A Welcome, Ever Surreal Return To The Dreaming In The Sandman Universe #1

by Oliver MacNamee

Over the years, DC hasn’t allowed us to forget about one of its most memorable characters of the past few decades, often marking Orpheus’s birthday with a specially penned Neil Gaiman epic. In the 25th anniversary mini-series, The Sandman: Overture, there was the evidence that DC needed that Dream of The Endless was much lamented by readers, so I’m glad that Vertigo are taking the daring step to launch not one, but four new series tied to The Sandman mythos.

Hence, this sampler comic, The Sandman Universe #1, that aims to not only remind us of the rich, ripe world of Morpehus and pals, but introduces us to some new faces, while catching us up on the current whereabouts of several of its characters, such as Lucifer, who’s bar has been left abandoned as Lucifer heads of into what I can only call an “anti-hero’s quest”, given his status in modern Judeo-Christian stories.

The beautifully surreal and fluid artwork of Bilquis Evely

The central premise is a dire one. Inside The Dreaming, a crack in its fabric has appeared and it’s only getting bigger. No-one knows what to do, and the new landlord, Daniel, recently returned to DC mainstream status thanks to Metal: Dark Nights last year, is nowhere to be found either. It may be a Vertigo book, but Daniel, Lucien, Pumpkinhead and company are once again part of the bigger picture and not pushed into a corner like some unwanted mad uncle at a wedding reception.

Tasked with seeking Daniel out wherever he may be is Matthew the Raven, who threads the separate portions of this story in to one seamless journey through the newly revised and resurrected Sandman universe. Along the way, not only do the stakes grow darker and darker, but we are effortlessly witness to short vignettes that will drift apart and solidify into their own series come September. It’s a great mixtape in comic book format, and Matthew is one Hell of a great narrative device to tie it all together.

Working from a story by Gaiman, this cannot help but be immediately evocative of the original series and its mix of oft-times purple, but effective, prose and linguistic pomposity that is immediately burst by Pumpkinhead interrupting Lucien as he takes time out to ‘narrate while nobody’s watching.’ Simon Spurrier, in writing this opening chapter, is more than aware of the legacy of The Sandman. A noble, high-born immortal the Sandman may be, but he was also a great straight man to the comedic, down-to-earth cast that surrounded him. Even when he’s not there! The humour, as always, makes for great relief in a book that is not short on ramping up the dark and dangerous. You are immediately dragged into events as a result, too.

While I was impressed by all the art teams going forward, a special shout out goes to artist Bilquis Evely, who brings a sense of fluidity and surrealism to The Dreaming that is absolutely essential in creating the appropriate look, feel and style for these kind of magic-realism books. The use of more loose, surreal page layouts whenever magic is present runs throughout the whole issue in places, such as in third section, where we meet the Voodoo deity, Erzulie, one of the new additions to the ever shifting Sandman universe. Look out for Dora too, a very different type of explorer and one of the more promising characters to be introduced.

The book is a welcome return, and Gaiman has done well in choosing the creative teams who will pick up his legacy and run with it. Writers like Dan Watters have shown they are no strangers to the supernatural and surreal, with Watters having turned his hand to such stories only recently in his enjoyable environmental supernatural tale, Deep Roots, while bringing in highly acclaimed speculative fiction novelist such as Nalo Hopkinson, can’t hurt either.

The Sandman Universe #1: Something old, something news, something borrowed and something blue; even if it’s just the moody blues that lurk over this one-shot springboard for other series. If you’re a fan of The Sandman, you don’t need me telling you to pick this up. But, maybe a mate who hasn’t read comics in a while may be interested?

The Sandman Universe #1 Is out now from DC/Vertigo.

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