I remember the very first Sandman comic I read quite clearly. At the time I was far too young for the series and had fished a random issue from a bin at my local comic book store. Flipping through it I found a grotesque illustration of Cain murdering his brother while an adorable oversized gargoyle looked on. My reading lacked significant context, both for this moment and the rest of the issue, but the experience was still nothing short of revolutionary. It was a comic packed with ideas, tones, and artwork unlike anything I had seen in the medium so far. While it would be years before I actually read the series in order, this moment stayed in my memory as I continued to seek out new comics experiences. All of this is a roundabout way of arriving at an important point in the assessment of The Dreaming #1: Jumping on points be damned; it is perfectly obtuse in its infusion of imagination and wild visuals to a saga that sprawls across decades of Vertigo Comics.
The Dreaming #1 doesn’t read like a spinoff or sequel to the original Sandman ongoing series, it reads very much like a continuation. When Morpheus accepted his death, he left dozens of characters behind and a new Dream, named Daniel, in charge. There is a temporal leap between his wake and this new crisis, but it is not too distant. Instead, this is the story of the next important tale in The Dreaming as Daniel abandons his responsibilities as even more momentous shocks occur. The many supporting characters scattered throughout the first issue are treated as naturally in their introduction as the sudden appearance of Green Lantern in an issue of Justice League. Past events are referenced, but never explained in depth. While that makes it difficult to describe the issue as new reader friendly, it is an approach that makes the tale feel every bit as ambitious as the original series it follows.
Nowhere is this ambition more evident than in the reconstruction of The Dreaming through the eyes of artist Bilquis Evely. Discussing Sandman is difficult because of the number of artists who defined the many stories of the series, imagining incredible new characters, stoking potent moods, and building complex storytelling mechanisms. Evely falls into this tradition with seeming ease. No panel skimps on detail as even small installations of characters walking and talking reveal fantastic castles or impossible forests. While the issue is paced as quickly as any installment of Sandman ever was, Evely’s portrayal of this story-driven realm invites readers to dawdle along the way. She capably shifts between sexiness and the surreal with a story that is constantly fluid in its definition. This is the sort of loving attention that makes The Dreaming #1 already rewarding to reread.
Simon Spurrier succeeds through a similar level of ambition. As evidenced in this review, it’s impossible to discuss The Dreaming without acknowledging the looming shadow of Sandman. The series builds itself as a next chapter and therefore must contend with both the plot and expectations of the past. Spurrier and Evely are not here to worship what has come before though. They are faced to the future with a new heroine that begs to be explored, a take on Daniel that runs contrary to past presentations, and a final page that explodes the very mythology of this story. No matter what level of experience a reader may have with this concept, The Dreaming #1 functions as a bold thesis statement for upending the status quo and boldly exploring new ideas with every bit as much enthusiasm as its predecessor.
While there has been some understandable skepticism surrounding the massive relaunch of Sandman-related stories, The Dreaming #1 shows that this is still fertile, creative soil for artists with sufficient ambition and skill. Spurrier and Evely construct an introduction to The Dreaming that is every bit as vibrant as any past fan could have hoped for. It is uninterested in revisiting the past, using that rich mythology to construct something new instead on multiple levels. While The Dreaming #1 is not a perfect issue of comics, with occasional stumbles in expositional dialogue and similar qualms, there is simply to much excellence in its pages to be distracted by minor flaws. There is already a rich setting and enthralling cast of characters ready to explore new terrain, and it’s exactly the sort of comic far beyond the norms of the industry that could capture the imagination and undying interest of even the most unlikely readers.
Published by Vertigo Comics
On September 5, 2018
Written by Simon Spurrier
Illustrated by Bilquis Evely
Colors by Mat Lopes
Letters by Simon Bowland