The Dreaming Vol. 1: Pathways and Emanations
Simon Spurrier, writer; Bilquis Evely, art; Mat Lopes, colors
DC Vertigo, 2019
The first collection of the new titles in The Sandman Universe series. In addition to creating the characters these stories are based on in The Sandman, Neil Gaiman is credited with the story in the introductory story The Sandman Universe. Writer Simon Spurrier was one of the writers there, and is the sole writer for The Dreaming. He had previous experience in this world when he wrote the series Books of Magick: Life During Wartime from 2004-2005.
So it is not surprising that the storytelling voice is true to the original Sandman, certainly as much (or more) as any of the many earlier spin-offs. The series setup even echoes the original: The Dreaming is collapsing due to the absence of Dream (now Daniel instead of Morpheus, as he took over the role at the original series conclusion). The Universe story involves a huge number of original characters: Lucien the Librarian (who is in charge in Daniel’s absence), Mervyn the pumpkin head, Eve, Cain and Abel, Tim Hunter, Doctor Occult (as Rose), Lucifer and others. A mysterious new character named Dora (the explorer?) is introduced–she has wings for ears.
The Dreaming series picks up where the introductory story leaves off. Lucien is afraid that Daniel has resigned as Dream, and does his best to keep The Dreaming together. But the barrier is failing: a demon from Hell invades, and almost succeeds. Things look so dicey that Lucien visits the Black Chest (where the worst nightmares have been exiled). The most significant character released is Judge Gallows (a Silver and Bronze Age DC character who never appeared in Gaiman’s Sandman), who in turn releases Brute and his partner Glob.
This results in a power struggle that goes on forever (or maybe it just feels like that), with Gallows eventually commandeering a Milam Cascade, which is a lucid dreaming event that can undermine The Dreaming. His defeat leaves a surprising new entity in charge–definitely not a classic DC character. The storytelling pace is really slow, so it’s less than a total success. But Bilquis Evely’s art is pitch-perfect: the series always looks like a classic story from the Sandman universe, which goes a long way towards selling it. This is actually a big target, as the Sandman featured a revolving group of artists. But there’s a general Fantasy style–certainly distinct from most superhero comic art–that you know when you see it. Worth exploring the other titles, at the very least.
Books of Magic Vol. 1: Moveable Type
Kat Howard, writer; Tom Fowler, illustrator; Jordan Boyd, colors
DC Vertigo, 2019
This one opens with a brief history of Tim Hunter’s initiation into the world of magic by the Trenchcoat Brigade in the original The Books of Magic miniseries. Then we’re back in school with Dr. Rose, just as The Sandman Universe set it up. I am looking forward to seeing the follow up on the other narrative threads that were introduced there in the rest of the series in this universe. I understand now why each of the first series collections begins with a reprint of it: it’s like the opening chapter for all of them.
Tim Hunter’s story became increasingly complicated over the course of the many series he appeared in. But the core of it was always his struggle to learn about magic and his place in it. And this series begins in much the same place as the original Vertigo series did. Tim is trying to understand magic; he is an outcast at school; his mother is missing, and his father is trying to cope; he’s even got a girlfriend, but this time she’s black and her name is Ellie instead of Mollie. He’s also friends with the homeless woman Mad Hettie, and the yo-yo she gives him turns into his owl protector Yo-yo.
Tim again finds himself under attack by the evil cult The Cold Flame (in fact they are named before any explanation of who they are, a bit of a narrative continuity lapse). There’s a frontal attack that he repels with unexpected brute magical force, but he’s also surrounded by agents at school; Rose killed a teacher during the Universe story (as well as an agent who has tracked him down and was coming for him at home), and the school librarian is another. He even visits The Dreaming, and meets the new Dream.
He returns to school to find that Ellie has been kidnapped. Rose gives him the choice of using a scrying dish to find either his mother or Ellie–and he chooses Ellie. Lots of plot threads for future stories. The collection concludes with a collection of variant covers, and some Tim Fowler sketches. Fowler is another great artistic match: he’s especially good at capturing Tim’s gangly adolescent physical appearance, as well as his naivete.
