REVIEW BY MATT MORRISON
Ol’ Con-Job is back and more snarky than ever.
The 30th Anniversary of The Sandman
By Dave Whiteman
On November 29, 1988, the first issue of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman went on sale from DC Comics. Soon to be published under the new DC Vertigo imprint, The Sandman received critical acclaim and was one of the first graphic novels to be featured on the New York Times Best Seller list. Although originally advertised as a horror series, the comic would go on to break boundaries in the dark fantasy genre and would set the standard for mature-themed comics and graphic novels for years to come. Then a relatively unknown writer, Neil Gaiman started out writing articles for many British magazines, but after forming a friendship with comic book writer Alan Moore (Watchmen, V for Vendetta), Gaiman started writing comics including Miracleman and Black Orchid.
Gaiman had proposed to revive the 1970’s Sandman character by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby (after they left Marvel) but he soon created a new treatment for the character that would evolve into the series that we know. With unconventional cover artwork by Dave McKean, the series featured a variety of artists, including as Charles Vess, Sam Keith, Kelley Jones, Mike Dringenberg and Jill Thompson, which allowed for an assortment of styles and talents. The main character was Morpheus, also known as Dream, who was one of the seven Endless that personified certain aspects of existence, including his siblings Destiny, Destruction, Desire, Despair, Delirium, and of course Death. Death herself became equally popular among fans, especially women as she would heavily influence the Goth culture as well.
“We of the Endless are the servants of the living — we are not their masters.
We exist because they know, deep in their hearts, that we exist.” – Dream
The series featured a variety of stories which involved complex, multi-genre stories that even included references to William Shakespeare, one of which became the only comic book ever to win a World Fantasy Award. While The Sandman became a cult success for DC Comics, it also attracted an even larger audience, many who had never read comic books before. It would soon launch Gaiman’s highly-prolific career in both comics, graphic novels, novels, television and film. Although the original series lasted only 75 issues, concluding in 1996, the series would spawn a number of spin-offs, long-running series such as The Dreaming and miniseries, including titles under the newly released The Sandman Universe.
The legacy of The Sandman has surpassed all expectations of the comic medium and has earned many awards and soon would find its way into the mainstream of not just comics, but in the literary world as well. What makes the series stand the test of time and to be revered all over the world, is its uniqueness and its ability to address a diverse range of mature topics and darker subjects that comics had never addressed before. In a world dominated by superheroes, The Sandman became the flagship title for Vertigo Comics that would inspire other writers and artists to experiment with many themes and stories, to which has gone on to today.
Dave “Chernobog” Whiteman is a life-long comic book collector, metalhead, part-timer writer, Funatic and a die-hard Star Wars fan!
As part of the relaunch of DC Vertigo’s Sandman Universe, another one of Neil Gaiman’s memorable creations returns to comics with the long awaited “Books of Magic.” First published by DC Comics in 1990 as a mini-series, fan-favorite Tim Hunter began his long journey to becoming the world’s greatest magician, with the help of several mystical DC Comics alumni such as Phantom Stranger, Doctor Occult and John Constantine. The series was ongoing until it was discontinued after the short-lived “Books of Magick: Life During Wartime” in 2005. With this latest relaunch, the story catches us up (whether the reader be a longtime fan or a newcomer) in a fairy tale-like collage retelling of his origin:
“Once upon a time…there lived a boy named Timothy Hunter. He seemed like a very usual sort of boy. Except.”
Then we find Tim Hunter asleep in class, as a seemingly normal student who tries to impress girls with his amateur magic tricks. Getting bullied and of course getting into fights, he is pulled into one of his teacher’s office and we learn that Tim has “lost” his mother. But his teacher Dr. Rose is apparently has a connection to magic and knows that Tim is destined to become the greatest magician. As she gives him a book that appears blank to him at first she advises him to start reading and when he is ready, the magic will be visible to him. Despite his frustrations, Tim is certain he is ready, but as the book soon reveals its first lesson:
“Magic is neither good nor bad. Only its use determines its character. There are always consequences for its use.”
