Big things are happening on TV Tropes! New admins, new designs, fewer ads, mobile versions, beta testing opportunities, thematic discovery engine, fun trope tools and toys, and much more - Learn how to help here and discuss here.
There are seven beings that are not Gods, that existed before humanity dreamed of Gods, that will exist after the last God is dead. There are seven beings that exist because, deep in our hearts, we know that they exist.
— The Wake
The Sandman is a Comic Book series (later collected in a series of graphic novels) by Neil Gaiman, chronicling the story of the King of Dreams and his family of fantastic Anthropomorphic Personifications of cosmic powers. Described as "A story about stories", The Sandman was a comic series that could tell any tale, in any time period, in any style or setting. Historical figures were common, as were allusions and homages to many classic works such as the Arabian Nights and the plays of William Shakespeare. The series lasted for 75 issues, from January, 1989 to March, 1996. A prequel mini-series, The Sandman Overture, was released in 2013, the original series' 25th anniversary and was written by Gaiman with art by J.H. Williams III.At the center of the series is Dream, also known as Morpheus, the Sandman, and dozens of other titles. He rules over the dreaming world that mortals enter when they sleep, and he is also the patron of writers and storytellers, since a story and a dream are in many ways the same thing (he is described as "The lord of all that is not, and shall never be"). As old as the universe and more powerful than many gods, Dream is vain, proud, and stiff-necked. Throughout the series, tragedy and suffering teach him humility and compassion for others, but it's hard to change for the better when you're billions of years old and very set in your ways ...The series attracted a huge number of fans from groups who aren't traditionally seen as readers of comics, most notably young women. By the end of its run, it was selling better than Superman, had attained heaps of critical praise and industry awards, and became the first and only comic book to win the prestigious World Fantasy Award For Short Fiction. The oft-told story that the rules were changed to make comics totally ineligible is false; they were merely barred from the Short Fiction category. Comics have since been nominated under the Special Award Professional category.These days, new readers usually consume the series via ten oft-reprinted trade paperbacks, each containing an entire storyline or a series of related short stories. The series has been followed by a number of one-off sequels and side stories.The collected trade paperbacks:
Preludes and Nocturnes: In the early 20th century, an English occult sect attempts to imprison Death with a summoning ritual, but mistakenly snares Dream instead. Following seven decades of imprisonment in the waking world, Dream must rebuild his kingdom and retrieve his scattered relics of power.
The Doll's House: Dream is forced to enter the waking world to track down a trio of rogue nightmares, and must get to the bottom of a mysterious "Dream Vortex" that threatens to tear apart the Dreaming. Along the way, he crosses paths with a young woman named Rose Walker, who gets caught up in a labyrinthine world of secrets after discovering the family that she never knew.
Dream Country: A collection of four unrelated one-shot stories. A frustrated writer looks for inspiration in the supernatural; a cat recalls a fateful encounter with Dream; a young William Shakespeare pays back a debt to Dream with a trippy performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream; a burned-out superhero looks to Death for respite from her tortuous existence.
Season of Mists: Dream is drawn into a perilous game of supernatural intrigue when he decides to confront his old enemy Lucifer Morningstar, the Lord of Hell, in a bid to rescue a past lover condemned to his kingdom.
A Game of You: Trying to put her life back together after a failed relationship, a young woman named Barbie rediscovers the world of her old childhood fantasies in a most unexpected way, and is unwittingly caught in the middle of a struggle against a deadly being known as "The Cuckoo".
Fables and Reflections: A series of stories about mortal encounters with the Endless, spanning from medieval Arabia, to Renaissance-era Italy, to post-Revolution France, to mythic Greece, to Ancient Rome. Includes the tragic tale of Dream's last meeting with his estranged son: the legendary Greek bard Orpheus.
Brief Lives: Dream pairs up with his unpredictable younger sister, Delirium, for a road trip into the waking world to seek out their long-lost elder brother: the rogue seventh member of The Endless, Destruction.
World's End: After being caught in a "reality storm", two mortal humans are forced to seek refuge at an inn at the End of the Universe, where they're treated to a night of storytelling by a procession of supernatural creatures. Heady meditations on death, deception, hope and urban alienation follow.
The Kindly Ones: Lyta Hall, a woman whose life was changed forever by a fateful encounter with Dream, turns to some unlikely supernatural allies when her infant son mysteriously vanishes. As Dream confronts enemies on all sides, every character introduced in the series thus far (major and minor) confronts their destinies.
The Wake: In the wake of a momentous battle, the denizens of the Dreaming come together for some sober reflection as they confront the uncertain future of their world.
The series has spawned a number of Spin-Off series by other writers as notable characters from the books tell their tales.In 2013, Neil Gaiman and J.H. Williams published The Sandman: Overture a limited series that serves as a Prequel of sorts, in that it narrates the incidents leading to Dream's vulnerability and his subsequent period of captivity.After years in Development Hell, in December 2013 it was announced that a film adaptation was in the works, to be produced by Gaiman, David S. Goyer and Joseph Gordon-Levitt with Jack Thorne attached as scriptwriter. Levitt may also direct and star in the film. A leak states the film is slated for a December 2016 release, and will apparently be part of the DC Cinematic Universe.
The Endless expressly point out that they are not Gods.
Boss Smiley informs Prez that "[he's] not God, [he's] not the devil, [he's] just Boss Smiley"
An Aesop: The entire series could be taken as two: finding the balance between responsibilities and obligations to others; and accepting the inevitability of change, even when it's painful.
All Are Equal in Death: Death is a rather benevolent version of this trope. She never misses the opportunity to say that everybody dies at the end, but for the same reason and since she knows everything about everyone, she never hates anyone, they are all the same to her but because she knows them all.
Alliterative Family: The Endless: Destiny, Death, Dream, Destruction, Desire, Despair and Delirium.
Ambiguous Gender: While the gender of the Endless are almost always consistent, at least to the reader, Desire and Delirium have been drawn with more androgyny than any of the other Endless on occasion. Desire, due to its hermaphroditic nature, and Delirium, because she is, well, Delirium, and is also the youngest of the Endless.
Anachronic Order: The series takes advantage of the Endless' immortal nature and spends a lot of time covering events prior to Dream's capture in the first issue, without any particular order. The focus could switch between ancient Greece or Rome, to William Shakespeare at the drop of a hat. At most, only half of the series anchors itself in the events between issue #1 and the events of The Wake.
And I Must Scream/Cool and Unusual Punishment/Fate Worse Than Death: Too many cases to count here. In fact, death seems downright pleasurable for those who receive her visit — unless they were going to Hell in the end. Though in this universe, apparently the only people who go to hell are convinced on a fundamental level that they deserve it.
Anthropomorphic Personification: The Endless, personifications of the concept embodied in their name. Destruction claims that by existing they also define their opposite, though Dream is skeptical. A great many dreams are this (though some are less anthropomorphic than others). An early pair of villains are Brute and Glob, the dream personifications of Brute Strength and Base Cunning. The Corinthian and his successor were created as Morpheus's attempt at a masterpiece: the personification of the dark side of humanity. In Endless Nights we meet Anthromorphic Personifications of individual stars. Overall, the trope is thoroughly deconstructed: what is it like to personify a timeless concept, especially a tragic one, like Death or Despair or Destruction? Are you eternally bound to your cosmic duty, or is your role in the universe escapable?
Anti-Villain: Lyta thinks that she's avenging the murder of her husband and son, which is not, in itself, a bad thing. The problem is that she's hurting scores of innocent people in the process. Also, the Kindly Ones don't care about her son, they only care about revenge, and while they're only fullfilling their role in the universe, htey go about it in a pitiless and ruthless fashion.
Anyone Can Die: Plenty of sympathetic characters die — often very suddenly — and while Gods and immortals aren't generally seen to die, the series makes it clear they are vulnerable as well. Even the Endless aren't completely immune — though what they personify is eternal, they themselves can die, as apparently happened once to Despair. And even the Endless have lives they consider 'brief' because none of them except Death will outlive this version of the universe.
