Normally I like to start my reviews with a brief summation of the set-up of the story. That hardly seems necessary for The Dreaming #1, because Si Spurrier does such a masterful job of doing so in the first three pages, which you can view below. Still, for the benefit of those who have yet to read Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman and didn’t read The Sandman Universe #1, some things may require explanation, though I’d encourage you to read both before reading this book.
There are seven beings called The Endless, who are personifications of forces humanity believes need to have someone overseeing them. One of The Endless is Dream (aka The Sandman) – the spirit of creation and imagination – who rules a realm called The Dreaming.
For the better part of a century, Dream was bound by dark magics. Following his escape, he began a journey to regain his power, rebuild his realm and ultimately be reborn in a new aspect. As The Dreaming #1 opens, Dream has disappeared and two of his servants – Lucien the Librarian and Matthew the Raven – fear that he may have abandoned his position in order to allow creation to look after itself.
Fans of The Sandman will recall how The Dreaming faded away into virtual nothingness in Dream’s absence in the original series. They may also remember how another of The Endless, Destruction, abandoned his realm in the 17th Century, not wishing to take responsibility for the weapons of war that would come from the Age of Reason. Precisely what became of his realm has never been explored, but Spurrier makes it clear through Lucien’s narration (and how brilliant a conceit is it to have a character stress-narrate as a form of exposition?) that the circumstances here are totally different that anything we’ve seen before, no matter what we (or Matthew) may think.
That mystery – what might cause Dream to abandon his responsibilities – should prove sufficient to provoke the curiosity of those who have read the original The Sandman and inspire them to give this series a try. For those who haven’t… well, Spurrier’s script isn’t totally inaccessible, but it cannot be denied that Gaiman aficionados will get far more out of this book than newcomers. Despite this, Spurrier does have a solid hold on the voices of the established characters and seeing Matthew and Lucien here is like a visit from old friends you haven’t seen in far too long.
Unfortunately, Spurrier’s creation Dora is not quite as engaging so far. A monstress who possesses some odd power that allows her to bypass the boundaries between dreams, she has little personality so far beyond general rebelliousness and we know little about her beyond her having some kind of grudge against Dream for breaking a promise. Hopefully she will becoming more engaging in future issues because it seems like she will have a major role to play in what comes next.
Thankfully, the artwork leaves no room for questioning or second-guessing – it is simply gorgeous. Bilquis Evely (best known for her recent work on Wonder Woman) proves a perfect successor to the likes of Jill Thompson, Colleen Doran and all the other great artists who have depicted The Dreaming before, with each panel of the book being detail-driven without feeling over-cluttered. Mat Lopes (whose colors on Batgirl I greatly enjoyed) also does a fantastic job in painting every aspect of The Dreaming in vivid detail. And while Simon Bowland doesn’t directly copy the distinctive word balloons of The Sandman (Matthew The Raven’s words, for instance, are in yellow outlined balloons rather than wholly yellow balloons), he does offer up unique fonts for those characters whose voices require distinction.
For those who have read The Sandman, this first chapter of The Dreaming will prove a satisfying homecoming. New readers may have a bit more trouble adapting, but this text is far from unfriendly and the artwork encourages close examination. Should this series continue to build and improve from here, a new golden age of Vertigo Comics may be upon us.