The Sandman Universe II: The Dreaming Vol. 2 – Empty Shells; Books of Magic Vol. 2 – Second Quarto; Lucifer Vol. 2 – The Divine Tragedy ; House of Whispers Vol. 2 – Ananse

The second installment of the Sandman Universe: for many of these series it is where the story establishes a firm footing after the introductory arc. The compilations all include 6 – 7 issues.

The Dreaming Vol. 2: Empty Shells
by Simon Spurrier, writer; Bilquis Evely & Abigail Larson, artists; Mat Lopes & Quinton Winter, colorists
DC Vertigo, 2020

Abigail Larson takes over on art for the first arc here, which revolves around Rose Walker spending time with her dying mother in the hospital. But she is also recalling her time at Fawney Rig (the manor owned by Roderick Burgess which played a role in the beginning of The Sandman). She met a dream-like man, and passed him off to her daughter Ivy. Of course the man was Daniel, moonlighting in the mortal world to learn about love. She also meets Lucien, although she doesn’t know it is him. Daniel takes a sleeping Ivy with him into The Dreaming.

Back there, the new AI being that is in charge has concluded that bringing Dream back is the only hope of achieving stability. Dora heads off on a hunt for him, riding a dream-eating baku and accompanied by the raven Matthew. It is an epic Sandman-style quest, taking them to Fairie (where they meet Nuala and Queen Titania); Hell (where they meet Balam The Blind and an ancient serpent god); and The World’s End (the pub between worlds – since stories are currency there, it offers interesting stories-within-stories).

In the end they do not catch up to Daniel, who has apparently left our reality forever. Dora does return with Lucien, who the new Dream Lord (a moth now calling itself Wan) promises to tend to. It also thinks itself to be insane, and has already made some beings disappear from existence. Abel writes himself a note on his hand so he will not forget: “Dark Moth Dangerous.” Last but not least, back in reality an underling visits an ailing old man–shades of Roderick Burgess again–and informs him that the project has succeeded, and “The Dreaming is ours.” Crazy as the idea of an AI being Morpheus is, the series is making it work, and the story possibilities seem rich. Larson’s artwork is a good contrast to Evely’s: pastel impressionism, perfect for portraying a dream-like romance.

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Books of Magic Vol. 2: Second Quarto
Kat Howard, writer; Tom Fowler, Brian Churilla & Craig Taillefer, artists; Jordan Boyd & Marissa Louise, colorists
DC Vertigo, 2020

The collection opens with two detectives investigating Ellie’s disappearance and teacher Bartholomew Brisby’s murder. They find the coincidence of both happening at the same school hard to believe, and Timothy Hunter’s name keeps coming up. Meanwhile, Tim and Rose seek Ellie, going through multiple magic doors. They get diverted to Faerie (a familiar story element in the Sandman Universe). Tim does not remember being there before, but Queen Titania certainly remembers him. Tim asks for his memories back, which include a murder he committed, as well as the fact that he was supposed to be searching for Ellie (which the joys of Faerie had distracted him from).

Ellie has been trapped inside a magical book, which has caused her to seriously reconsider her fascination with magic.  She manages to escape due to her own courage and initiative, which is a narrative hiccup. Rose and Tim were to be sent to where Ellie is, but we just see Ellie and Tim returning home separately. I thought it was implied that Ellie would be getting help, but all’s well that ends well, I suppose. The police question both of them about their disappearances, but they manage to get by without mentioning magic.

Tim’s mother returns home, after being gone for some time. Tim and his dad both thought she had abandoned them, but it’s a joyful reunion. She claims to have been taken by the Cold Flame. After making Tim promise to stop doing magic, she surprises him by asking about the books of magic. But a confrontation with her–in which she reveals that she came back to retrieve the books–followed by walking in on a magical battle between Cold Flame member Mr. Davies and Rose, causes him to break his promise.

The two detectives call on a colleague named Celia who specializes in cases involving magic, bringing a new actor into the story. She knows about Tim’s fate to destroy the world with magic–a factor in all of the previous series–as does practically everyone but Tim, apparently (Rose, Titania, and Mad Hettie have all referred to it). It also seems to be common knowledge that Rose’s agenda includes stopping him in whatever way necessary: she is far from a friendly ally. The final scenes show a dark, evil version of Tim emerging from a magical black ooze (perhaps left behind when Tim killed Mr. Davies?). Things appear to be taking an even darker turn.