Lucifer Vol. 1: The Infernal Comedy
Written by Dan Watters; illustrated by Max Fiumara & Sebastian Fiumara; colors by Dave McCaig
DC Vertigo, 2019
I had high hopes for the new Lucifer: I’m a long-time fan. I thought the Mike Carey Vertigo series was far and away the best of all of the Sandman spin-offs, and I liked the recent Holly Black Vertigo series as well. This one is a mess. There are two primary settings that alternate throughout the story. The first finds Lucifer as a wizened old man, powerless and trapped in a small town from which he cannot escape. He does have fragmented memories of another life, which he struggles to bring into focus. The other focuses on a Los Angeles police detective (Lucifer’s adopted hometown). As he copes with a wife dying from cancer, Detective John Decker becomes drawn into the life of his wife’s brother–and a mysterious place called Gately House.
There is no apparent connection between the two story lines until the end of the arc, which is very disorienting. And it does not help that very little of it relates to any of Lucifer’s prior history. Although Mazikeen finally makes an appearance with the traditional half-mask (which had been dropped for both the TV show and the Black comic series), complete with the annoying, barely comprehensible dialog. It is mainly in flashbacks that we see the Lucifer of old: suave proprietor of the Lux nightclub, lord of the piano bar. He is in command at the end, just in time to face a vengeful angel horde which is eager to avenge his blasphemous resurrection.
So it does appear that the story will be more focused going forward. It’s a shame that it began in such a shambles. Max and Sebastian Fiumara can’t be blamed: their artwork is lovely to look at, and is compatible with earlier Vertigo artists. The collection includes cover art and a sketchbook.
House of Whispers Vol. 1: The Power Divided
Written by Nalo Hopkinson; illustrated by Dominike “Domo” Stanton; colors by John Rauch
DC Vertigo, 2019
Unlike the other series, this one is something new: it does not relate to either earlier Sandman or DC horror comics. It has a vodou setting, which I do not recall from The Sandman, although it does sometimes factor into Hellblazer stories (the ones featuring Papa Midnite). Perhaps Neil Gaiman always wanted to do something with it, as he did when utilizing Japanese mythology in The Dream Hunters. The House of Whispers is the House of Dahomey, the houseboat of Erzulie Fréda (goddess of love and beauty), where the souls of Voodoo followers go when they sleep to petition her for love and good fortune.
Erzulie became entangled with four human girls in the introductory Sandman Universe story. They open a mysterious journal full of rumors and whispers, which attracts the attention of Shakpana, the god of plagues. Turns out the journal is from the library in The Dreaming, and should not be in the mortal world at all. The girls begin to spread a plague which separates human souls from their bodies. This cuts off the connection between Erzulie and her followers, and sends her houseboat careening into The Dreaming, where it settles near The House of Secrets and The House of Mystery.
So despite being a new construct, this arc takes it directly into contact with The Dreaming. The crossover reflects the current state of the place–Daniel has abdicated, and Judge Gallows is in charge–and many of the main characters appear as well, notably Cain and Abel. I’ve never been a fan of vodou-based stories, and this one doesn’t change my mind, although the connection to The Dreaming is intriguing. The story feels convoluted. Dominike “Domo” Stanton’s art is more cartoony than the other series, but not so far afield to be distracting. Probably interesting enough to try the next collection.
Summing up: only one of the four was completely satisfying, enough to make me excited about reading more. Books of Magic follows on the preceding comic more closely than the others, which certainly helps hold my interest, since I always enjoyed the previous versions. But I think the clarity of the story telling is at least as important. All of the others got tangled up in too many characters and too many subplots. They were all good enough to give the next collection a try, though. With all of the heavy world-building lifting done, I hope the succeeding story arcs will show more focus.