Artifact of Death: Lucifer hints to Morpheus that the key to hell could be this. This turns out to be far more important in the series than probably anyone guessed at the time.
Lucifer: Perhaps it will destroy you, perhaps it won't. But I can't imagine it will make your life any easier. *disappears with an Evil Laugh*
Ascended Extra: Much of the human cast. It's traditional to introduce a character in one story arc as a minor background character, only to have them reappear in a later arc as the protagonist.
Unity Kincaid. In Preludes and Nocturnes, she briefly appears as one of the victims of the sleeping sickness. In The Doll's House, she is revealed to be the grandmother of that story's protagonist, Rose Walker, who is herself the granddaughter of Desire.
Barbie. In The Doll's House, she's one of the guests at Hal's boarding house. She later turns out to be the protagonist of A Game of You which follows her adventures in the Dreaming after she breaks up with her boyfriend Ken.
Martin Tenbones. First appears in one frame in The Doll's House, where he's one of the creatures in Barbie's dream. He later appears as a living being in A Game of You, when Barbie travels through her dreams.
Lyta Hall. Briefly appears in The Doll's House as a prisoner of Brute and Glob. Then Dream vows to take away her child, and ... things get more complicated. After a few sporadic appearances in later issues, she becomes the Villain Protagonist / Anti-Villain of The Kindly Ones.
Daniel Hall. Introduced as Lyta Hall's baby, who Dream vows to take away when he's old enough. After a few background appearances, he plays a central role in The Kindly Ones. And in The Wake, he becomes the new Dream after the original's death.
Dream. In fact, the entire story of the series is of his trying to atone for his past mistakes once suffering teaches him humility. But of course, being who he is, he has to go about it in a particular way.
Matthew the Raven, who is really Matthew Cable making up for his sins in Swamp Thing.
Lucien, after "The Ladies" released Morpheus's (highly dangerous) prisoners:
A couple of them took refuge in the Library. I ... dealt with them ...
Thessaly is a several-thousand-year-old Greek witch who's first introduced as Barbie's nerdy neighbor. She then kills a man, forces his spirit to come back so she can interrogate him via his face which she cut off his skull and nailed to a wall. She then goes into the Dreaming to help Barbie. In The Kindly Ones she tracks down Lyta Hall, brews a potion and kills a lamb to protect her. After Lyta comes to she sees Thessaly reading a book and warning her a lot of people are angry about what she did. Thessaly calmly warns her to run, because those people want revenge. And Thessaly's one of them.
Balancing Death's Books: Death's lingering fondness for the protagonists leads her to agree to bring their baby back but, she warns, she'll be back, and someone will be leaving with her. Her return 5 years later is the catalyst that starts the story.
Beard of Sorrow: Orpheus sports an impressive one after he returns from the Underworld. Strangely, Dream gets one as well, seemingly minutes after he brings back the Key to Hell, which may be because Dream is essentially a trope-based entity. More stubble later when Thessaly dumps him.
Arguably the primary personality dynamic of Morpheus. Desire, in particular, spends nearly the entire series trying to get him killed, and calling his relationship with his son an estranged one is putting it lightly — after their first argument, they spend several thousand years avoiding each other.
Destruction abandoning his realm is another huge rift, with the other Endless trying (and mostly failing) to deal with his absence in different ways.
Blue and Orange Morality: Generally averted with the Endless ...which is a problem for them. Their jobs don't have anything to do with what's right and wrong, they're about what needs to be done in order for life to properly function. However, that doesn't make it any easier for some of them to do unpleasant things, and Destruction eventually can't take it anymore. Played straight with the Corinthian and other nightmares; he points out to Matthew that violence is his basic nature, it's just how he was made.
Break the Cutie: On a cosmic scale, as Delight became Delirium. Before, she was cheery, flighty and pretty harmless. After, she's still cheery, but completely nuts and will break your mind if you piss her off.
Broken Aesop: Invoked. The Kipling-quoting "Indian Gentleman" tells his companions a tale he hopes will "prove" that women are inherently evil in "Hob's Leviathan." But as Hob points out, the sum Aesop of the story seems to be more along the lines of "men and women are both capable of deeply hurting each other."
Broke Your Arm Punching Out Cthulhu: Destiny, in an opening Narration, implies that the only reason Dream was captured at the beginning of the series was that he was weak after fighting something else. Given that Dream is several orders of magnitude more powerful than the Physical Gods we see in the story, our sanity probably wouldn't survive knowing what it was. Sandman Overture covers that particular story.
But We Used a Condom: Invoked; Rose returns to England at one point and has a one-night stand with her family's new solicitor, and they did use a condom. Well, condoms, actually. But she didn't use any spermicide and one of them broke. She's fairly happy about being pregnant, though.
Byronic Hero: Dream, rather pointedly and perhaps an intentional decision on his part.
Dream and Desire. They were once as friendly as Dream and Death are in the story's present time. Now, Dream is as cold and distant to Desire as he is to most anyone who offends him, and Desire can't stand Dream and constantly messes with his life, which infuriates Dream to no end.
Cain and Abel themselves live in the Dreaming. Cain kills Abel repeatedly, but Abel just regenerates.
The Cameo: Batman shows up for the funeral, even though he was never featured in any Sandman stories (well, unless you count the comedienne making a joke about him.) However, considering that sooner or later Bats meets everyone in the DC universe, it's not a stretch to assume they had an encounter off-camera at some point.
Casanova Wannabe: Thor just can't understand why the other gods have so much less trouble with the ladies. After all, none of them employ his killer technique of leering in a woman's face and bellowing about his hammer getting bigger when you rub it...
The goddess Bast exists and governs the well-being of cats.
A cat prophet claims giant cats once ruled the world in an alternate timeline.
Censorship by Spelling: In Brief Lives, Delirium wants to tell her sister that she's worried about Dream without him knowing, so she spells out his name. Or tries to. It ends up with too many Ms in it, and he's not fooled anyway.
Character Title: He's more often called Dream, but "The Sandman" is another name for him.
Chekhov's Army: Virtually every single character turns out to be vital to the resolution of the conflict, albeit in ways that often take a long time for the reader to realize.
Chekhov's Gunman: Every representation of three women chatting amongst themselves, or being questioned by an outsider, is implied to be an aspect of the Three Witches, Maiden, Mother, and Crone. These manifestations can be as overt as the apparitions of the Fates and Grey Ladies or as subtle as the varying appearances of Eve in her three forms.
Chekhov's Skill: Dream's method of storing pieces of himself inside objects, which he uses in the final arc to have Daniel become the new Dream.
In The High Cost Of Living, someone says they would like to die between two virgins at the moment of orgasm, via elephant crushing. In Endless Nights, someone does exactly that. Comes up occasionally in other places too; its more of a Running Gag.
Also in Endless Nights, Despair talks with Rao (Krypton's sun) about her plan to create the ultimate being of despair. Namely, for an unstable planet to host life and leave a single survivor when it dies. Apparently she thought that the life on that world would be more beautiful because at any time it could be destroyed. Superman is NOT in the throes of Despair though, so it looks like her plan backfired. In the same issue, the green sun and Dream's alien girlfriend represent the sun and a resident of Oa, which form the background of the Green Lantern stories. If her developing energy powers and her role as a protector of the planet are any indication, she may be one of the founders of the Corps.
The serial killer The Bogeyman, who appears in The Doll's House, and is revealed to be an impersonator who's a writer for a magazine, originally appeared in Alan Moore's Swamp Thing run. If you read that, it won't come as a surprise that the man appearing in The Sandman is an impostor.
Merv Pumpkinhead first appears in a background cameo in Preludes and Nocturnes, when he's shown driving the bus in the Dreaming that Dream uses to get to the Justice League's old warehouse. Much later in the series, after Merv has been properly introduced as one of Dream's retinue of assistants, he mentions that he briefly "drove a bus" during Dream's absence.
During the Season of Mists storyline, the Lords of Order try to bribe Dream with the dreams collected by the Grey Man.
