Neil Gaiman's seminal Vertigo Comics series, Sandman, was nothing short of a miracle in the graphic storytelling medium. Utilizing a mix of mythology from every corner of the world and classic melodrama, Sandman became a massive inspiration for any aspiring writer the book got its magical hooks into. The series was filled with complex characters, poetic reflections on life, death, and everything in between, and compelling mythos.
Now, thirty years after the series originally launched, DC Comics is bringing the world of dreams back into the fold under the banner of The Sandman Universe. The titular one-shot focused on the supporting the characters of the original series reeling with the disappearance of Dream after the events of Dark Nights: Metal. The Dreaming #1 (which is one of four ongoing series in this universe) picks up shortly after the events of The Sandman Universe #1.
Lucien the Librarian has been left as the de facto guardian of the realm of dreams in the absence of Sandman. But things are not going well. With the help of Matthew the Raven and Merv Pumpkinhead, Lucien discovers a new threat in the crumbling dreamworld. The threat to The Dreaming is very real and, worse, unassuming, which might be the biggest advantage it has. Lucien is obviously not fit to protect his master's kingdom, but he's willing to pull every trick out of his bag to try. As far as plot points go, that's about all we can really give you without spoiling the issue.
But here's the thing: even if we explained the plot of this first issue beat for beat, and even if we gave you a quick rundown of the events of The Sandman Universe #1, those of you who are not familiar with or have not recently read Gaiman's original series would be scratching your heads. And that isn't necessarily to the comic's detriment. The previous entry of this whole exercise does a decent enough job to try and fill new readers in on what they missed a couple decades earlier, but the content of Sandman, and it's myriad spin-off series, is dense. And not dense in the way eight years of superhero storytelling is dense. Sandman is crafted like a tapestry, one with the finest strands of storytelling fabric weaved together with surgeon-like precision.
The Dreaming #1 is, by design, a comic that benefits from the well-crafted world it takes place in. For readers who have working knowledge of lore and history of Sandman will feel right at home, even as that home has seen better days. Writer Simon Spurrier (Motherlands) executes the opening narration in a similar tone that emulates Gaiman's strong literary voice to set the stage, but it is by no means derivative. He knows he's playing with the toys that belong to someone else and he treats them with respect. Spurrier brings his own wit and humor to the dialogue, especially with characters like Matthew the Raven, making this issue extremely entertaining, While his work doesn't quite reach the extremely high watermark left by the original series, it stands on its own.
The real standout aspect of The Dreaming #1 is Bilquis Evely's art. The panel structure and layout is reminiscent of J.H. Williams III's work on Sandman: Overture, especially in some of its wavy enclosures and imaginative splash pages. Evely embraces the dreamworld as if she's been drawing it for decades. Every page is alive in this issue and begging your eyes to consume it. Mat Lopes' lush colors add the garnish to Evely's work, further making the art a meal worth enjoying. And the Jae Lee and June Chung cover is nothing short of amazing. From a visual perspective, this issue straight-up delivers.
The Dreaming #1 is a gorgeous, well-written opening to a series that will surely pique the interest of long-time Sandman fans. And while it might be a little befuddling for people who are new to the world, it will certainly entice new readers to do some digging into this rich universe and dream of what may come next.