the issue is mostly a reprint of the first Swamp Thing appearance from House of Secrets #92, Abby chooses to hear a secret rather than a mystery. She wakes up, tries to talk about the dream, and forgets it. Since then, Cain and Abel have been wandering around the fringes of DC's mystic titles (and a rather silly version of Cain appeared in Blue Devil ). It has been established that Cain kills Abel rather often, but Abel always gets better. They, and many other characters in this issue, appear because of their roles as "mystery title hosts"; this issue is Gaiman's homage to the predecessors to DC horror line of today.
This is Gregory, a gargoyle, albeit a rather draconian one. He was a resident of the House of Mystery with Cain during the long run of this rather mediocre mystery title. He also appeared in Plop! Gregory pops up now and then with Cain and Abel as supporting cast members in Sandman.
Morpheus is here referred to as the Prince of Stories.
Abel identifies himself as the victim from "the first story." Cain is distingushed for being the first murderer, and Abel for being the first victim. One of the themes of Sandman is the equation of dreams and stories, or perhaps the use of dreams as a vehicle for stories. Gaiman is first and foremost a storyteller, as opposed to Alan Moore, for example, who is primarily concerned with saying something in his writing and only secondarily concerned with the story.
The Shifting Zones are explained in Sandman #39.
"It was a dark and stormy nightmare" is a pun. "It was a dark and stormy night" is a clichéd way of beginning a story, most often seen in the comic strip Peanuts, and a nightmare is a dream, of course.
In addition to beginning Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, the line "It was a dark and stormy night" was used by the 19th century author Bulwer-Lytton. San Jose State University's English Department sponsors a contest each year in which entrants submit their proposed worst opening line for a novel. The results have been collected into three works, It Was a Dark and Stormy Night, Son of It Was a Dark and Stormy Night, and Bride of It Was a Dark and Stormy Night, all edited by Scott Rice and published by Penguin.
Closer to home, Detective Comics #500 features an adaptation of Snoopy's version of "It Was a Dark and Stormy Night" by Walt Simonson, starring Batman, with no dialogue. The captions read, in part, "It was a dark and stormy night. A shot rang out. The maid screamed. Suddenly, a pirate ship appeared on the horizon." This book is well worth seeking out, for this story, and for other well done stories.
Panel 3-4, 6:
The Dreamtime is one name of Morpheus' realm. It is also the name of a long gone era in Australian aboriginal myth, in which the ancestral spirits walked the earth to shape the land and to teach the arts of survival. "Dreamscape" is the name of a moderately good film from the early 80s with Dennis Quaid, as well as being the obvious choice for a word that means "the landscape of the dream realm." The Gates of Horn and Ivory are evidently the entry points to Morpheus' stronghold in the Dreamtime. Morpheus himself recounts their creation in Sandman 49. True dreams exit through the Gate of Horn, and false dreams through the Gate of Ivory. This conceit dates back at least to Greek and Roman mythology:
Dreams surely are difficult, confusing, and not everything in them is brought to pass for mankind. For fleeting dreams have two gates: one is fashioned of horn and one of ivory. Those which pass through the one of sawn ivory are deceptive, bringing tidings which come to nought, but those which issue from the one of polished bone bring true results when a mortal sees them.
Homer, Odyssey XIX l560
There are two gates of sleep. One is of horn, easy passage for the shades of truth; the other, of gleaming white ivory, permits false dreams to ascend to the upper air.
Virgil, Aeneid VI l893ff
The gates may originate in a misunderstanding of Greek, or in a Greek pun. In Greek (transliterated to the Roman alphabet), ivory = elephas but elephairo = to deceive. Horn = karas; karanoo = to achieve. The etymology might also be the exact reverse of this, since it is not uncommon for religious/mythic beliefs to be absorbed into the language. The word for 'deceive' could perhaps be given the morphemic translation 'to pass through ivory', exemplifying the belief that something that has passed through (the Gates of) ivory will (try to) deceive you.
The Gates may also appear in the "Dreamlands" stories of H.P. Lovecraft and Brian Lumley.
Penny Dreadfuls are a British term for dime novels, cheap, sensational novels of crime, adventure or suspense.
The Letters of Commission are evidently new. Note that Abel is emerging from his own picture.
Arkham Asylum is an institution in the DC universe. Most of Batman's villains, for example, are imprisoned there. It was the subject of a graphic novel by Grant Morrison and Dave McKean. The name arises from the work of HP Lovecraft, an early horror writer, who used the fictional Arkham, Massachusetts as a setting for many of his tales. Following his death, an Arkham Press was founded in his honor, primarily for the purpose of keeping his stories in print. Arkham was also used as the name of a town in some 1960s appearances of the Spectre.
