Dream or Nightmare: Sandman Universe #1

Lucien the librarian looking at the giant black cracks webbing the sky of the Dreaming

Sandman Universe #1

Bilquis Evely (artist), Max Fiumara (artist), Sebastian Fiumara (artist), Tom Fowler (artist), Domonike Stanton (artist), Nalo Hopkinson (writer), Kat Howard (writer), Simon Spurrier (writer), Dan Watters (writer)
Vertigo Comics
August 8, 2018

Sandman Universe #1 returns to the Dreaming, realm of the Lord of Dreams, as Sandman celebrates its thirtieth birthday this year. Gaiman has opened the doors to the dream world, allowing new creative teams to try their hand at crafting tales within this iconic setting. Occurring after the events of the previous comics, Sandman Universe lays down the roots of four divergent story lines, each helmed by a different creative team.

Cover for Sandman Universe #1: The King of Dreams, ringed by some of his subjects.

At first, turning the pages of Sandman Universe #1 feels like opening a letter from old friends. There are greetings from the whole gang: Lucien in his library, Cain and Abel going about their fratricidal day, Matthew winging his ravenly way around the Dreaming.

As the tale unwinds, however, it becomes apparent that all is not well within the Dream King’s realm. A strange rift has opened in the Dreaming, and Lucien has lost a book from his vast collection. The denizens of the Dreaming are concerned, so Lucien sends Matthew to locate Daniel and convince him to return home. This introduction’s letter serves as the bearer of bad news—but it also brings us new tales.

In the original Sandman series, Gaiman created a rich world occupied by an intriguing and complex cast of characters. Morpheus, then the king of dreams, most often served as the story’s focal point, but now the four separate story lines emerging from this stand-alone introduction guarantee readers more insight into the other residents of the Dreaming, who previously lived only in the background. Sandman Universe #1 demonstrates this nicely by allowing Matthew to tell the tale as he wings through the Dreaming and the waking world in search of Daniel.

Each story line will continue in its own series. House of Whispers, written by Nalo Hopkinson and illustrated by Domonike Stanton, belongs to voodoo deity Erzulie, who takes a keen interest in Maggie and Latoya, girlfriends who have found a mysterious book. Tim Hunter has a strange book of his own in The Books of Magic, helmed by writer Kat Howard and artist Tom Fowler. Lucifer, under the guiding hand of writer Dan Watters and artists Max and Sebastian Fiumara, follows the Prince of Darkness, trapped, blind, and unable to remember anything about his past. Finally, the denizens of The Dreaming seek their master while trying to hold the Dreaming together, literally, with help from writer Simon Spurrier and artist Bilquis Evely.

Classic characters and the Dreaming itself are recognizable at a glance thanks to the artistic efforts of Max and Sebastian Fiumara, Tom Fowler, Domonike Stanton, and Bilquis Evely. Their work would be right at home in any of the original series’ pages, down to keeping the distinctive lettering used for Lucifer Morningstar. The art shores up the continuity created by the reappearance of established characters while welcoming newcomers such as the raven Hope, young British schoolboy Tim Hunter, Dreaming resident Dora, and Erzulie of the House of Whispers.

I will be interested to see if the color choices made here in Sandman Universe #1 carry over into the individual series this issue introduces. Each individual story intro has its own color palette, but the transitions from one setting to the next flow smoothly thanks to the narrative device of Matthew’s search for Daniel. The scenes set in the Dreaming have a frenetic, psychedelic feel, popping with pinks, purples, and blues both neon and pastel. These panels contrast strongly with those featuring Tim Hunter and his school, where the palette is subdued save for the brilliant crimson of the book Tim’s substitute teacher gives him and the chic scarf draped about her neck. New Orleans sparkles with the shades of summer, undercut by the swampy greens of Erzulie’s domain, while Lucifer’s demolished bar lies in cool, blue-gray shadow.

By the final pages, Sandman Universe #1 no longer feels like a letter of warning; instead, it is recognizable as an invitation. “The honor of your presence is requested in the Dreaming. Please respond to your local comic book store at your earliest convenience.” Personally, this is one invitation I intend to accept.

Laura Stump

Laura Stump

I'm a constantly sleep-deprived writer who mostly prefers the company of cats to people, although cats (curse their lack of opposable thumbs!) can’t fetch beer from the fridge the way people can.