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Review: The Sandman Universe #1

With a flourish of alliterative narration from Lucien the Librarian, the return to the Dreaming commences in The Sandman Universe #1, a one-shot with a story credit to original Sandman creator Neil Gaiman that sets up four separate books set in this universe. Each creative team gets an opportunity to set up their stories in this comic. Gaiman, Si Spurrier, and Bilquis Evely use the fluid and ever changing nature of The Dreaming to visit the settings of the other Sandman Universe titles in a more urban fantasy and mythology driven version of all those intriguing fake trailers shown in Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse double feature. However, The Sandman Universe #1 also has an overarching narrative and final page cliffhanger and isn’t just a sampler platter.

There is Spurrier and  Evely’s The Dreaming that focuses on supporting characters of The Sandman and their hunt for Daniel, the Dream of the Endless as his realm cracks and shatters. It also acts as the framing story of Sandman Universe with Matthew the Raven traveling between physical, spiritual, and dream dimensions in his quest to find Daniel. There is also Kat Howard and Tom Fowler’s reimagining of Books of Magic featuring the boy wizard Tim Hunter and his mysterious teacher Rose, Nalo Hopkinson and Domo Stanton’s House of Whispers that introduces the New Orleans Voodoo religion to The Dreaming and has a young African-American lesbian couple as protagonists, and finally, Dan Watters, Max Fiumara, and Sebastian Fiumara‘s tortuous and twisting take on Lucifer, who must suffer to find his son and not be a absentee father like Yahweh. The framing story and three interludes have a strong narrative continuity thanks to the consistent, yet versatile colors of Mat Lopes and Simon Bowland’s Eisner-worthy letters as he takes over for the legendary Todd Klein.

Spurrier and Evely’s story that is set in The Dreaming has big ideas, humor, tragedy, and even horror as they reintroduce familiar denizens like Lucien the Librarian and Cain and Abel and introduce a new character in Dora, a female monster who can jump between dreams. Her agility is evident when Evely draws her multiple times in one panel, and Spurrier makes her a fast talker. She also has a dark side and isn’t a fan of the realm of the Dreaming because Morpheus lied to her a long time ago. The heavily inked flashback is some of Evely’s best work, gave me chills, and is the only time any members of the Endless speak in Sandman Universe. Like telling the story of a dream to a friend after the night you’ve had it, The Dreaming is all about setting chaos to order, but this seems like a tall order even though the epic quest format is pretty conventional.

After being unable to jump into the waking world via the food-laden dream of a woman with esophageal cancer, Matthew enters it via the dreams of Tim Hunter. While Bilquis Evely’s work is well-rendered and exquisite like a novel that is a masterpiece of both craft and plot, Tom Fowler’s work is messier, yet still highly detailed. Warts and all, t’s perfect for the story of an adolescent wizard, who suffers the second worst nightmare of any teen on the first day of high school. Kat Howard’s plot for this short glimpse into Hunter’s world is more Agatha Christie than JK Rowling, and it looks like Hunter will have to fend for himself for the most part even though she does give him a friend in Ellie.

Following Books of Magic, Matthew jumps into New Orleans and into a queer love story between Latoya and Maggie. However, Nalo Hopkinson and Domo Stanton immediately throw them into world of conflict between gods and goddesses, boundaries between worlds, and magical items. The Louisiana Voodoo goddess Erzulie is introduced in this story and is quite the mystery. Hopkinson and Stanton craft a true urban fantasy story as the life of a family and two young lovers intersects with forces beyond their control. There’s a lushness and beauty to Stanton’s art, and he and colorist Mat Lopes create a wonderful effect that turns the bayou into a scrying mirror.

The last story that Matthew wanders into before reaching the “end” of his quest for Daniel is Lucifer’s, and it’s told in horror tinged, nine panel grid severity by Dan Watters, Max Fiumara, and Sebastian Fiumara. The Fiumaras strip away the David Bowie Lucifer that left his kingdom to open a club in L.A. and play piano and strip him down to something more malevolent with images that evoke more contempt than sympathy for the devils like starving ravens. Lucifer is on a journey again, but it’s not a fun field trip and more of a bloody vision quest. Along the way, Watters, Fiumara, and Fiumara riff off Lucifer’s first appearance in The Sandman where Morpheus defeats him in battle using the embodiment of hope. But hope might not win this time…

With carefully crafted artwork, writing that is both intelligent and down to Earth, and stories that have a distinct feel yet are connected through the wonderful device that is the Dreaming, The Sandman Universe #1 is a fantastic return of comics’ greatest creations as its creator, Neil Gaiman, hands off the torch to other skilled creators just like Morpheus did to Daniel over two decades in the first volume of Sandman. It’s a wonderful blurring of lines between reality and fiction.

Story: Neil Gaiman, Si Spurrier, Kat Howard, Nalo Hopkinson, Dan Watters
Art: Bilquis Evely, Tom Fowler, Domo Stanton, Max Fiumara, Sebastian Fiumara
Colors: Mat Lopes Letters: Simon Bowland 

Story: 8.5 Art: 9 Overall: 8.8 Recommendation: Buy

DC Comics/Vertigo provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

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