House of Whispers seamlessly merges voodoo mysticism into the world of the Dreaming, bringing with it some interesting changes to the world created by Neil Gaiman.
Written by Nalo Hopkinson and illustrated by Dominike “DOMO” Stanton, the debut issue is a meaty introduction to the world of the loa and Vodou, which differs greatly from the zombies and dolls represented in modern day pop culture. While voodoo is often misrepresented as dark rituals practiced in the swamps, House of Whispers presents it as a modern spiritual tradition, still practiced by some today.
While House of Whispers is technically a first issue, the story actually began in Sandman Universe #1. Not only were most of the characters introduced in that comic, the book’s big “moment” picks up from a plot point from that series. You’ll want to read Sandman Universe #1 before picking up this book, although the creative team does a fair job of keeping the comic accessible.
What I appreciated most about House of Whispers is the book’s feeling of authenticity. While I’m far from an expert of Vodou folklore, even I could tell based on my limited knowledge that this comic represents a far more nuanced take on an important Caribbean and American tradition that Hollywood has warped into a parody of itself. Witch doctors and snake dancers make for good horror tropes, but it would be like representing Catholicism solely via exorcisms and devils.
Both of the main deities that appear in House of Whispers are pulled straight out of Vodou and Caribbean traditions. Erzulie is the loa of love and beauty, while the monstrous Uncle Monday comes from a Seminole legend in which a Vodou medicine man changed himself into an alligator to escape enslavement at the hands of white slavers. A re-interpreted version of Shakpana, an African god of smallpox, also appears and actually serves for a catalyst for bringing the world of the loa into the Dreaming.
Domo Stanton’s art is expressive and of higher quality than most Vertigo art (including some of that seen in the original Sandman series). I loved the variety of body types shown in the large crowd sequences – one of the ways you can see whether an artist is chuffing it is if all of the people in a crowd scene are the same shape and size, and you can see just about every size and shape of person reveling on Erzulie’s houseboat.
My only complaint with the artwork is that some of the page and panel layouts felt a bit unfocused. The ways the panels are laid out don’t always lead the reader’s eye to the right details, which hurts the storytelling in parts. Because the book chooses not to spoonfeed the nuances of the lore and traditions presented, it can be a little bit confusing at times.
House of Whispers is an intriguing and beautiful comic, one meant to be enjoyed over multiple reads. Sandman fans should enjoy the last scene and the introduction of some fan-favorite characters, while everyone else should enjoy the rich lore and spirits brought to comic pages for the first time.
Published by DC Comics
On September 12, 2018
Written by Nalo Hopkinson
Art by Dominike "DOMO" Stanton
Colors by John Rauch
Letters by Deron Bennett