The Sandman Universe #1 is an intriguing introduction to the upcoming series of comics curated by Neil Gaiman. The original Sandman series (written by Gaiman and illustrated by multiple artists) is hailed as one of the most influential comics series of all time. It was a comic that established Neil Gaiman as a fantasy superstar and reminded mainstream audiences that comic books weren't just for superheroes.
While Sandman ended over 20 years ago, DC has made occasional returns to the strange worlds and characters popularized in those books, especially after the New 52 relaunch. Lucifer, Tim Hunter, Death, and even the new Dreaming have appeared in occasional comic issues, and Gaiman returned to the world of Sandman in 2013 for a new prequel mini-series. However, we've never gotten a direct sequel to Sandman...until this week's Sandman Universe.
Sandman Universe's general story was written by Neil Gaiman, but the comic itself was scripted by the team of Nalo Hopkinson, Kat Howard, Si Spurrier, and Dan Watters, each of whom will be writing one of the four books spinning out of the comic. Presumably, each writer scripted the parts of the comic that tie-in with their own series, but that's never actually stated in the credits.
While it's hard to tell exactly which writer scripted which page, it's a little easier to figure out the art, as each artist from the Sandman Universe line provides art to the pages that relate to their respective series. Bilquis Evely handles the biggest load in the comic, drawing the pages set in the Dreaming. Her art is surreal but modern, bridging the gap between the 90s style of the original Sandman series with the modern day. Evely is a rising star in comics, and she's destined for great things after her work in the Sandman Universe comes to an end.
Sandman Universe picks up an indeterminate time after the end of Sandman. Daniel, the successor of Morpheus, has gone missing from the Dreaming, and his absence has seemingly caused cracks to open up in the very fabric of the realm. Eventually, Matthew (Morpheus's raven from the original series) is sent out to find Daniel, which leads to him exploring plotlines from the other upcoming books in the "Sandman Universe" line.
Each of the four books gets ample time to shine in Sandman Universe #1. Readers are introduced to Dora, one of the main characters in Spurrier and Evely's The Dreaming, as well as the main cast of Hopkinson and Dominike Stanton's House of Whispers. We're also reintroduced to Timothy Hunter (of Books of Magic fame) and Lucifer, both of whom will also star in different books in the series.
Because of the different art styles, some of the transitions between scenes is a bit jarring. The world of House of Whispers has an almost whimsical taste to it, which is a stark contrast to the stuffy and somber world of Lucifer. While Matthew the Raven serves as a constant thread in the narrative, the varying tone and style of the different comics is a bit off-putting, especially if you didn't know that this comic is merely an introduction to other series.
In a lot of ways, Sandman Universe #1 is a hard comic to judge. Its main purpose is to introduce four different comic series and re-introduce readers to characters from the original series they might have forgotten long ago. It's a rousing success in that regard. However, because it's merely a sampler for a greater universe, Sandman Universe #1 lacks the magic of the original. And while Sandman was revolutionary in a lot of ways, many comics in the last 20 years have surpassed it in terms of quality. Simply existing as a Sandman book isn't enough to make this comic either a sales success or a "good" comic.
I can't help but wonder if nostalgia for the Dreaming alone is enough to carry this line, especially as Gaiman won't be directly writing any of the series. Sandman Universe is a nice revisit to a world that didn't necessarily need to be revisited, and while it may leave some readers intrigued, it won't draw in as many readers as the original.
Published by DC Comics
On August 8, 2018
Written by Neil Gaiman, Nalo Hopkinson, Kat Howard, Simon Spurrier, and Dan Watters
Art by Bilquis Evely, Dominike "Domo" Stanton, Tom Fowler, Max Fiumara, Sebastian Fiumara, and Mat Lopes