The Sandman Universe #1
Writers: Neil Gaiman, Simon Spurrier, Kat Howard, Nalo Hopkinson & Dan Watters
Artists: Bilquis Evely, Tom Fowler, Dominike “Domo” Stanton, Max Fiumara & Sebastian Fiumara
Colors: Mat Lopes
Letters: Simon Bowland
Cover artists: Jae Lee, Dave McKean, Jill Thompson, Jim Lee, Sam Kieth, P. Craig Russell & David Mack
Editor: Molly Mahan
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo imprint
Price: $4.99 US
I find myself quite torn after reading this comic. I’m a big fan of Neil Gaiman’s work, and I was introduced to his writing through his landmark Sandman series. And while I acknowledge there’s tremendous potential in the characters and concepts he created and adapted in that book, I’m not entirely sure we need more of this material “curated” by Gaiman and written by others. This one-shot is something of a mixed bag, with some strong storytelling and artwork along with some that just didn’t grab me. Ultimately, The Sandman Universe #1 is a promotional book, teasing readers with what are essentially previews of a new line of Vertigo titles set to debut this fall. It was successful in that regard, though, in that it piqued my curiosity about two of the four new books spotlighted here.
The Dreaming is literally breaking, and Lucien the Librarian sends Matthew the Raven out into the waking world to retrieve their absent master, Daniel, Lord of Dreams. Along the way, Matthew encounters a dead counterpart tied to Lucifer, who’s similarly missing and exploring the world in a quest of his own. The raven also witnesses a young magician just beginning to learn his craft and a couple of gods in Louisiana plotting a dark path for a handful of innocents in New Orleans.
The first thing that struck me as I glanced at the first interior page of this comic book was this: “There’s no way that’s Todd Klein’s lettering,” and sure enough, the credits showed it was the handiwork of Simon Bowland. The lettering is quite nice throughout the book, but Klein’s letterforms were an integral and ever-present element in Sandman and related spinoff titles years ago. It was a shame not to see his continued participation in the franchise here.
Visually, Bilquis Evely steals the show here with her exploration of the Dreaming. I was blown away by her work on Greg Rucka’s Wonder Woman Rebirth run, but even that pales in comparison to some of her art here. She really makes it her own with the depictions of the new character, Dora. Evely brings out the wilfulness, compassion and fierceness of the character incredibly well, and the meticulous detail in that scene really grabbed my eye and my imagination. The other artists’ contribution to the book boasts the sort of maturity one would expect from a Vertigo property, but I wasn’t as captivated by them in comparison to Evely’s craft here.
Dora was really the only new element here that set this latest journey into the Dreaming apart from past ones, and that was enough to pique my curiosity about that new title. However, it appears from this preview that the latest incarnation of The Books of Magic is a hard reboot of the last one, and I don’t really see why such a do-over was necessary; this wasn’t distinctive enough to grab my interest, anyway.
The new premise set for the relaunched Lucifer series is interesting, in that writer Dan Watters is apparently crafting a plot involving the retired Lord of Hell wandering the Earth in search of his son, a dark parallel to Christ. I’m not entirely sold on the tone of the storytelling, and I’m quite surprised at the approach, given how radically different it is from the better-known and more popular TV incarnation of the DC/Vertigo interpretation of Lucifer.
The New Orleans-set sequence sets up The House of Whispers series, and it’s the most distinct and new concept introduced in this one-shot, which seems designed to be a primer for this new line of Vertigo titles. It seems Nalo Hopkinson is introducing a new house to join the House of Mystery and House of Secrets in this weird other-world. We only get the barest of tastes here, and I can’t decide yet if this collection of voodoo entities and the young people that get drawn into their realm is for me or not. I’ll likely have to peruse the first issue or two to get a better sense of it.
There’s a plot connecting all of these magical and fantastic concepts, and that’s the notion that Daniel, the latest Dream, might have abdicated his position. Sadly, this idea didn’t strike me as being all that fresh; this felt like we’ve seen it in some form before in past Sandman stories, though I honestly couldn’t point to something specific. While Neil Gaiman is credited as “curating” this line, it feels like a watered-down version of his writing. Even so, weaker than usual Gaiman fare is still something worth examining. 6/10