As essentially the second oldest entity in the universe (only Destiny being older), Death basically fulfills this role for everyone, but especially so for Dream. She's the only one who's able to break him out of his funk after freeing himself.
Desire fills this role for Delirium in Brief Lives, showing us a rare sympathetic moment from him/her/it.
Crapsack World: Subtle, but there. Delirium is no longer Delight, meaning there isn't anyone governing the function of happiness in the universe. We know from the example of Destruction that this doesn't mean that it's impossible for anyone to be happy anymore, but it does mean that it's harder, and that there is no longer any rhyme or reason to who is happy in life, and why, and for how long. Similarly, Destruction has gone AWOL, unwilling to take responsibility for the level of destruction humanity is now capable of.
Cross Over: With other Vertigo titles, and to a lesser extent the DCU.
Death took part in a AIDS awareness campaign, and to help out she called in Hellblazer's John Constantine for a demonstration of putting a condom on a banana. Constantine looked very uncomfortable.
Batman, Superman, Mr. Miracle, various Sandman heroes, Martian Manhunter, Fury, Scarecrow and Doctor Destiny all make appearances. In the beginning, the Sandman was supposed to be part of the DC proper, but Gaiman decided later that this was a mistake and downplayed it as the series went on. A few of these characters appear as Callbacks at the end though. Darkseid appears in The Wake sitting next to Jed Walker.
Most of Gaiman's characters have had very limited interaction with the main DCU since the comic ended, because DC has to pay him a royalty to use them (though there have been some, such as the JLA knowing Daniel, time traveler Walker Gabriel being buddies with Hob Gadling, and Death appearing to Luthor shortly before the New 52 reboot). However, Gaiman also used many obscure pre-existing DC characters, such as Cain, Abel, and Destiny, and these can be used with impunity.
Crossover Cosmology: The sheer number of gods and pantheons. And this is just on Earth and (apparently) Mars.
Dream was never evil really, but that's more of a matter of definition due to Blue and Orange Morality. He's certainly done terrible things, like sentencing his ex-girlfriend to Hell because she hurt his pride, and trapping the son of the man who imprisoned him in eternal nightmares. He lightens up and becomes more human during the events of the series due to his imprisonment... which actually turns out to be a problem because he is still too stubborn to change.
Despair is also not nearly as evil as she might have been, and actually sometimes acts as a peacemaker for her family. This might be because she's the second incarnation of Despair, after the previous one was killed, meaning that part of the present Despair was once mortal.
Dead Guy Puppet: The chapter set in the French Revolution shows decapitated bodies used as giant marionettes after a public execution. The same chapter has Orpheus's head make a pile of other severed heads into a choir to gain power.
Deadpan Snarker: Destruction pals around with a talking dog whose only utility seems to be making dry, witty comments at his expense.
Barnabas: Devotion you got. Perjury ain't in the job description.
Deal with the Devil: Both used and subverted. While we see both a minor demon and Dream pulling this (though Dream's price isn't so crude as a soul, and neither was the demon's) Lucifer himself specifically denies ever making such deals.
Lucifer: I need no souls. And how can anyone "own" a soul?
Skinner's ghost: We sacrificed a boy. All three of us. To the devil. We did stuff from old books. We did stuff you wouldn't believe. But when we went to Hell ... they didn't care. They hadn't even known. They—they laughed at us.
Death Is Cheap: Abel comes back to life as a matter of kind, provided that Cain is the one who kills him. Almost all of the dream characters killed in The Kindly Ones are recreated later, though it is pointed out that they are not the same as the originals: just identical copies. Fiddler's Green took offense at the concept and refused to be recreated. And The Endless can die, and when they do a new version of them is made, although this is actually a subversion since the process of creating the new version is quite costly. When questioned on the subject, Death's response is that these things just happen. She's kind of busy, after all. She doesn't sweat it because in the end everyone dies, even if they come back to life a few times during the in-between bits.
Death of Personality: Dream gets killed by the Furies. However, he's reborn in a new form, who then continues to do his predecessor's work. So the idea called Dream keeps on living, but the character everyone knew as him is dead.
Death Takes a Holiday: Subverted and played straight. In the first book Dream is captured by mistake by mystics trying to imprison Death. It messes up the Dreaming on Earth and he points out the terrible consequences had they succeeded in their original plan. In a later tie-in book, Death: The High Cost of Living, Death takes on human form and wanders the earth for a day, a tradition she performs once every century; this tradition is mentioned in the original series and is a more literal vacation.
Decoy Antagonist: Roderick Burgess. The first issue appears to set him up as the Big Bad, or at least as a major antagonist. Then it turns out that the first issue spans 70 freakin' years. By the end of it, he's died of old age and his son Alex is a harmless, senile old man. After Dream escapes, he leaves Alex in a permanent nightmare and never sees him again. He wakes up at the end of The Kindly Ones when Dream dies, as there was nothing keeping him in the nightmare. He even attends Dream's funeral.
Depending on the Artist: Lucifer briefly was hit by this, and Doctor Destiny had his appearance dramatically altered by his second penciller. In fact, most recurring characters change wildly depending on the artist, and it can be hard to tell who's who sometimes. The radically different art style of The Kindly Ones comes to mind. Delirium's appearance constantly changes from story to story; there are times when she's even drawn differently between scenes, but in her case this actually makes a kind of sense. Justified for all the Endless, since how they appear is mostly a matter of perception anyway. In one scene, the Martian Manhunter and Mr. Miracle are both speaking to Dream. Mr. Miracle sees him in his familiar white-skinned form, while the Martian Manhunter simultaneously sees him in the form of Mars' ancient god of sleep - a giant blazing Martian head.
The Determinator: The Kindly Ones, aka the Furies, are the living embodiment of revenge, and they never let go of a grudge. NEVER. Lyta Hall as well, in her quest to gain their aid.
Deus ex Machina: Reconstructed. In many stories, Dream is just a supporting character, usually one who shows up seemingly out of nowhere to solve the conflict at the end in a way that would normally feel like a cheat. But since this series is called The Sandman, and since the reader firmly expects this to happen and knows that, in the context of the series, it makes perfect sense, it's really not DXM at all.
Development Hell: The film adaptation. A very faithful adaptation, which Mr. Gaiman heartily approved of, came close to being made in the 90s by Roger Avary, but Warner Bros. had him removed because his script "wasn't as similar to Batman as they wanted. While a new director was sought, his script was rewritten by future Pirates of the Caribbean writers Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio. Eventually, the project was pushed aside, being called "too cerebral for the box office." In the time since, comic book adaptations have become big business, so it's likely the movie will happen someday.
Did They or Didn't They?: Titania is plainly in love with Morpheus, and he seems fond of her (in his way); fairy gossip holds that they were lovers, but the reader never knows for surenote in The Wake you apparently ask her about it, because she regally tells you to mind your own business.
Dispense With The Pleasantries: At one point Morpheus sends Lucifer a message, wrapped up in highfalutin' diplomatic language. Lucifer cuts the messenger off midway through his recital of Lucifer's full list of titles and asks for "just the content".
Nada's fate, when she's condemned to Hell for all eternity for rejecting Dream's romantic advances. Especially given that due to the "echo" effect the Endless produce, nearly every black female character in the series suffers a burning death because of what happens to Nada. The exception is Gwen, Hob Gadling's girlfriend in The Wake, because of course Dream is dead by then, and the echo-cycle has been broken.
That poor highway patrol officer. Sure he was a Jerk Ass, but Delirium went way too far by giving him the perpetual hallucination of being covered in bugs.
Delirium:If you don't let me in, I will turn you into a demon half-face waitress night-club lady with a crush on her boss, and I'll make it so you've been that from the beginning of time to now and you'll never ever know if you were anything else and it will itch inside your head worse than little bugses.
Distracted from Death: Zelda is dying slowly of AIDS, and Rose is taking care of her. Then, after being given a message from beyond the grave, Rose leaves for a few days, and finds that Zelda died during her absence.
