Although the comic book was published before the existence of DC’s Vertigo imprint, Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman was Vertigo’s flagship title. Gaiman’s title has spawned into numerous spin-offs, including a prequel series written by Gaiman himself, but the original series that ran for 75 issues was a near-perfect collection of stories about the Lord of Dreams, which had a beginning, a middle and an end.
Gaiman has always commented about the possibility of more Sandman, and so to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the title, DC published a line of comic books under its Vertigo imprint. With each comic being overseen by Gaiman, but written by new creative teams, The Sandman Universe begins in a very similar manner as when DC began their Rebirth initiative, by launching with a one-shot issue about this obscure universe, setting up the narrative of the four comics.
For the purposes of this review that is just about the first volume of The Dreaming, I will focus on the narrative of that title that is set up in The Sandman Universe #1. When Daniel Hall abandons his kingdom and role as the Lord of Dreams, his faithful warden Lucien takes charge of The Dreaming. Despite that, his mind begins to slip due to the decay of this world. In an attempt to restore order, the raven Matthew flies from one narrative setup to the next as he tries to locate Daniel. With numerous writers and artists taking charge of presenting numerous sides of this universe with a story by Gaiman, what makes this issue worth reading is Matthew himself, who has such a dark sense of humor no matter how disastrous the otherworldly event is becoming.
As for The Dreaming, which was originally published in the mid-nineties, it’s specifically not a book about Dream, and that’s maybe the problem. Centering on the residents of The Dreaming, comprising of myths and metaphors, these are characters who are wrestling with their current situation that leads into a power play, from Lucien trying to maintain the peace, to the pumpkin-headed Merv who seeks the help of Judge Gallows who rules the Dreaming with an iron fist, placing it into an even worse state.
Despite the range of interesting characters, from returning cast members to arguably the most compelling player that is Dora — who has her own inner demons, including a conflict with Dream — the narrative isn’t as compelling. Gaiman’s fictional universe is the land of great ideas, but writer Simon Spurrier can never convey the abstract ideas presented here with any emotional investment. The Dreaming may be collapsing, but the stakes don’t seem to be that high and although the end of this volume changes the status quo, you ultimately don’t care.
Having previously drawn Wonder Woman for DC, Bilquis Evely is a great fit in illustrating the Sandman Universe. Her art here may not be as polished as some of her earlier work, but Elvey fits nicely into the visual aesthetic that numerous artists achieved during the original Sandman series. She presents the Dreaming itself as a magical place of fable-like fantasy and grotesque horror. In honoring the work of letterer Todd Klein, Simon Bowland is able to capture the very distinctive dialogue balloons and lettering for various characters.
The return of this much-loved universe was always going to be a worrying one and based on this first volume of The Dreaming, the ideas are there, but not so much the investment.