The birth of a new dream and the return of some icons means that there are spoilers ahead for…
The Sandman Universe #1
Writer: Neil Gaiman (Story), Dan Watters, Kat Howard, Nalo Hopkinson, Simon Spurrier
Artist: Sebastian Fiumara, Max Fiumara, Tom Fowler, Domonike Stanton, Bilquis Evely
Cover: Jae Lee
“You know the feeling – right? Sure you do. Happens every damn morning. Right after you wake. The moment you forget your dreams.”
Nearly thirty years ago I remember seeing a house ad in DC’s comics for a new series for “mature readers.” It looked to be a series in the genre that, in those days of the several years after Alan Moore had reinvented Swamp Thing and began driving the nail into the coffin of the Comics Code Authority, DC referred to as “Sophisticated Suspense.”
It was a book by a new writer whom I recognized as being part of the post-Moore “British Invasion” of comics, but whose work I’d never read, but while I was mostly unfamiliar with the writer, the title of the series was a familiar one: The Sandman.
It seemed to be a year for new incarnations of old characters, or at least old character names, as that same year saw the launch of a new Starman series.
Like Starman, The Sandman was a name that had been held by more than one character over the years. The ad didn’t provide a lot of details about what the new comic would be about, so I wasn’t certain if this new version of the character would be an update of the gas-masked Golden Age version of the character, who was, at the time, absent from DC continuity, or an update of the Jack Kirby version of the character, whose stories were something of a riff on the old Little Nemo comic strips, featuring a super-heroish version of the mythical Sandman, or if it would be something new entirely.
It was, of course, in its way, all those things, or at the very least it incorporated all of them to varying degrees.
I seem to recall there also being an ad offering a subscription deal on the new series, but I may be conflating the new Sandman with the new Starman. If there was such an offer, I didn’t take it (in either case), because no money, and because it wasn’t a comic that would show up on the shelves at the places where I usually got comics, I was not able to get onboard.
In fact, it wasn’t until a few years later, after reading countless articles in the comics press – and even in the mainstream media – about how excellent it was that I finally picked up, via the Science Fiction Book Club, a hardcover volume collection of a story arc from the series.
I was hooked, and though in time I was able to collect everything else that had come before that collection, and started picking up everything that came after, I regretted not being there from the very beginning.
I was, however, there for the beginning of Vertigo, which launched shortly after I started reading The Sandman.
Vertigo was a new Mature Readers imprint from DC, which absorbed some of the existing Mature Readers titles, such as Swamp Thing, Doom Patrol, Hellblazer, and, of course, The Sandman, and also served as a launching point for new titles, which, over time, grew to include classics like Preacher, Y: The Last Man, and, spinning out of the pages of Sandman, Lucifer.
The Vertigo line was overseen by the great Karen Berger, and it fared reasonably well for two decades under her leadership, but after Berger’s departure, and the imminent end of one of the line’s flagship titles, Fables, and with nothing comparable to The Sandman to sustain it – Hellblazer, the longest-running Vertigo title was cancelled and its lead character, John Constantine, was placed directly in the mainstream DC Universe – it faced an uncertain future as it approached the quarter-century mark.
Which brings us, finally, to The Sandman Universe.
Along with several new, unrelated titles, Vertigo – now DC Vertigo – is relaunching with The Sandman Universe at its core. The Sandman Universe will consist of new titles featuring characters both old and new, built on the concepts Gaiman put into the waking world 30 years ago.
This comic serves as an introduction to those new titles, with the character of Matthew, the raven of Dream of the Endless, serving as the connective narrative thread.
We open in the Dreaming where Lucien, the librarian who attends to the Library of Dreams, where the shelves are lined with every book never written, makes a startling discovery: there is an empty space on the shelves…and Lucien, who “knows them all, every spine, every line” can’t remember what is supposed to fill that empty slot.
There is, however, a bigger problem – according to the other residents of the Dreaming, at any rate – in the form of a great big crack in the Dreaming.
Everyone insists that Lucien should summon the king, but Lucien demurs, as Lord Daniel is away, attending to a “personal matter,” but ultimately gives in and attempts a summoning. However, there is no response, and so Matthew is sent on a mission to find the Lord of Dreams.