Divinely Appearing Demons: Lucifer, Be'elzebub, and Azazel are the Demon Lords and Archdevils of Hell. Each of them are depicted with a different appearance, making this trope played straight and averted. Lucifer (straight) looks like his angelic biblical appearance, while Azazel (Averted) appears made of shadows, eyes, and teeth, and Be'elzebub (Averted) is a giant bug.
Don't Fear the Reaper: Meeting Death is actually a pleasant experience if she has anything to say about it; also, since she was there when everyone was born, meeting her again upon death is mentioned to be sort of like meeting an old friend.
The Doll's House. It can be seen as an allusion to Jed Walker's mind, which is used as a metaphorical "playground" for Hector and Lyta Hall, who are being manipulated like "dolls" by Brute and Glob. Then again, the plot also features Rose staying at a boarding house owned by a cross-dresser (who goes by "Dolly" in a drag show) and where two of her housemates are named Ken and Barbie. An actual physical doll's house appears as a minor prop in some scenes. And the last chapter reveals yet another possible interpretation of the title.
The Wake: Each chapter in this last part plays with a different definition of the word: a wake (eulogy) for the dead, the wake (aftermath) of a disaster, to wake from sleep, and so forth.
Early Installment Weirdness: Early issues were more overt horror stories set in the proper DC universe, with appearances by many staple DC heroes and villains. As the series went on it grew into a more complex kind of fantasy and Gaiman more or less excised the DC references, though he would toss one in every so often.
Earth Is the Center of the Universe: Despite there being umpteen worlds and planes full of intelligent creatures, we almost never see the Endless interact with non-humans or non-terrestrial settings. Even the gods are the product of human dreams. Given the nature of the characters and stories, it's likely that we just don't see the non-human parts of their jobs, and probably wouldn't understand how they work anyway. Corroborating this is a conversation wherein Death implies that she is effectively everywhere in the universe simultaneously. If this applies to her siblings (and there's no evidence otherwise, magical imprisonments notwithstanding), then the comic arc is just one plotline in a universe full of them.
The prequel series Sandman: Overture does much to explain this, showing Dream interact with countless different versions of himself, who each represent Dream as he appears to a different species and even though they are all parts of Dream they each seem to have to some degree an independent existence.
Earth Is Young: This Verse goes for the postmodern Type D version. Time, history and reality are all very relative concepts, and what says that an act of creation can't be retroactive anyway?
Putting together evidence from Season of Mists, "The Parliament of Rooks", Brief Lives and Lucifer, it appears that in this Verse the fossil record is true, if incomplete, but the Garden of Eden plot and the war in Heaven happened — 10 billion years ago, before Earth was even formed.
Emotionless Girl: Despair: "I am not happy or sad. I just am." This turns out not to be quite true though. This was not true of her predecessor, who seemed to consider the fragility of life and mournful melancholy beautiful and even talked with Rao about arranging Superman's fate as what amounts to an art project. Must be where Dream picked it up from.
Mervyn: He's gotta be the tragic figure standing out in the rain, mourning the loss of his beloved. So down comes the rain, right on cue. In the meantime everybody gets dreams fulla existential angst and wakes up feeling like hell. And we all get wet.
Erotic Dream: Morpheus once borrowed the vehicle that someone was dreaming about having sex in the back of. Rose also gets one in The Kindly Ones, which Abel drops in on her having sex to get some cheap entertainment before she catches him. Also discussed by Rose with Dream.
Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Inverted: The angel Remiel doesn't properly understand evil. He thinks that he's being kind by trying to reform the souls of the damned; he doesn't realize that trying to be nice to them only makes them more miserable.
Exact Words: Lucifer swears that he won't harm Morpheus as long as they're within the bounds of Hell, and he keeps his word. Then they step outside...
Exposition of Immortality: Gets used a few times; unsurprisingly, considering the principal characters are all immortal anthropomorphic personifications.
"Men Of Good Fortune" is a particular case in point: Dream grants immortality to a mortal, Hob Gadling. They agree to meet each other in the same place every one hundred years. The setting and costume changes provide a neat exposition of the passage of time.
Orpheus remembering his wedding, his dismemberment by the Maenads, and the arc involving Johanna Constantine retrieving his severed head from Revolutionary France.
Expy: In A Game of You, there are frequent references to a fictional comic book character called "Weirdzo", a dimwitted, imperfect clone of a superhero named "Hyperman", who lives on a cube-shaped version of Earth and speaks in opposites.
Eye Remember: The Corinthian can read memories by putting eyes into his toothed eyesockets. Blech...
Eye Scream: As noted above, The Corinthian likes to eat eyes, especially those of young boys. Eventually he does this to Loki. Doctor Destiny causes a particularly graphic moment during Preludes and Nocturnes. Eyes are pecked out of sockets when the ravens feast on the bodies during the The Kindly Ones. And Despair uses her ring to gouge out one of her eyes, apparently a method of relaxation for her. This is after Delirium has spent pages and pages trying to find out the name of the "gunky jelly stuff in peoples' eyes," for reasons that probably don't even make sense to her.
Fisher King: The Endless are their domains, with the exception of the one who quit his job. Desire takes this to the extreme: its realm is a titanic replica of its body, called the Threshold. This is apparently a Stealth Pun, since 'Desire has always lived on the edge.'
Fluffy the Terrible: The Cuckoo. It seems like an odd name for a dreaded Evil Overlord...unless you know about the cuckoo bird's peculiar habit of laying eggs in other birds' nests and letting its hatchlings kill their hosts' natural offspring so that they can take their place. The Cuckoo's name is an allusion to its nature as a "dream parasite", and its goal of ruling Barbie's dreams as its personal kingdom.
Foreshadowing: FREQUENT. The finale is foreshadowed so heavily for so long that it's entirely possible that even people who have never heard of the series can guess what happens. One example from Chapter 6 of the first volume:
All Bette's stories have happy endings. That's because she knows where to stop. She's realized the real problem with stories - if you keep them going long enough, they always end in death.
A Form You Are Comfortable With: This happens a lot. Morpheus changes his appearance the most frequently to fit in with those around him. Desire looks like a Patrick Nagel print come to lifenote See the character page for one of the best examples of this rendition and is supposed to be everyone's idea of a beautiful person. Death and Destruction only seem to change their clothes, and Destiny and Despair never change at all. Delirium's appearance is the most mutable, but she doesn't give a damn if it makes anyone feel comfortable (she shows up to a wedding in ancient Greece wearing the same mesh shirt she does in the 90s). It does seem to be a courtesy that the Endless extend to those they're interacting with, not an automatic reflex - Death, in particular, tends to show up in informal wear and get chided for it by the more appearance-conscious characters. Also partly subverted by Delirium, who - regardless of her audience or the time period the story is set in - tends to look like a punk teenaged domestic-abuse victim. There are two likely explanations: either she (who once claimed to know things Destiny does not) has gone beyond Dangerously Genre Savvy to Medium Awareness ("A Form The Readers Are Comfortable With"), or it's part of her function to generate a certain amount of Squick in those who behold her (A Form You Are Creeped Out By).
French Revolution: "Thermidor" offers a particularly unpleasant depiction of Robespierre and the Terror (not that there are really any pleasant ones).
Gallows Humor: About actual gallows: "They say Jack Ketch is an excellent physician."
Gambit Roulette: The entire series is actually one big, long, ludicrously complex, inhumanly convoluted plan on the part of Morpheus to resolve his guilt, mend his flaws, and make his world a better place. Bizarrely, his plans are so complex that it seems that even he doesn't consciously realize he's doing most of it, as Death lampshades in one of the very last issues.
Genre Savvy: In Season of Mists, rather than just barging into Hell to free Nada, Morpheus sends word that he's coming via Cain. Lucifer comments on how clever this was, since he'd have destroyed any other messenger but can't kill Cain because of his mark.
Genre Shift: It started out as a horror comic firmly entrenched in the DC Universe, and gradually became a character-driven fantasy epic with only occasional Continuity Nods to other DC characters.
Goth: Zelda and Chantal, who wear only antique wedding dresses with veils that hide their faces, collect stuffed spiders and skulls, and generally lurk around being as weird as possible.
