It’s hard to be unfamiliar with Sandman if you’ve ever dabbled in indie comics over the last twenty-five years. Originally published between 1989 to 1996, coming back in 2009 and again in 2013, this series has had long-lasting influence on comics as a whole. Concepts Neil Gaiman introduced stretched the imagination, made us think about myth and storytelling in new ways, and created a mythology all its own. It’s back today branded as The Sandman Universe, and kickstarts the newly relaunched DC Vertigo line. It’s a series many have greatly anticipated, but with so much history and backstory, can it come back as strong as ever?
So what’s it about?
Read our preview.
Why does this matter?
This is a series curated by Neil Gaiman with handpicked artists and writers to join him on the next chapter of his character’s journey. Gaiman is without a doubt one of the most important authors of the last 20 years, creating stories that stick with you — many of which have been adapted to film. His style, and the style of this book, is thought-provoking and deep. It’s the sort of comic that makes you sit back after finishing and ponder its meaning and purpose. There aren’t too many comic books like it.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
Running 40 or so pages, The Sandman Universe accomplishes a lot in its extra-sized issue. The issue opens in The Dreaming (drawn beautifully by Bilquis Evely), where nothing is as it seems. We quickly learn something is missing and soon something’s very wrong. A whole cast of weird characters are present in The Dreaming, but Sandman is nowhere to be seen. We soon learn he can’t be reached. That is very bad considering the world is crumbling around these characters readers will remember from the original series. This sets Matthew, a talking crow, on a mission to find Sandman and hopefully fix what is going wrong.
Much of this issue is in a vignette style as Matthew attempts to gain entry to the real world through dreams. We explore a dream all about eating and partying; another is a nightmare of a boy in Britain. Eventually the story shifts to New Orleans where we meet some bayou gods, and finally Matthew finds himself looking for Lucifer. The narrative can be disorientating — it shifts around quite a bit — but I suspect this is on purpose to convey the weird and rich tapestry of this world. Eventually, the narrative brings us back to The Dreaming where things are only getting worse. This issue does a good job hopping around, introducing important characters and places, and relaying how high the stakes are with no resolution in sight.
The artists keep the disorientating style at a high level, relaying how fun and enticing the dreams of feasting can be, or the true horror of a grade school boy’s nightmare. Everly’s opening and closing chapters in The Dreaming are rendered in her highly detailed style that suits this world since it’s so fantastical grounding well. The scenes with Matthew attempting to locate Lucifer are quite haunting in how they are rendered. Scenes with Erzulie and the Alligator King utilize a layout design with stretching branches that help convey these are gods of their environment.
It can’t be perfect can it?
I’m fully aware I’m not exactly sure what is going on and that can be rather frustrating. The scenes with Matthew searching for Lucifer are particularly confusing, with characters speaking practically in riddles. It’s purposeful, but I’m not sure we needed things to be laid out so confusingly. You might feel obligated to re-read sections because of this.
Adding to this disorientation are the New Orleans scenes, which seem untethered to Matthew’s journey. There’s a bit of caption from him that transitions us to this scene, but Matthew isn’t in the scene and it’s not clear why we’re even looking in on these characters. Up until this point, the flow of the story made some sense, even when it was disorientating on purpose, but I was thrown off at this point and it’s unclear how these characters matter to the bigger story. It’ll be made more clear later on, but this section is more confusing than interesting.
Is it good?
The Sandman Universe #1 is a story that requires deep contemplation and pondering. It traverses a realm that is made of magic and imagination which is exciting and rewarding if you put enough attention into it. You may find yourself confused after reading it, but that’s part of the fun.