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Lucifer Vol. 2: The Divine Tragedy
Dan Watters, writer; Max Fiumara, Sebastian Fiumara, & Kelley Jones, illustrators; Dave McCaig, colorist
DC Vertigo, 2020

This installment takes over where the previous volume left off: the suave version of Lucifer facing off against the heavenly host. He has resurrected the witch Sycorax, which heaven views as a sacrilege. She is given 72 hours to live, so Lucifer goes on a quest to find her an appropriate afterlife. The quest takes him to Hell, then the Egyptian afterlife of Anubis, then Vishnu and the Hindu pantheon, and finally a Greek afterlife presided over by Hades and Persephone. The quest trope was a significant plot point in the original series. and is a recurring element in the Sandman Universe as well.

In the end Sycorax finds her own end, but not before most of the witches in the world come to her island, including the ancient witch Thessaly, a featured character in the original Sandman series. Lucifer and Sycorax have a son: Caliban, a storied character who has previously figured in Sandman stories only as a character in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. He has a significant subplot as he tries to find his place, even given a chance to be one of Heaven’s angels. Sycorax winds up with the Fates–the Furies–the Kindly Ones–a clear connection to Sandman‘s conclusion.

So after a rocky start this Lucifer aligns itself with the previous Lucifer stories after all. The collection includes a marvelous stand-alone issue illustrated by Sandman artist Kelley Jones. “The Gastronomy Lesson” finds Caliban teaching a human monster what Hell really means. While it doesn’t add much to the overall narrative, it’s a very effective horror story in its own right.

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House of Whispers Vol. 2: Ananse
Nalo Hopkinson & Dan Watters, writers; Dominike “DOMO” Stanton, art; John Rauch & Zac Atkinson, colorists
DC Vertigo, 2020

The second installment finds Erzulie and company free of the Dreaming, sailing on the rivers of whispers again. But all is not well: Shakpana’s waking sickness is still multiplying in the world, splitting souls from bodies; and Erzulie’s husband Agwe is becoming increasingly entangled with the boards of her boat (he merged with it to escape the Dreaming). She calls on The Corinthian (one of the Dreaming’s classic nightmares, the one with mouths for eyes) to intercede with Kwaku Ananse for help freeing her husband. The great spider devours stories, and is also a trickster god. Erzulie agrees to a story contest with him.

Anansi (as Neal Gaiman spelled it) was a character in Gaiman’s novels American Gods and its sequel Anansi Boys, but I don’t recall the character from The Sandman. It occurs to me that the Sandman Universe seems to be taking those works–which shared story elements with the comics that preceded them–as part of the shared universe. The AI in charge of the Dreaming after Daniel’s departure is also similar to some of the modern electronic new American Gods.

Anansi has literally heard all of the stories, so he is a formidable adversary. Erzulie’s first story takes her to Hell, where she met Mazikeen (all of the Sandman Universe series take every opportunity to interconnect with the others). Ananse answers with a story that involves young Habibi, still back in the world with her soul intact. He threatens her safety, forcing Erzulie to intercede, thus winning the contest. After losing Habibi’s belief, Erzulie fades from human memory and dies in the spider god’s web.

A battle follows, led by Erzulie’s bones and aided by the two human girls who were first separated from their souls (having come to his senses, Shakpana has ended the plague and reunited all of the human souls with their bodies). So things are mostly back to normal in the end, although Erzulie suffered a loss. Corinthian has been hunting in Ananse’s domain, and for the final panel he makes a discovery. The houses come in pairs: the House of Mysteries and the House of Secrets; the House of Whispers and…the House of Watchers. Yet another potentially big addition to this universe. Original series writer Nalo Hopkinson is joined by Lucifer scribe Dan Watters for this arc, with no noticeable change in voice.

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As I expected, all of the second collections were more focused. With all of the major world-building accomplished in the first installments there was room for more real story telling, and all of the series benefited. For me Lucifer was the most improved, even if it did fall back on a quest story line. This is a structure that all of the original series relied upon at one point or another, but it has popped up very frequently already in the new ones. That and a gigantic battle royale at the climax: this sometimes feels more like a superhero story structure than a fantasy/horror one.

 

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