Gods Need Prayer Badly: Bast is getting older and weaker due to so few people believing in her anymore. This seems to be less of a problem for the Norse gods, who have found other power sources and even have modern followers. The Japanese gods are doing great these days and are apparently somehow receiving 'prayer' from veneration of Godzilla and Lady Liberty, amongst other icons, in addition to their direct worship. Pharamond, a Babylonian god, was long ago convinced by Morpheus to "diversify" and survive his dwindling worship by putting his talents to work in a more mundane capacity. From what was said of the Judeo-Christian God, it's implied that He doesn't require this. Considering that He exists far apart from the Universe, it's no stretch that He'd outlast the Endless themselves, though in Lucifer it's implied that He's neither the FIRST nor the LAST Creator.
Gotta Catch Them All: Morpheus quests to recover his artifacts of power for most of Preludes and Nocturnes.
Grand Finale: The story reaches its climax in The Kindly Ones, and The Wake provides the aftermath.
Great Big Library of Everything: Dream's library is almost infinitely large and filled with books that the author conceived but never actually finished. Some notable titles include G.K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was October, Wodehouse's Psmith and Jeeves, and That Romantic Comedy Sci-Fi Thriller I Used to Think About on The Bus to Work by you, the person reading this trope page right now. Word of God has it that Dream's library has an annex that contains everything that actually was written, too. We just never see it because it's so tiny compared to the rest of the place.
The Grim Reaper: Death, obviously, although she subverts the image by being anything but grim, refusing to carry a scythe, and generally dressing as a Perky Goth. Destiny is actually closer in appearance to the archetype, being grim, almost eyeless, and robed.
The Hecate Sisters: As they have always been portrayed, variously as the Fates, the goddess Hecate and the Furies (or "the Kindly Ones", as they like to be called). When they see the embodiment of Eve herself in the Dreaming, they refuse to hurt her, since in a fashion, they are her. Referenced several times, more or less openly. Nuala, Hippolyta and Thessaly unwittingly form a triad without ever even meeting during the events of The Wake. Foxglove, Hazel, and Thessaly from A Game of You is another example.
Heel-Face Turn: The remade Corinthian, in that at least he obeys Dream unflinchingly and does not kill innocent people in The Kindly Ones. He's more an Anti-Hero than a real Face at this point though.
Heroic BSOD: Morpheus has one in Brief Lives, after Destiny tells him what he has to do. Then Delirium has an inversion of one, casting off her standard Blue Screen mode to briefly become more rational (it doesn't last, of course).
He Who Must Not Be Seen: God plays a significant role in the ending of Season of Mists, and a few times afterward as well, but he never makes an appearance.
The Hero Dies: At least if we're talking about this particular personification of him.
Hidden Depths: Most of the Endless have personalities that are quite different from the stereotypical connotations of the phenomena they represent. Death and Destruction, the two with the most negative reputation, are actually the nicest of the Endless. Despair is portrayed sympathetically too, at least most of the time. Desire, despite (or because of) being the Endless dealing with matters of love, is easily the cruelest and most manipulative of the lot. And while dreams are generally associated with the subconscious, the surreal, and the chaotic, Dream himself is shown to be meticulous, highly organized, and overtly concerned with rules and laws. Only Destiny and Delirium have the sort of personalities you'd expect.
Hide Your Gays / No Bisexuals: Both entirely averted. A wide range of alternate sexualities are represented in the series. Neil won an award for it.
Neil Gaiman: It was the only time I got a standing ovation simply by having my last name pronounced correctly.
Historical-Domain Character: Many, including William Shakespeare, Augustus Caesar, Emperor Joshua Norton, Robespierre, and Haroun al-Rashid, to name some of the ones who had entire issues that revolved around them.
Historical Fiction: Frequent, but the sixth collection Fables & Reflections is particularly laden with it, including encounters between the Sandman and "Emperor" Joshua Norton, Robespierre, and Augustus Caesar. The final story, "Ramadan", plays with the contrast between the historical figure Haroun al-Rashid and his better-known Arabian Nights alter ego. Apparently the literature version was real until he sold Morpheus the golden age of Baghdad in "Ramadan".
Honor Before Reason: One of Dream's biggest flaws is that he considers the responsibilities of his position to be absolute, and more important than love, family, or his own desires, something Death calls him out on a few times over the series. The entire series can loosely be seen as his coming to grips with the ramifications of this.
Hope Spot: For a few scenes in The Kindly Ones, it seems that Lucifer was being set up to do a Big Damn Heroes, being explicitly the most powerful being in creation. However, when Delirium asks him to help her brother (it's a long story), he simply says "It's too late to help your brother".
Hurricane of Euphemisms: "Been there, Remiel. Done that. Wore the tee-shirt, ate the burger, bought the original cast album, choreographed the legions of the damned and orchestrated the screaming."
I Have Many Names: Naturally, most of the immortal beings pick up multiple names. Morpheus is described in Season of Mists as collecting names the way others collect friends. He is called Lord Shaper (by the fairies), King of Stories, Oneiros (by Calliope), and Kai'ckul (by Nada) among others. The Hecatae Sisters get in on this when they are first summoned by Morpheus, calling themselves about three names each in a single page.
I'll Kill You!: At the end of Morpheus' visit to Hell in Preludes and Nocturnes, Lucifer vows to destroy him, and in Season of Mists he makes something of an attempt at it by gifting Morpheus with the key to hell and the ensuing troubles. By the end of the series, Lucifer's lost interest in seeing the threat through, especially with the Kindly Ones attacking Morpheus.
Lucifer: You know, I once swore to destroy your brother. Delirium: Really? Why? Lucifer: Oh, he insulted me ... said something he thought was clever. It hardly matters now.
Immortality Always Ends: The whole point of Brief Lives seems to be that even if you're thousands, millions, or even trillions of years old, life still seems pretty damn short.
Death: "You got what everybody gets, Bernie. You got a lifetime."
Immortality Seeker: Hob Gadling, who becomes immortal by just refusing to die. It helps that Morpheus talks Death into humoring him. Played with in "Ramadan", as Haroun el-Rashid wants his city, or at least its memory, to live forever. So far, it's worked.
Hob Gadling, who's been immortal ever since Death, in 1389, promised Dream not to take him until Hob was ready, spends the seventeenth century impoverished, sick and starving: "Do you know [...] how hungry a man can get if he doesn't die? But doesn't eat?"
Retired superhero Element Girl longs for death because her freakish appearance leaves her socially isolated and agoraphobic. However, because her body can automatically transmute itself into most any element, she's effectively immortal, and unable to commit suicide without the intervention of the god who bestowed her powers in the first place.
Dream's son, Orpheus, begs Death to make him immortal so he can enter the netherworld and rescue his wife Eurydice without dying. After failing in his quest, he tries to commit suicide but can't, and when a band of frenzied Dionysius worshippers tears him limb from limb, he lives on as a disembodied head, with only his estranged father able to grant him his wish to die.
Important Haircut: Played with in a couple of interesting ways: Lucifer actually gets his wings cut off, but the symbolism is still there. You can guess Delirium's moods based on what her hair does. Once, when she's angry and depressed, she becomes bald. Later, when she's bummed out that Lucifer couldn't help her find her dog (It Makes Sense in Context), half of her head goes bald.
Incest Subtext: In The Sandman Presents: The Thessaliad, the new character Fetch says to Thessaly of Morpheus' death wish: "You never stood a chance with him, because of his unhealthy attraction to his own sister." This could also be read as a rather dark pun about Dream being in love with Death in the sense that he wishes to die.
Inn Between the Worlds: Worlds' End. One of four, where people lost in spatial-temporal abnormalities and supernatural creatures with more control over their destinations eat, drink and share stories. It passes the time.
Insane Troll Logic / Appeal to Inherent Nature: Morpheus' credo when going to confront the Kindly Ones: "We do what we do because of who we are. If we did otherwise, we would not be ourselves." Sounds nice on the surface, but thinking about it for even a second reveals that it's a tortured rationalization for any action, anywhere, ever, regardless of how stupid it may be. Then again, it's reasonable to interpret his statement as poetical/emotional rather than philosophical/intellectual. Justified for nearly any anthropomorphic entity. They only exist by their definitions, and are defined by their nature. Of them, it truly CAN be said that they do what they do because of who (what) they are.