Ethel Dee was born Ethel Cripps, whom we saw in issue #1. The letter balloon between panel 3 and panel 4 is incorrectly drawn. The first part is correctly identified as being said by the Asylum administrator, Doctor Huntoon. The second part is actually said by Ethel Dee. Dr. Huntoon has appeared before, in a Rick Veitch issue of Swamp Thing. He has the nickname "Piggy." Dr. Destiny (whose name may or may not have been given before as John Dee) has fought the Justice League of America on the order of ten times. He originally appeared as a normal human being who had invented anti-gravity (this from JLA #5, "When Gravity Went Wild"). Subsequently, he invented a "materioptikon", which turned dreams into reality. Later, he invented a ruby materioptikon, and a dream materioptikon. At that point, it became necessary to remove his power to dream, which caused him to waste away to a human skeleton. It has been suggested that John Dee is the son of Ruthven Sykes. Although Dee's coloration, which is not consistent with earlier appearances, suggests that he might have non-Caucasian blood, this is not consistent with his surname, which is the same as what is presumably his mother's married name.
There may be some relationship with the historical Dr. John Dee, the court astrologer of Queen Elizabeth I and the inventor/discoverer of the Enochian Keys. Robert Anton Wilson draws many connections between Dee and Aleister Crowley in his book Cosmic Trigger: The Final Secret of the Illuminati. In this book Wilson also speaks of the Enochian Keys (from page 161):
The Enochian entities were first contacted by Dr. John Dee in the early 17th Century. Dr. Dee, court astrologer to Queen Elizabeth and also an important mathematician, has been controversial from his own time to ours, some writers regarding him as a genious of the first rank and others as a clever lunatic. According to two interesting books, The World Stage and The Rosicrucian Enlightenment, both by a most scrupulous historian, Dr. Francis Yates, Dee was almost certainly a prime mover in the 'Illuminati' and 'Rosicrucian Brotherhoods' of that time, which played a central role in the birth of modern science. The alleged UFOnaut from Uranus which communicated with the two Naval Intelligence officers gave a name, AFFA, which is a word in the 'angelic' language used by the entities Dee contacted. It means Nothing. George Hunt Williamson also got some words in 'angelic' from his Space Brothers, remember.
(The experience of the two Naval Intelligence officers is recounted in The Invisible College by Jacques Vallee, and was reportedly confirmed by a Pentagon official on a Rod Serling "UFO Report" on NBC-television during 1976. The stuff about Williamson can be found in his book Other Tongues, Other Flesh.)
The Enochian angels are aparently some sort of entities who Dee claimed to have gotten a heavenly language from. Dee, Crowley and other so called magi of the time apparently used it extensively, and it has also popped up in many modern UFO myths.
Grady McMurty quoting Crowley (page 161): "The Enochian 'angels'... don't always have to be summoned. 'When you're ready they COME FOR YOU [emphasis in the original],' Aleister said."
This is a double page spread. Lucien, who henceforth often appears in the role of major domo to Morpheus, was the host of a comic called Tales of Ghost Castle which ran for three issues in 1975. Lucien was the guardian and librarian of an abandoned castle, in Transylvania, which fits closely with his role in Sandman. "Lucien" is the French equivalent of "Lucian." The name may derive from the Latin word for "light", or may be related to Lucian (A.D. 118-170), a Greek rhetorician and satirist, or to "Lucian the Martyr," (A.D. 240-312), a theologian and Biblical critic.
In Lilith, a book by George MacDonald (a 19th centure Scorrish preacher and fantasist who was also a major influence on C.S. Lewis), we meet a ghostly librarian that reminds of Lucien:
a slight, stooping man, in a shabby dress-coat reaching almost to his heels, the tails of which, disparting a little as he walked, revealed thin legs in black stockings, and large feet in wide, slipper-like shoes.
and later as:
[a] slender elderly man, in a rusty black coat, large in the body and long in the tails. I had only seen his back before; now for the first time I saw his face. It was so thin that it showed the shape of the bones under it, suggesting the skulls his last-claimed profession [a sexton] must have made him familiar with. But in truth I had never before seen a face so alive, or a look so keen or so friendly as that in his pale blue eyes, which yet had a haze about the as if they had done much weeping.
The character's name is "Mr. Raven", and in the book he leads the narrator/hero in to a ghostly, dreamlike realm, where he manifests himself as a raven. The ghostly librarian is married to a woman who is later revealed to be Eve. In later issues of The Sandman, we will learn that Dream's raven is also Eve's raven, and that Lucien was Morpheus' first raven. It would seem that there is at least a common source here.
Lucien's library will appear again later.
In this double page spread, the Raven Woman is probably the same as Eve, who appears later in the series, and, as mentioned above, was linked to Cain and Abel both biblically and in Plop!.
Brute and Glob were servants of the 70s Sandman, a Dr. Garrett who dwelled in dreams, rescued a boy named Jed an awful lot, and died an almost unnoticed death. He was replaced by Hector Hall in the 1980s, a dead member of Infinity Inc. (The Silver Scarab), the son of the Golden Age Hawkman and Hawkgirl, and the lover and husband of Lyta Trevor, the second generation Fury. This will become relevant later.
The Fashion Thing is another of DC's old horror hosts - The Mad Mod Witch from Tales of The Unexpected, mid or late 60s. She now appears to be just another inhabitant of the Dreaming, by all indications. She also appears in later issues. Note the bumper sticker.
