REVIEW: “The Dreaming, Volume 1: Pathways and Emanations” (The Sandman Universe)

the dreaming vol 1One of the most appealing parts of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series was that it was one of those rare long-running comic books that had a definitive end. It ran for a total of 75 issues and, for a while, that was it. Over the years, Gaiman had returned a few times to the universe in order to pen a short spin-off here or a short prequel comic there, but there had never really been anything major that expanded on the world of The Sandman – aside from Mike Carey’s equally long-running Lucifer series, spun off from the character’s few appearances in the main Sandman run. So, when it was announced that Gaiman would be teaming up with Vertigo to launch The Sandman Universe, a collection of four series inspired by and expanding upon the original Sandman run, I was a bit skeptical. Of the four titles that were revealed, there were two that interested me the most: Simon Spurrier’s The Dreaming and Dan Watters’ Lucifer. As The Dreaming was the first of the four books to launch, it’ll be the first of the four that I’ll cover here. In volume one of The Dreaming, Spurrier takes us back into the realm of the Dreaming where Daniel, the current Lord of Dreams, has disappeared just as things are going wrong. And it only gets crazier from there.

The Sandman Universe – The Dreaming, Volume 1: Pathways and Emanations 
Written by: Simon Spurrier, illustrated by: Bilquis Evely, colors by: Mat Lopes 
Lord Daniel’s absence triggers a series of crimes and calamities that consume the lives of those already tangled in his fate. Until he is found, his realm’s residents must protect its broken borders alone. But the most senior storytellers are tormented by invasive secrets, the warden Lucien is doubting his own mind, and beyond the gates, something horrific awaits with tooth and talon. Only Dora, the monstrous, finds opportunity in madness, stealing dreams for the highest bidder. But she has no idea how deep the danger lies. Meanwhile, in Daniel’s gallery, something new is growing…

Written by fan-favorite author Si Spurrier (Motherlands, Suicide Squad) with breathtaking art by standout artist Bilquis Evely (Batman, Wonder Woman). The first book in The Sandman Universe kicks off with fireworks as The Dreaming literally tears itself apart!

The Sandman Universe is a new series of books curated by Neil Gaiman for DC Vertigo. Conjuring epic storytelling and immersing readers into the evolving world of the Dreaming, The Sandman Universe begins anew with four new ongoing series, existing in a shared universe, building upon Gaiman’s New York Times best-selling series that lyrically weaved together stories of dreams and magic.

Neil Gaiman’s original Sandman series was known for its dense plots and surreal imagery and The Dreaming beautifully continues that trend. From the very first page of this graphic novel, readers are assaulted with a barrage of crazy, fantastical imagery, accompanied by an immediately dense plot. To be totally honest, I’m not sure any description I could provide for this graphic novel would do the plot any real justice. Essentially, Daniel has gone missing and Lucien, Marv, and Matthew are trying to cope in his absence. Meanwhile, a new being has appeared in the Dreaming – Dora – who is angry at her perceived betrayal by Dream and seeking for her memories. All of these characters’ fates soon become intertwined as the Dreaming begins to fracture in the absence of Dream. In order to restore some kind of order to the realm, Marv unleashes Judge Gallows, a nightmare previously imprisoned by Dream after having gone a bit too far with his goal of fairly judging people. Naturally, this blows up in Marv’s face and everything just gets worse and worse.

Much of Spurrier’s plot reminded me of the way that Gaiman’s original run was as much a story about storytelling as it was a story in its own right. In The Dreaming, there are frequent meta-comments about who is narrating at any given moment and it’s really interesting. The Dreaming acts as an ending and a beginning both in a metatextual way and in a practical, narrative way. It’s the ending of the Sandman universe as we previously knew it and the beginning of The Sandman Universe as it will now be. In the context of the story, it’s the ending of the Dreaming as the characters knew it and the beginning of something new. This combination of these elements makes for a really interesting read. Plus, the plot itself unfurls in a very interesting and surprising way. Like The SandmanThe Dreaming is largely character-driven – here, Dora’s quest to learn her identity and come into her own makes up a large part of the character drama in the story, alongside Lucien’s crisis of faith and strong desire to find Dream and return him to power before everything can end. The character arcs are every bit as compelling as the plot and it’s nice to get to see all of these characters in The Dreaming take a more central role in this series than they were able to do in the original Sandman series.

Not only is Spurrier’s plot really good, but Evely’s art (and Lopes’ colors) are stunning. The Sandman is known for having a specific, surreal look and Evely and Lopes’ work perfectly fits into that established universe without feeling like a mere imitation of the work of all the artists from the original run. The characters still look like readers remember them looking, but Evely has clearly brought her own style to the artwork here – as she should! The artwork and the colors really mesh together in such a visually interesting way that you’re immediately dragged into this world. Lopes’ colors pop when they need to pop and they’re more muted when they need to be muted; Lopes uses his colors to elevate every scene he’s working on and the combination of his colors and Evely’s art just really worked for me. This book was just as beautiful to look at as it was to read. The combination of all three of these creatives was a combination that worked really, really well.

All in all, The Dreaming: Pathways and Emanations is a really good start to The Sandman Universe. It confidently kicks open the walls of this universe, allowing it to expand in new directions that reach far outside of the confines of Gaiman’s original run. The creative team behind the book understand this universe well and know how to tell really engaging stories within it. It’s really nice to see all of these side characters from The Sandman have a chance to shine on their own, outside of Dream’s shadow, though I am also intrigued at the little hints of Dream’s current situation that are peppered throughout this first volume. It appears that the next volume will take us a bit further into Dream’s story and I’m equally excited to see how this creative team handles that storyline while continuing to expand on all that’s happening within the realm of the Dreaming. The Dreaming is a definite must-read for fans of The Sandman and it’s a very worthy successor and continuation of this universe.

4 out of 5 wands.

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