Internalized Categorism: A particularly disturbing case of Normopathy. Rayne of the metamorphae: A woman who has several superpowers including immortality, invulnerability and shapeshifting. She spends her days locked in her home, feeling sorry for herself for not being normal. As she claims that life is hell, Death tells her that she's actually making her own hell. Of course, in this universe that's all anyone does.
Interspecies Romance: Bizarrely, Eve and Matthew appear to be a romantic couple, though it's anyone's guess how that even works (please do not guess). To review: he is the ghost of a dead man reincarnated in the dream body of a raven, and she is the human-like dreamform of an ancient story about a woman who, if she ever existed at all, was apparently some sort of Starfish Alien, and on top of that she's also yet another form of The Hecate Sisters, this time all in one shapeshifting body. And they are dating.
In "August", the Emperor Augustus says "That will not last" about the names of the months July and August, named after himself and Julius Caesar. Considering what happened to other (admittedly later) emperors' attempts to change the names (Nero and Domitian come to mind), this would not have been an unusual sentiment.
In "Men of Good Fortune", Hob Gadling comments that there'll "never be a real demand" for printing. The same issue also has an elderly 15th century man complaining that chimneys are a bad idea, and it was much healthier when houses were full of smoke.
Japanese Politeness: The Japanese god is extremely self-effacing and indirect in his speech. Morpheus reciprocates.
Susano-o-No-Mikoto: To his shame, this one is Susano-o-No-Mikoto [...] This one comes alone. There is a discussion that might be had at some point, concerning territory
Jerk Ass: Desire. Dream to a lesser extent, or at least with a very different style. Desire glows with knowing abrasiveness. In contrast, Dream can be obnoxiously chilly: brittle with stiff-necked arrogance, and rather petty.
Kraken and Leviathan: Leviathan most likely, as the creature in question is a sea serpent so large that it demands the second (and one of the only) two-page spreads in the history of the series in issue 53.
Law of Inverse Fertility: Hazel, a lesbian, got drunk and had straight sex for the first time with a gay male coworker. And got pregnant.
The Legions of Hell: Lucifer's decision to abdicate isn't entirely popular among them, to the point where he has to go through and literally order some of the stragglers to leave.
Life Will Kill You: An overarching theme and motif of "The Sound of Her Wings." As something of a Day In The Life episode for Death, the issue features many, many minor characters who all meet mundane ends, such as electrocution, car accidents, and even Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
The story that Abel tells Daniel is a child-friendly version of how he and his brother came to live with Morpheus, complete with utterly adorable little chibis of Death, Dream, Cain, and Abel. Naturally, the notion of "Little-Death" and "Little-Dream" infuriates Cain.
The entire series after the first volume, although it's not so much a lack of darkness as it is a shift away from pure horror (see Non-Indicative First Episode below).
The aforementioned chibis must have been really popular, because the the Little Endless Storybook seems to have been made specifically to extend the cuteness to the other Endless.
Most of the characters with titles - the Corinthian, the dark mirror of humanity, is likely a reference to the Book of Corinthian's famous pronouncement that "we see through a glass, darkly."
Living Forever Is Awesome: There are a great many immortal (or near immortal) people in the series, most of whom seem to have no desire to die, now or ever. Most important to the story is Dream's friend Hob Gadling.
Loophole Abuse: The Kindly Ones can't harm anyone but their target. They go on a rampage through the Dreaming because 1) Dreams aren't people and 2) Dream and his realm and creations are in many ways the same thing.
Miss Conception: Hazel's a butch lesbian, yeah, but she really should have known better.note having apparently never learned anything about straight sex, she believes she couldn't be pregnant because she had sex standing up, and that a pregnancy test would involve killing a rabbit
To be fair, they once did (though more-humane tests had been invented decades before the story was set), and "the rabbit died" as a euphemism (?) for a positive pregnancy test has lived on.
The Missing Faction: There are seven Endless: Destiny, Death, Dream, Desire, Despair and Delirium. The seventh Endless? Used to be Destruction, but he quit when he became depressed by human's increasing capacity for warfare, since he'd seen it before.
Mistaken for Special Guest: In a short promotional piece, "The Castle", the reader is introduced to some of the concepts and characters of the series by way of a story about an ordinary dreamer who is given a tour of Dream's castle after being mistaken for an expected guest.
Mundane Solution: When some people try to hide from Death by blocking her out with a magic gate, she asks a passing, off-duty soldier for help. The soldier, not knowing who she is or what is going on, but smitten with her and eager to impress such a hot girl, tears the gate down with brute force.
Murderer P.O.V.: We never see Lyta when she's possessed by the Kindly Ones; all of her panels are drawn from the first-person perspective. This is also how we first meet the Corinthian. Which is particularly disturbing once you learn a little more about his...anatomy.
Needle in a Stack of Needles: "Where do you hide a book? In a library! Where do you hide a flower? In a garden? Where do you hide a severed head ..."
Nested Story: The entirety of World's End is narrated by a man who appears in the framing story. Up to Eleven when the cycle features a story told by one character, an apprentice, about (among other things) hearing a man tell a story about Destruction telling a story. In the end, it's revealed the whole thing was a story he was telling his bartender. That's a five-deep nested story if you're counting.
Book -> Narrator to Bartender -> Apprentice to Narrator -> Man to Apprentice -> Destruction to Man
Noble Bigot: Wanda's aunt Dora from A Game of You, who stayed in contact with her and talks with her, even though she prays for "him" to repent "his" wicked ways and considers "him" a sinner. She's the one who invites Barbie to Wanda's funeral and talks with her about what happened when Barbie woke up after the hurricane. When Barbie is recalling what happened when she first saw Wanda in a body bag, screaming for the paramedics to get her out, Dora doesn't correct her calling Wanda "her" and holds her hand.
Non-Indicative First Episode: Preludes And Nocturnes is dubbed the prototype for the series in the introduction, and its Darker and Edgier style is worth mentioning. The series as a whole is a dark epic fantasy, with occasional horror elements. The first volume, however, is horrific enough to be a Hellraiser movie.
Non-Linear Character: Destiny, who knows everything before it happens, and Death, who is there everytime someone anywhere in the universe is born or dies, no matter whether it's past, present or future from other characters' points of view. Delirium could be one too.
Not Himself: Matthew has this reaction to the new Dream resurrecting the characters the Kindly Ones killed during their rampage. Several other characters have similar reactions to other things Daniel does which Morpheus either never did or would never have done.
Nothing Is Scarier: Abel's House of Secrets has "something unspeakably terrible" that lives in the basement. The fact that it's never seen by anyone only confirms its unspeakable terribleness. There's also the Murderer P.O.V. the Kindly Ones get, meaning we never see what they really look like as they ravage the Dreaming.
The Omniscient: Destiny, supposedly. Like everything dealing with the Endless, this is not as simple and straightforward as it appears (although he plainly doesn't think so).
One Myth to Explain Them All: Subverted. While there are mythological figures from many diverse cultures coexisting together, it's revealed that a few well-known gods and goddesses were just the Endless in different guises. The Greek god Morpheus, for example, was really Dream, and the goddess Mania was actually Delirium. And in an early issue, the Martian Manhunter sees Dream as a well-known god who is worshipped on Mars. It's not a hard and fast rule, however—in the same issue where we learn that Dream is really Morpheus, Death and the god Hades both appear as separate characters, and it's made clear that they're nothing alike. Though technically Hades isn't the god of death, he's the god of the underworld. The Greek god of death is Thanatos, so this could just be an example of Shown Their Work.
Our Vampires Are Different: Lord Ruthven is a minor dream figure named for a famous literary vampire, and his dress, voice, fangs, and demeanor all seem to imply that he is indeed a vampire here ... and he has a rabbit's head. Yeah.