By "do it to you", Cain presumably means his habit of killing Abel, as opposed to any sexual interpretation based on the slang meaning of "doing it".
The restriction on gargoyle names may be an unspoken rule from the mystery books.
Who's Who #15 (1991) has a great deal of information on the Three Witches, or the Three-in-One as they are called here. The Three may appear as a single entity, or as a group of three women. The three women invariably appear symbolically as maiden, mother, and crone.
In the Egypt of the Pharoahs, the Three were known collectively as Mut, and named individually as Maat, Hathor, and Nekhbet. In Egypt, as in many of their incarnations, the Three represented matriarchal, pre-civilization, mother/goddess worship.
In Greek mythology, the Three were known as the Fates, or Moirae, named Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos. Each man's life was a thread spun by Clotho, measured by Lachesis, and cut by Atropos. The Fates were the sisters of Hypnos (god of sleep), Oneiros (god of dreams), and Thanatos (god of death). These deities were the parthenogenetic children of Nyx (night), who was herself born of no mother to Chaos.
They have also been identified with the Furies, although this incarnation is generally referred to as "the Kindly Ones" to avoid their wrath. In the original Greek, the Furies are known as Erinyes, while the Kindly Ones are Eumenides. The Furies are named Tisiphone, Megaera, and Alecto. The Three are also identified with a mother goddess form of Hecate Trioditis ("of the three ways"). In this form, Selene ruled heaven, Artemis or Cynthia ruled Earth, and Hecate ruled the underworld. Hecate was also the goddess of the crossroads (where her altars were often located), and most of the other items Dream uses to summon the Three Witches are also associated with her in Greek mythology. In the story of Jason and the Argonauts, Jason and Medea summon Hecate with the sacrifice of a ewe and libation of honey; she appears wreathed with snakes. Similar sacrifices precede the journeys to the underworld in the Odyssey and the Aeneid. The black sheep's color symbolizes the underworld. She was often portrayed as three-faced or triple-bodied, with three bodies facing outward in three different directions, similar to the way the Three Witches are shown here. Hecate is more familiar to modern Westerners as a goddess of witches and black magic.
The Romans knew the Three as the Parcae or Fortuna. Again, the pre-civilization goddess-worshippers followed the Three, as Juventas the maiden, Juno the mother, and Minerva the wise old crone.
The Norse knew the Three as the Norns, Urd, Skuld, and Verdandi. Skald is probably a misspelling on Gaimans part. One of the functions of the Norns was to care for the life threads of mortals. We will see later in the series that these Hecateae also do that. Whether or not there is any connection between Skuld and "Skald" (the Viking word for poet or bard) is unknown.
The Three occupied a position in Anglo-Saxon lore as the Weird Sisters, and Shakespeare used this cultural referent in his play Macbeth. Irish Celtic myth portrayed the Three as the Morrigan, a triune war goddess whose aspects were named Nemhan, Babd, and Macha. The Morrigan is also identified with Morgan le Fay, of the Arthurian cycle of legends.
A quote from The Film Encyclopedia, by Ephraim Katz, describing Hammer Films:
The most successful film company, from a financial viewpoint, in the history of British cinema (...) emphasizing blood and gore, in vivid color, over plot and atmosphere
Stars who got their start in Hammer Films' films include Christopher Lee and Raquel Welch.
The Witching Hour was another DC mystery title hosted by the three ladies pictured in panel 3. The identification of them with the triune goddess is new to Gaiman.
"Hecateae" is probably the correct Greek plural for "Hecate", although this appears to be an unusual way of referring to that form of the Three.
Notice that the ladies are changing position, or into one another's shape, cyclically, and that what one eats, the next finishes.
Diana, Mary, and Florence are the Supremes, a three woman vocal group from the 1960s. Diana (Ross) went on to a solo career.
The three Graces are another set of Greek deities. Their name may also be translated as Charities. Individually, they are Aglaia (variantly Pasithea or Charis), Euphrosyne, and Thalia. (Variant spellings exist depending on the source and the method of transliteration from the Greek alphabet.)
In The Witching Hour, the three ladies are indeed named as given. Mordred is from Arthurian legends, Arthur's bastard son by his half-sister Morgaine (many possible spellings, also known as Morgan Le Fey), thus the reference to its inappropriateness.
I am not aware of any conflict between the Fates and Circe (a magician in the Odyssey, also a villain in Wonder Woman, and the main villainess in War of the Gods).
Note that the Fates give exactly one answer apiece, and it is deliberately incomplete.
John Constantine originally appeared in Swamp Thing #37, and is the main character in Hellblazer. He is a minor magician, a "jumped-up street thug". His tarot card is always "The Hanged Man" or "The Fool." He is of a long line of Constantines who live dirty lives of betrayal and death. He, as well as Morpheus and most of DC's mystic characters, may be seen in the Books of Magic, a four issue Prestige Format series written by Gaiman.
This is, of course, Ruthven Sykes from issue 1.
The mother is Ethel Cripps Dee, the son is John (Dr. Destiny) Dee, the superhumans are the Justice League of America. "Weird" as in "weird sisters" is a old word meaning "fate."