The next chapter of The Dreaming starts here.
Neil Gaiman wrapped up his core Sandman saga over 20 years ago. While Gaiman and other creators have revisited this fantasy universe in the years since, a full-fledged sequel never seemed to be in the cards. Therein lies the appeal of The Sandman Universe, a brand new imprint aimed at expanding the Sandman franchise in multiple directions. Even without Gaiman actually scripting these new books, Sandman Universe #1 suggests that his creations are in capable hands.
Essentially, The Sandman Universe #1 is a one-shot special that lays the groundwork for the four monthly books to come – The Dreaming, House of Whispers, Lucifer and Books of Magic. Matthew the Raven serves as the reader’s guide through this initial journey, one that showcases a Dreaming in chaos and a waking world little better off. At the very least, this issue shows just how much ground there is to cover in this particular corner of the DC Universe.
As you’d expect from an issue that features four writers and numerous plot divergences, Sandman Universe #1 isn’t the most cohesive reading experience. The book tends to drag a bit towards the middle, as Matthew’s story begins to intersect with other protagonists like Timothy Hunter and a new character named Dora. Some of these stories tie back to the main conflict organically, while others feel a bit odd and out of place. It’s enough to wonder if DC would have been better off structuring this issue as a more straightforward anthology comic with discrete stories.
But regardless, this issue succeeds in building anticipation for those ongoing books. The main characters are compelling, as are the conflicts fueling their respective books. It says a lot that this issue can get me so enthused about a Lucifer comic so soon after the previous volume wrapped up. The Dreaming is quickly shaping up to be the gem of the line, with both the strongest connection to the original Sandman saga and the most consequential plot developments. It’s a shame that this new imprint seems to be striving so hard to downplay Daniel as a major character given how little time readers have been given with the character in the past, but at least there are plenty of other memorable players in his stead.
It should also be said that this issue does an impressive job of capturing the voice and tone of Gaiman’s work, despite Gaiman himself serving in only a supervisory capacity. Even with four different writers, the prose is clean and refined. The visuals also strike a balance between recalling the aesthetic of the original Sandman series and blazing a new path. Bilquis Evely handles the lion’s share of the art in this issue, and she immediately feels right at home in this corner of the DCU. There’s a confidence to her line-work, yet also plenty of room for lush, dreamlike imagery. And while there’s a certain amount of visual inconsistency to go along with the choppy narrative jumps, individually each artist makes a strong impression.