Daniel, aka The Sandman, was last seen making a surprise appearance in Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's Dark Nights: Metal. Neil Gaiman now returns to the franchise he co-created in The Sandman Universe #1, but, oddly enough, the main character himself is somewhat elusive. Bringing along an array of creative teams, Gaiman helms this one-shot, which serves as the launching point for four new Sandman-related titles. Each of the new storylines kick off here, weaving through each other in this extra large 48-page issue.
The Dreaming itself is fracturing, Daniel is absent and its other residents are unsure of what to do about it. This puts Daniel's loyal raven Matthew on a search for Dream to set things aright. This development, in turn, puts Matthew on a path that teases future storylines to be featured in the upcoming new series. These plot threads, though, while loosely related, are largely independent of one another and, consequently, give the issue a kind of fractured feel.
Individually, each thread is compelling and stands to support the upcoming titles centered around them. As a whole, however, the differing story tones and creative styles make for abrupt transitions between. Matthew's quest first takes him into a mortal dream where he meets a new character who serves as a sort of guardian for this particular dream -- an enticing notion that serves as the focal point of Si Spurrier and Bilquis Evely's upcoming The Dreaming.
From there, the story sharply jumps to the real world, with Matthew solely as an observer, where the original Books of Magic's Tim Hunter finds one particular book that doesn't belong in the waking world. The entry is a nice tease, and the welcome return of this character is slated to be featured in the like-named Books of Magic series by Kat Howard and Tom Fowler.
Another abrupt jump moves the story to New Orleans, kicking off the voodoo-centric House of Whispers by Nalo Hopkinson and Dominike Stanton. The title is an apparent nod to predecessors House of Mystery and House of Secrets. Hopkinson and Stanton's story introduces a set of related players that points towards their title being the most character-driven.
Matthew again takes on a prominent role when he searches for Lucifer Morningstar -- who is also missing -- but discovers someone even more terrifying. Dan Watters, Max Fiumara and Sebastian Fiumara's story leads into the upcoming new Lucifer series, appearing to stand out as the most horror-centric title in the new line.
The Sandman Universe #1 might have been a less jarring experience had it been presented as a straightforward anthology. Every one of these entries holds promise -- with Spurrier and Evely's being the strongest and most "Gaimen-esque" -- but like tasty dishes in a multi-course meal, they're best consumed on their own rather than combined. Fortunately, that's exactly how they will be experienced once the line launches in earnest in September.