Resurrecting Neil Gaiman's landmark series Sandman has been nothing short of a fascinating experiment in expanding a world many long-time fans thought had ran its course. The titles launched under the Sandman Universe banner have proven otherwise. There is plenty of mileage left in the strange and magical world Gaiman conceived decades ago and House of Whispers #1 might be the best entry to dive back into that world thus far. Please keep in mind, that is not to say the other books haven't been good. In fact, The Sandman Universe #1 was a wonderful reintroduction to the world and The Dreaming #1 kept the momentum going by introducing some new concepts to an already cluttered landscape.
The thing is, House of Whispers #1 has a very naturalistic element to it that previous books from this relaunch were missing. The magic and mythology present in the original series have not gone anywhere, but with House, the human component and how the fantastical elements of the world affects them is far more prevalent. And for many fans of the series, this is what attracts them to the world. The notion of either being whisked away or suddenly dropped into a world beyond our understanding is a huge factor in creating the escapism of comics. Exploring that world is the other side of the coin, and House of Whispers balances it right on the edge.
The first issue in the ongoing series initially focuses on Mistress Erzulie Freda Dahomey, who is hosting a dreamy creole-tinged party rife with magic, soothsaying and hedonistic debauchery (in other words, it's a rager). Erzulie greets several guests which includes deities and dreamers and offers the latter group advice, solace, and rumors before they return to the waking world. It's not until the titular house is disrupted by the bridging of realms that the dichotomy of the world of fantasy and reality begin to clash. In the real world, a young woman named, Latoya (along with her girlfriend and younger siblings) play with forces beyond their control, which of course has ramifications on Mistress Erzulie and her ilk.
Where the magic is, however, is not necessarily in the story. Instead, it is with the characters. First Mistress Erzulie is awesome. We could read this woman pontificate for pages upon pages, demanding to be entertained and to have new guests brought to her. Latoya, Maggie, Habibi, and Lumi are all well-written and have enough personality to make them stand out and gel as a family unit. The only draw back is that we wish we had a bit more time with them. It's not everyday you get a quartet of strong, black, female characters as central protagonists in a comic book, and diving deeper into their story would have been welcomed in a big way.
Writer Nalo Hopkinson (author of the brilliant novel, Midnight Robbers) is clearly comfortable in this world. With her uncanny ability to blend Caribbean folklore, science fiction, and family dynamics seamlessly into a cohesive narrative, Hopkinson was born to write these characters. In fact, her imagination is so strong, we almost wish she'd written a tale that takes place in it's own world instead of in an established one, but hey, we'll take what we can get from her while she's taking a tour around the comic world. And with the exception of an appearance of Cain and Able (and how the issue ends), House of Whispers #1 almost operates on its own because of Hopkinson's storytelling. She has made this world her own.
Domonike "DOMO" Stanton's artwork is also firing on cylinders, here. His blend of surrealism and workman-like character designs fit the tone of the book. The only thing we wish we'd see a bit more are some larger dream-like vistas when we're in the realm of the fantasy and dreaming. But surely this is to come. The final splash page of the issue all but guarantees it. The strongest portion of DOMO's work is certainly the pages featuring Mistress Erzulie's gala. All the weird little background details when the panel pulls back to give the reader a better look at the shindig is almost like a page from a Where's Waldo book, but instead of Waldo, you're looking for something a bit more salacious.
Overall, House of Whispers #1 checks all the boxes for expanding the world of Sandman. New characters are introduced who all feel natural and immediately part of the bigger picture. And while reading the previous issues under The Sandman Universe banner will help give reader's context, this comic stands on its own as a weird and wonderful treat.