When you have a brilliant first act, the second one has to really hit it out of the park or else everything you built up in the first part just falls flat. And that’s kinda what happened to The Sandman: Act II, the aptly named follow-up to last year’s exciting audio adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s beloved DC comics creation, The Sandman.
Best known for The Ocean At the End of the Lane, Coraline, and Norse Mythology, Gaiman’s melodious narration is once again bolstered by astounding production values and brilliant actors such as the honey voice of James McAvoy, Kat Dennings, Riz Ahmed, Andy Serkis, and Michael Sheen. But, for some reason, it all came crumbling down for me in the sequel.
It definitely wasn’t the presentation (which is incredible) or the actors (likewise), but Act II now has additional characters voiced by Kristen Schaal, Bill Nighy, David Tennant, Regé-Jean Page (you may remember his butt and voice from Bridgerton), Emma Corrin, John Lithgow, and Jeffrey Wright. Act II takes on issues 21-40 plus 50 from the graphic novel, with a lot of ground to cover. When they say Act II is jam-packed with people and action, they weren’t kidding.
Hell needs a new ruler ever since Lucifer decided to take off, and Morpheus is there to help out. Barbie’s back again, this time trying to discover the mysterious source that’s breaking down reality and the dream world. In between these two main stories, there are short stories involving different mythical and historical characters. It even jumps to different timelines, ranging from the French Revolution, ancient Rome, 19th-century San Fran, 8th-century Baghdad – and those are just the ones I can remember.
The one part I do have to applaud is the casting of certain characters for the Endless – where we get to meet Delirium (Schaal) and Destiny (Wright). Both are excellent voices for the characters. But this shouldn’t be a surprise as the casting is stellar, especially with Sheen as Lucifer. Sheen does a wonderful job of portraying the bored fallen angel, wanting to change things up for himself. And as always, McAvoy as Morpheus is just a delight to listen to. The way he projects his voice is just… *chef’s kiss*.
The main complaint I have with Act II is that there was simply too much going on, and the audio format isn’t an ideal way to experience the story’s sweeping, period-skipping complexities. We jump from short story to short story – albeit with great ones including Odin (Nighy) and Loki (Tennant), plus Orpheus (Page). The playful banter between Odin and Loki was great, and who knew Page could sing so hauntingly? I guess it shows he’s much more than a handsome face and cute butt. But again, for me, the short stories pulled me out of Morpheus’ main timeline, when I just wanted to hear more.
There’s no question about it – Gaiman is a spectacular author and narrator. And he’s got a sizable catalog to prove it. Though I thoroughly enjoyed the first helping of The Sandman, The Sandman: Act II really falls short of its predecessor (I even struggled to stay awake through several parts, tbh). Perhaps it was trying to cram so much into a format that doesn’t allow for crisscrossing narratives, or there were just too many new characters. Either way, Morpheus really wove a dream for me this time around.