The Sandman: A Game of You
Author: Neil Gaiman
Publisher: DC Comics
Publication Date: 1991-1992
Titles: The Sandman #32-37
In a Q&A session Neil Gaiman was asked “What is your favorite volume of Sandman?” to which he replied “Probably “A Game of You,” because it’s most people’s least favourite volume, and I love it all the more for that.”
Well, I can see why people say that this is their least favorite volume. Compared to Dream Country and Season of Mists, A Game of You can only be described as BORING. This was a trudge of a volume to read.
The first problem comes from our protagonists (actually, there are several issues with the protagonist, but more on that later). Our story centers around Barbie, a minor character from The Doll’s House. In that volume, we get a brief snapshot of Barbie’s dreams of being a princess and having adventures in a special land. A Game of You expands on that world, and we learn that there are skerries in the Dream world–or rather, pockets of dream lands that shift and change and die.
The premise is not a bad one. We’ve had minor characters reappear before, such as Nada. The idea of some dreams actually taking place in a part of Dream where there are more concrete beings and consequences has potential. But there are a number of problems that run this volume into the ground.
The first is that, by the time we reach A Game of You, we have not seen Barbie in 16 issues. I read The Doll’s House and A Game of You within just a couple of weeks of each other, and I had barely any recollection of this character. I vaguely remembered that she was married to a guy named Ken, and that at the end of the story it was insinuation that they were no longer going to be together. But A Game of You made a lot of references to the previous issues–which is surprising given how the issues were originally published. I can’t imagine someone having to wait weeks to read new issues would have had any recollection of who this woman was at all.
This is the first problem, which wouldn’t be so bad, if Barbie was in any way a likeable or dynamic character. She literally does nothing throughout the entire story. She follows other characters, and is so passive that she made me want to fall asleep. It’s disappointing, because the brief snippet of dream we got in The Doll’s House showed Barbie as a warrior, a princess fighting with strange animals and beasts. It was a great dynamic–the bored housewife fulfilling her desires through her dreams.
But in A Game of You, Barbie has completely forgotten her dreams. Even when she returns to her dream world, she has no memory of being there before. It turns her from a strong, powerful presence, into the weak and helpless victim. She becomes unable to help in the quest, and is reliant on the strange friends who accompany her.
Ultimately, Barbie (or how she is handled) is the downfall of this volume. We’re given nothing about her to hang on to, nothing to relate to. She just complains and sleepwalks her way through life.
The other characters are a bit more engaging. Wanda is a pre-transition trans woman, and Barbie’s best friend. Wanda is a great character, and for the most part, the issue of her transexuality is handled tastefully and correctly. She is referred to as a woman, and those who insist on behaving as though she is a man are shown to clearly be in the wrong.
Except for one part, which really bothered me. When it is revealed that Barbie is in danger in the dream world, her friends perform a spell to send them afterwards. Wanda is tasked with staying behind to guard Barbie. This, in itself, would have been fine. It’s already been established that Wanda is physically the strongest of the group, so it makes sense to leave her behind in the real world to guard Barbie. But then it is said that she couldn’t have traveled to the dream world in the way that the other women did. This being because they called down the moon to do so, and that the moon still recognizes her as a man. That basically, it “comes down to chromosomes.”
And this, my friends, is bullshit.
Excuse me while I get on my soapbox for a moment.
The entire volume takes great pains to support Wanda in her identity. She is a woman. Those who deny this fact are painted as transphobic and wrong. So why then, does a symbol of womanhood deny her? The moon is connected to women in multiple myths and legends. And Gaiman knows this, because he references myths all the time. The supernatural elements of The Sandman series are generally shown to be more knowledgeable than mortals. By including this sentiment, the message ultimately becomes that no, Wanda is a man, and can do nothing to change this. It is a jarring notion to what is otherwise a consistent message.
Okay, soapbox over.
Well, maybe not quite. The story does a poor job of handling its lesbian characters as well. Specifically, at one point we learn that one of Barbie’s neighbors is potentially pregnant. This is an issue, as she’s in a relationship with another woman. But instead of setting up the woman as bisexual, who might have had a one night stand with a man, she’s presented as an incredibly naive lesbian who just sort of fell in to having sex with a man.
As Hazel describes it, someone she works with was really tired, so she let him come home with her. Then he got aroused, and she just casually had sex with him, despite having never had an interest in men before. She also thought that because they did it standing up, that she couldn’t get pregnant.
It comes across as too casual to be rape, or coerced sex, and just sounds like Hazel shrugged and was like ‘okay, let’s try some dick.’ Now, I’m not saying that people can’t experiment. But I have a hard time imagining that most lesbians in a committed relationship who have never had an interest in men would have sex with one just because he was there.
I just…wow. It’s really obvious in this volume that a man was behind the writing. And while the story is remarkably open and progressive to have been written in the early 90s…it still rubs me the wrong way.
My final comment is that the introduction section to this volume is drastically misplaced. In short, it’s not an introduction. It’s a reader analysis of parts of the story. The writer even tells the reader that it is best read if they have already read the volume itself. So why put it at the beginning? It spoils the deaths of two characters, and makes no sense to anyone who has not yet read the issue. I don’t understand why they didn’t just put it at the end of the volume, where it would have made more sense. I stopped reading it after two pages, when I realized it was spoiling plot information. Do yourself a favor, and skip it if you’re a first time reader.
Overall, this volume is just a mess. While there are good concepts and good elements scattered throughout, it was poorly executed. It may be possible to skip the volume entirely–I’m not certain, as I’ve yet to finish the series. If so, definitely skip it. You’re not missing anything.
Rating: 2 out of 5
Trigger warnings: Nudity, gruesome images, witchcraft