The easiest way to enter the waking world is to accompany a dreamer who awakens, and Matthew finds a woman who’s dreaming of a party and attempts to cause her to waken.
He is interrupted by another inhabitant of the Dreaming named Dora, who angrily insists that Matthew leave the woman alone. Dora has been enjoying the woman’s food, and her company, and has no interest in letting Matthew bring her good time to an end.
Dora is a new face, someone who entered the Dreaming (unseen by us, as far as I can recall) shortly before Dream’s death and rebirth, and she holds a bit of a grudge.
There’s more to Dora’s insistence on letting the woman continue to dream than the promise of free food; Dora can see the woman’s waking life, see her lying in a palliative care ward dying of esophageal cancer – hence the emphasis on food in her dreams – and Dora wants the woman to be able have as much joy as possible.
Matthew is sympathetic, but still in a hurry, and insists on hitching this ride to the waking world. Dora won’t have it, and in her anger turns into something monstrous, causing both of them to be ejected from the woman’s dream.
We will, presumably, learn more about Dora once The Dreaming lands in comic shops next month.
Matthew finds another ride to the waking world, which turns out to be none other than Tim Hunter, who will star in the new Books of Magic series that is part of The Sandman Universe. Tim wakes, late for school, where he encounters a new teacher who appears to be a version of Rose Psychic, albeit not a version who is like the Rose we know.
From there, Matthew follows the trail to Louisiana, where he encounters some girls whose stories are about to become entangled with a figure of myth in The House of Whispers.
The trail goes cold for Matthew, so he heads to a familiar place in search of the Devil himself, only to find that Lucifer is missing, and, according to a dead raven, trapped somewhere terrible as a result of his quest to free the imprisoned…mother of his son?
Once again, Matthew picks up the trail, and it leads him to his missing lord, but then, just as he’s closing in, something makes him lose his way and almost forget what he was doing in the first place. He returns to the Dreaming knowing that he failed, but unable to explain how he failed. Lucien informs him that he didn’t find Daniel because Daniel made him forget.
Forgetfulness seems to be catching, as Lucien momentarily forgets the way to the Gallery, but once they arrive, he explains to Matthew that there are bigger problems than the crack in the Dreaming, because there is a reason Daniel doesn’t want to be found.
While this is the launchpad for several new books, much of it is built on the foundation of existing stories, relying on what has come before – though, as much of it involves dreams dream logic, there is room for some flexibility on that front – so I’m not certain how easy it would be for someone not versed in that history to just pick this up and read it with fresh eyes.
If you’ve never read The Sandman could you follow what’s happening, or rather, what’s happened before, as you read this prologue?
I suspect that you could; while it hints at a deeper history, I think it does so in a way that gives you a sufficient understanding of what you need to know in order to move forward, but leaves enough mystery to inspire you to go back and take a look at what you may have missed.
(Though honestly, if you haven’t read The Sandman what are you even doing with your life? Please proceed directly to Recommended Reading.)
The individual set-ups for the books that are to come seem interesting enough that I will check them all out, though it’s The Dreaming that I’m most looking forward to, as I’m already heavily-invested in many of the characters and in the setting itself.
Also: Bilquis Evely.
I follow her on Twitter, where she occasionally posts some work-in-progress videos, and it’s a rather Zen-like experience to watch those immaculately-manicured fingers confidently and unerringly spread ink across the page with swift, decisive strokes of the brush or pen.
Or rather, it would be if I weren’t so utterly consumed by feelings of unbridled envy. And not just of her talent and skill; it’s bad enough that my hands are incapable of such deft movement – there’s one video in which she just casually drew a perfectly straight line, in ink, without a ruler – but the sheer ugliness of my ragged nails and mangled cuticles just adds insult to injury.
But despite my envy, I am very much looking forward to seeing more of her excellent work on a regular basis.
I am admittedly skeptical about a Berger-less Vertigo and a line of Sandman-related titles that are not written by Gaiman himself, but I did find this little preview anthology intriguing, and I’m glad that the Vertigo imprint is continuing with a renewed focus, one that looks to the future without forgetting the past.
That does it for the Spotlight. Be sure to come back next week for the Showcase.
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