Our Werewolves Are Different: You don't become a werewolf, you're born one, and they're apparently a very insular, reclusive race of people who rarely associate or marry outside of their line.
Painted Tunnel, Real Train: In a scene in Brief Lives, a worker in Dream's palace is seen pasting up wallpaper with a picture on it depicting a corridor lined with books. When he's done, Dream comes down the corridor that was just put up.
Dream, for all of his Jerk Ass tendencies, gets quite a few of these, usually either rescuing a tertiary character (Cluracan, Marco Polo, Prez, etc) from danger when he doesn't have to or else having a quiet Friendship Moment with someone.
Cain has occasional dog-petting moments with Abel, coming to a head during Wake, when he tries legal threats on the new Dream to get his brother recreated.
Even Desire gets a couple of Pet the Dog moments. 1) when he/she comes to the rescue of a lost, frightened Delirium (Brief Lives), 2) when he/she brings devastated Tiffany's life around (again, Brief Lives), and 3) when he/she gives grand-daughter Rose her heart back (The Kindly Ones).
The Philosopher: Many, many examples. Even the peripheral characters are apt to wax philosophical to some degree. For a specific case, try this remark by Destruction:
Planet of Hats: World's End introduces us to the Necropolis Litharge, a great metropolis where the only job that anyone seems to have is the ritual disposal of dead bodies. Their entire society is funeral-based, and it's almost all they do.
Poor Communication Kills: Morpheus could have taken the extra couple of seconds to explain to Nuala why it was a very bad idea for him to come to Faerie just then; and earlier, he could have prevented a lot of trouble by explaining his meaning to Lyta Hall more clearly. Justified in both cases in that the disastrous consequences are what he secretly wanted all along.
Power Born of Madness: In Delirium's chapter of Endless Nights, Daniel, Matthew and Barnabas need to assemble a team of Crazy Homeless People to rescue her from whatever inner world she's created for herself, suspecting that anyone sane wouldn't be able to handle it. Each of them sees their particular hallucinations and paranoias coming harmlessly true and enabling them to easily navigate Delirium's world, and it's implied that doing so helps them come to terms with their mental illness and function better in society afterwards.
Precision F-Strike: From Rose after she finds out the guy she has been sleeping with is in a relationship; it's especially notable in that it was the first F bomb dropped in a Vertigo title.
The Problem with Fighting Death: Dream uses this as a threat to Desire after finding out that Desire tried to get him to kill a blood relative and call the Furies on himself. Ultimately subverted in that Morpheus eventually does exactly that.
Public Domain Character: Baba Yaga in "The Hunt"; Haroun al-Rashid in "Ramadan"; Titania, Oberon, and Robin Goodfellow in "A Midsummer Night's Dream"; various Biblical characters; figures from Greek, Norse, and Egyptian mythology; and...well, damn, there's a lot, let's just put it that way.
Matthew's loneliness as the only raven in the Dreaming is part of his characterization, as is a brief discussion of the proper name of a group of ravens (an unkindness) vs. that of rooks (a parliament) or crows (a murder). These two combine to create an unlikely Call Back to both in the title of a Matthew storyline in The Dreaming, "The Unkindness of One."
The Wake is about the funeral of Morpheus, that is, the end of dreams.
Radish Cure: This is Dream's punishment for an author who kept a Muse (who also happened to be his former lover and the mother of his son) captive.
You say you need the ideas? Then you shall have them. Ideas in abundance.
Morpheus set Daniel up to become the new Dream because his more human perspective would make him a kinder, gentler aspect of Dream, and more able to adapt to change.
Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Rape is treated as appropriately horrifying, and the act most likely to rouse Morpheus out of his usual indifference to human suffering. One exception is Nathan Diskin, who rapes and murders children. Morpheus is curiously merciful to him, and the induced dream he's put into reveals his natural inclination is to be kindly to children if not for the Corinthian's influence screwing him up.
That case may not be this trope. Rose Walker had summoned Morpheus by his name to rescue her, and he was simply using a pleasant dream to incapacitate Nathan and get him out of the way. Nathan's punishment came later, when Morpheus took away the Collectors' collective dream of being special.
The sketch notes at the back of Dream Country specifically state that the rape of Calliope was supposed to creepy and horrible. (The author succeeded in this point). All things considered, Morpheus and Calliope let the man off extremely easy on this one.
Reality Is Unrealistic: Weird in-story example; when the other characters object to a seemingly miraculous magical event in Cluracan's story and ask how it's possible, he responds: "How should I know? I didn't make it up, I lived it."
In their realms, all the Endless have this power to a nearly unlimited degree. In the mortal world, they're more limited, but still wield enormous power relative to the element of reality they represent.
In The Doll's House, we learn about the nature of the "Dream Vortex", a person who, for reasons unknown, disrupts the nature of the Dreaming, and can easily destroy it and the waking world. This happened once before and destroyed an entire world when Dream didn't stop it in time; he's thus committed himself to never letting it happen again.
Recursive Reality: The Worlds' End arc is about a group of people trapped in a tavern by a storm, passing the time by telling stories. Some of the stories include stories-within-stories, and at least one includes a story-within-a-story-within-a-story, told by a man who mentions that he once heard of, but never himself heard, an oddly familiar-sounding story about a group of people trapped in a tavern by a storm, passing the time by telling stories ...
Worlds' End features a funeral procession with almost every major and minor character in the series present, but does not offer any direct hints to the identity of the deceased, though this is made plain in the next arc.
Over the course of the series, many characters call Morpheus out on how bad an idea his Honor Before Reason approach to his job is. Finally, in Brief Lives, Morpheus breaks his promise never to see his son again. Almost immediately after, he goes back to being rigidly responsible to his duties, even when enemies and allies point out that bending his rules would allow him to fend off the rampaging Kindly Ones. It's ultimately only Nuala who realizes what's going on and why:
Nuala: You ... you want them to kill you, don't you? You want them to punish you for your son's death.
Right Behind Me: This happens to Mervyn every time he's talking smack about Dream. It's probably by design.
Azazel, among many. Morpheus seals him there. The evil forces sealed in the Dreaming end up being released during The Kindly Ones.
Haroun al-Rashid summons the Sandman by threatening to open his personal Sealed Evil on the world if he doesn't appear on command. Dream is less than amused.
Dream: It is unwise to summon what you cannot dismiss.
Second-Person Narration: In one of the final chapters, everyone shares a visit to the dream world. The narration specifies that you, the reader, have attended the gathering (although you might not remember it upon waking). At the end of the story, Destiny states that all but one of the dreamers have awakened. That last dreamer would be you, because you do not awake until the last panel.
The Cool Old Guy who befriends Rose in The Doll's House shares an appearance, personality, and first name with G. K. Chesterton (one of Gaiman's favorite writers from childhood). That's because he's a dream.
Jed's dreams are done in the style of Little Nemo complete with things going crazy at the end and Jed waking up... to his rat-infested basement and abusive foster parents.
Gaiman's friend and fellow author Kim Newman appears as himself in Calliope (he's the interviewer)
Averted by Loki's claim to the name Loki Sky-Walker - that's actually one of his many sobriquets in the original sagas. Although undoubtedly Gaiman threw it in for the double-meaning.
Shrug Take: In Preludes and Nocturnes, one guy's reaction when a nude Morpheus bursts in, steals his popcorn, and runs out.
A Simple Plan: Cited almost verbatim when Morpheus assures Lucian that his roadtrip with Delirium is "Completely straightforward" and that nothing could go wrong. Just the phrase "roadtrip with Delirium" should be enough to indicate how naive that is.
Single Tear: Duma doesn't speak in The Wake, as he has not spoken since the beginning of the universe, but he eloquently expresses his feelings via this trope.
Slasher Smile: Loki and Puck are doing this pretty much all the time. And then there's Boss Smiley, who has a yellow happy face for a head. Look, we never said the trope always make sense, okay?
Slavery Is a Special Kind of Evil: The immortal Hob Gadling experiences (justified) White Guilt for centuries for being an influential early slave trader who help establish the system that made the slave trade an economic powerhouse in the 17th through 19th centuries. He did it at the time because it was just kind of what you did, and quit the trade relatively early after Dream advises him that "it is a poor thing for a man to own another", but he gets to witness first-hand the consequences of his actions throughout history.
