Si Spurrier, Bilquis Evely, and Matt Lopes bring their run on The Dreaming, the marquee book in DC's Sandman Universe line, to a close with its 20th issue. The Dreaming has been a surreal adventure, weaving through ideas about identity and how it's tied to our shared myths. On its largest scale, it's about how the imaginary helps us define and deal with the real. The story arrived at its climax in The Dreaming #20, as the denizens of the Dreaming stand together against the algorithmic terror of Wan, a program sent to replace the Dreaming's nonsense fancies with concrete facts, figures, and schooling. The final issue serves as a punctuation mark, allowing the creative team one final flourish before stepping off the stage.
The Dreaming #20 takes the gun off the wall by bringing Daniel back to the Dreaming for the first time in its entire run. The moment is inescapable but nonetheless thrilling thanks to Evely's subtle framing. She pulls off comic book sleight of hand, making Wan's monstrous but defeated visage magnetic. He dominates the foreground while the world around him takes a new form.
The issue is full of The Sandman's signature style of storytelling magic, one in which storytelling becomes magic. Spurrier reveals how the structure of the Dreaming's story has formed the nodes of the Tree of Life from Kabbalah. It's the same symbol used to bar Daniel from the Dreaming earlier in the series. The story forms a path that leads Dream back to its root, Malchut, or the Kingdom, which is itself represented by the Dreaming. It feels like a magician explaining the magic trick he performed a minute ago, but this is the Sandman Universe; form and function are often the same. Thanks to Evely and Lopes's intricate artwork, what could be a "Creative Writing 101" exercise has a rich grandiosity.
Spurrier does try to have it both ways. At the same time that he's reaping the rewards of narrative seeds sewn over time, he's repeating a mantra: "the point is simply to feel." This contradiction is a distillation of the themes of The Dreaming and of the titular kingdom has changed over the course of these 20 issues. The dreams and nightmares that compose Daniel's realm now understand that they are not subjects or husks created out of vanity. They're made up of the same stuff as their lord and the kingdom he watches over. The librarian Lucien dares to reject a summons from his master, a simple choice but one that was unthinkable when the story began. It's a sign of the new value Lucien finds in his own existence, a value he had attributed before only to his ability to serve.
And at the same time, the issue tells you that those storytelling tricks aren't as important as they seem. It doesn't matter if there are references you didn't get. It doesn't matter if you don't understand Kaballah or didn't catch every narrative rabbit that the creative team pulled out of their collective hat. Does Wan's ultimate sacrifice affect you? Do you feel the pain of Rose Walker's loss? Does the restoration of the Dreaming and the newfound worth of its inhabitants remind you of your own human worth? It can sometimes be easy to get lost in the "meta bullshit," as the issue itself puts it. This story reminds you that those narrative tricks are the means, not the ends. The point is simply to feel.
The big narrative bomb of The Dreaming's ending detonated in #19. This issue reads like watching the explosion, with all the decisions that triggered the bomb having already happened. It's a glorious explosion crafted by a creative team that deserves free reign on any future projects. This is especially true of Evely; her embellished, illuminated layouts and panels deserve revisiting, even read independently from this story. Crafting a worthy follow-up to The Sandman is a task of mythological proportions. The Dreaming managed to evolve its characters and themes in ways that are interesting, additive and revealing. The Dreaming turned out to be a powerful new addition to The Sandman's legacy, and a moving, enrapturing story in its own right.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Published by DC Comics
On April 28, 2020
Written by Simon Spurrier
Art by Bilquis Evely0comments
Colors by Mat Lopes
Letters by Simon Bowland