Something Completely Different: A trademark of the series is its habit of interrupting large storylines with brief, single-issue short stories with a radically different tone, like "Men of Good Fortune" in The Doll's House and "Charles Rowland Concludes His Education" in Season of Mists. Additionally, World's End features "The Golden Boy", a story that is weird even by the standards of this series. A political allegory about the nature of democracy and its relationship with religion, it tells the story of Prez Rickard, The Chosen One who becomes President of the United States while still a teenager, opposed by a shadowy political machine chief called Boss Smiley, who has a yellow happy face for a head. Yes. Bonus points for actually being based on a short-lived DC Comics series from the 1970s.
Soulsaving Crusader: The angel Remiel takes on a rather Non Sequitur version of this trope as his new mission in life, as he wants to reform Hell and make the torment redeeming. It only makes Hell worse, since now they're torturing you because they love you, but he doesn't see this. The tormented, incidentally, are astonished that Remiel accomplished this feat.
Stab the Scorpion: The second Corinthian pulls this on Matthew — whom he had previously sworn to kill — in The Kindly Ones. Dream later tells Matthew that the Corinthian had genuinely intended to kill him, but Daniel exerted his influence to alter the event and save Matthew's life.
Starfish Aliens: It's implied that Cain & Abel were originally these. Rather than being the actual characters from the Bible story, they're actually the very first intelligent lifeform in the entire universe to commit murder and its victim, preserved in the collective unconscious and, like the Endless themselves, perceived as a member of whatever species is viewing them.
Stay on the Path: Used a few times throughout the series. Also, "You killed my friend. Stray from your path."
Stealth Pun: The fairy is gay. Think about it. In fact, not only is the fairy gay, but the fairy is gay.
Duma, the Angel of Silence, who only ever reacts to anythingnote He was informed - by the celestial version of e-mail - that he was forbidden to return to the Silver City and must spend the rest of eternity as one of the new monarchs of Hell. once in the entire series (by shedding a Single Tear).
Stunned Silence: After Lucifer's announcement that he's quit, the next three panels show a variety of expressions flit across Dream's face as he tries to process it.
Stylistic Suck: Destruction's awful poetry. And art. And sculpture. He's not good at any of it, is what we're trying to say. He himself just couldn't care less: he's just happy to create, never mind the quality of the result. He finally does find a creative endeavor he's pretty good at: cooking.
Tempting Fate: When Morpheus and Delirium go looking for their brother, they are literally seeking Destruction. Things go downhill from there.
That Man Is Dead: Daniel refuses to take the name Morpheus, reserving it as having belonged wholly to his previous incarnation. He also refuses to go by his original name. He is simply Dream of the Endless, no more and no less.
Brief Lives mentions that there are "only" around ten thousands humanoids on Earth who remember the sabre-toothed tiger, a thousand who remember the first Atlantis, five hundred who remember the lost civilisations that pre-dated the dinosaurs, and maybe seventy who are older than the planet itself.
Title Drop: There's one for every arc but Preludes & Nocturnes and Fables & Reflections.
Despair is, by her nature, rather unpleasant to be around, and something of a sadist, but it's not really her fault. She is a rather tragic figure in her own right, especially since she is not the original Despair, meaning that some part of her was once mortal and had to become this.
Cain is really a victim of his own tropes; he has some Pet the Dog moments with Abel, but he can't not abuse him, it's not the nature of their story.
Trickster: Loki and Robin Goodfellow/Puck, among others.
True Companions: The inhabitants of Dream's castle become quite close over the course of the series. Similarly, the three guardians of the door (the griffin, pegasus, and wyvern), which makes the killing of the griffin by the Kindly Ones all the more shocking.
Unaccustomed as I Am to Public Speaking...: Cluracan insists at length that his story is dry and dull and that he almost shouldn't bother telling it in the first place, then goes on to tell a swashbuckling adventure story about how he deposed a tyrant. Destiny drops this bit during The Wake (and then Desire lampshades it by quoting the line verbatim), but in his case it's a subversion, since as it turns out he really isn't much of a speaker at all.
Unreliable Narrator: Each of the stories in World's End is offered by its teller as ostensibly true, but it's anyone's guess how trustworthy the teller is. Cluracan in particular seems unreliable.
It is never explained why Delight turned into Delirium note it's heavily implied that she wandered too far from the borders of Destiny's Garden, and saw ...something and was Driven Mad From The Revelation, but what that something was is never revealed, or how the first Despair was killed. It's also implied Delirium's not done changing yet.
Dream implies that two of Matthew's predecessor ravens have moved on to new roles in the Dreaming. Dream explicitly states one is Lucien the librarian, who does not remember, but does not reference the other.
We never do find out who put Loki and Puck up to the kidnapping of little Daniel; the story presents Remiel, Lucifer, Loki himself, and even Dream as potential suspects, but there is no concrete answer. Puck only drops us this little hint when asked who he's working for:
Puck:I could answer you endlessly, and perhaps you expect me to ...
Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Subverted; the plans for what would happen if Dream were captured or killed in Hell are never needed. (Though it's speculated that the plans he would have used if he fell in Hell are the same that came into place during his confrontation with The Kindly Ones.)
Unusual Euphemism: The story-within-a-story (within another story ...) about the hangman features a staggering assortment of euphemisms about hanging people and being hung, such as "A jump from the leafless tree," and "A hearty choke with caper sauce!" note "Caper" refers to the victim's legs kicking and twitching. Lovely, innit?
Vengeance Feels Empty: After escaping from imprisonment, avenging himself on his captors and regaining his kingdom and his tools, Morpheus goes to Central Park and mopes because he does not feel as satisfied as he thought he would. His oldersister snaps him out of it.
Furies:You? What are you? Merv: Me? Lady, I'm your worst nightmare — a pumpkin with a gun. Furies: We have no nightmares. We are the hounds of Hades. Gods fear us. Demons fear us. We have hounded kings and angels. We have taken vengeance on worlds and on universes. We are the Kindly Ones. We are the Eumenides.
One story is about a man who falls in love with a woman after seeing her picture in her locket and goes to great lengths to meet her. But when he finally does (and she is indeed every bit as beautiful as the picture made her out to be), he only gives the locket back to her and asks for nothing more, as he realised that she couldn't possibly live up to all his dreaming about her.
From the Seasons of Mist arc: when Morpheus enters hell to free Nada from imprisonment, he sends warning to Lucifer - Lucifer being the one whom Morpheus utterly humiliated in a previous arc, and has sworn vengeance on him. Upon hearing this news, Lucifer gathers the hordes of hell and the souls of the damned and makes what appears to be a This Means War!! declaration, promising that it will be a day that Morpheus and everybody else will never forget. When Dream eventually arrives, Hell is totally empty, besides Lucifer himself. Dream demands that Lucifer explain what's going on.
Lucifer: Isn't it obvious, dream king? I've quit.
There's also the moment in The Kindly Ones; "He DID kill his own son". Even though the reader knows that The Omniscient Hecate Sisters probably knew about it already, it's still a gut punch when it's absolutely confirmed that the Kindly Ones are coming, and there's nothing Dream can do about it.
The climax of Brief Lives arguably has the Wham Line for the series: "I have to kill my son." Doubles as a Genius Bonus, since the significance of that line's been foreshadowed since The Doll's House for people who know the Kindly Ones.
Inverted in The Kindly Ones, when Nuala realizes aloud Morpheus' motivation for everything that's happened this arc. His resulting silence confirms her suspicion:
Nuala: "You... you want them to do it, don't you? You want them to punish you for your son's death."
What the Hell, Hero?: Death, among others, calls Dream out on his less-than-noble acts, such as imprisoning Nada in Hell for ten thousand years. Even Delirium does it — when Dream tells her that cursing a man to feel as if insects are crawling on his skin "forever and ever" is too harsh, Delirium retorts that "you've done lots worse. Lots and lots and lots."