And upon opening his first book, we are given a glimpse of three mysterious cultist figures that are apparently watching him from afar as they decide that steps must be taken…and that some books must not be read.
Written by newcomer Kat Howard, known for her novel “Roses and Rot” and illustrated by Canadian artist Tom Fowlerm with colors by Jordan Boyd, the new “Books of Magic” has a promising start. While sharing the spotlight with other titles in the revived Sandman Universe, such as “The Dreaming” and “House of Whispers,” the new “Books of Magic” hopes to recapture the “magic” of a series that unfortunately fell into obscurity 13 years ago as it soon became marred by its similarities to the popular Harry Potter franchise in which tabloids claimed that Gaiman had made accusations of plagiarism against J.K. Rowling, which he went on the record denying. But hopefully time will tell if fans will return to this series as we see what the fates have in store for Tim Hunter.
The only real flaw with Sandman Universe #1 is a presumption that the reader is already familiar with the universe of The Sandman. This is a fairly safe assumption, however, as the original Sandman series by Neil Gaiman and a host of fantastic artists is one of the few undisputed classics of the graphic novel medium. Thankfully, what little information the book itself doesn’t give you is easily looked up on-line. But in the interest of speed and keeping you reading, I will explain…
There are seven beings called The Endless. They are personifications of forces we believe need to have an intelligence behind them, like death or destiny. So there is a Death and a Destiny. And there is a Dream, who is known by many names, including The Sandman. Dream is the personification of creation and imagination. He is the Prince of Stories and his realm, The Dreaming, is the place where gods are born, ideas are forged and anything is possible.
The Dreaming is also home to many strange beings who came from elsewhere to become a part of its stories. There are the brothers Cain and Able (yes, THAT Cain and Able), who safeguard Mysteries and Secrets and the houses that hold them. There is Eve the raven woman, who guards her own sinister house when it is not a sinister cave. At the center of it all, in the ghostly castle at the center of The Dreaming, lies the Library of Dreams where every story ever written and never written can be found. And at the center of that may be found Lucien – the Librarian of Dreams and the servant Dream leaves in charge of his realm when he goes off to do business in The Waking World.
As the issue opens, Lucien is informed that a crack has appeared in the sky of The Dreaming and the people are fearful that history may be about to repeat itself, as The Dreaming was all but destroyed in a similar manner once after Dream was bound and held captive for several decades. With Dream not responding to Lucien’s summons, Matthew The Raven – the messenger of Dream – goes forth to find his master by following the magical bond that connects them. This leads Matthew into The Waking World and through a number of scenes that suggest whatever forces are changing The Dreaming are also altering the rest of reality as well…
What follows sets up the various spin-off series that will make up the new shared reality of the revamped Vertigo Comics universe. Matthew and Lucien will continue to try and solve the mystery of Dream’s disappearance in The Dreaming. The adventures of newbie magician Tim Hunter (another of Gaiman’s creations) will continue in a new Books of Magic series. A new house, overseen by the Vodou deity Erzulie, will be introduced to The Dreaming in House of Whispers. Finally Lucifer, the fallen angel and one-time ruler of Hell, will once again headline his own series that will have nothing to do with the recent Fox television series that was VERY loosely based on the original Lucifer series that spun out of The Sandman.
Of the four stories we see here, it is the one setting up The Dreaming that attracts the most attention, largely because it promises to directly continue the story introduced here. It is Lucifer that is the hardest to get a read on, being so alien in reference even to those who read the most recent Lucifer series by Holly Black and Richard Kadrey. Strangely enough, House of Whispers looks the most intriguing despite barely tying into the narrative of this issue, thanks to some eye-catching artwork. Even the weak link – the section with Tim Hunter – is not bad and it suffers only because of how short it is and how disconnected it is from the main story, with Matthew The Raven basically saying “This looks interesting, but I can’t stop to help this kid.”
So what’s the verdict? If you’re a fan of The Sandman and Neil Gaiman, Sandman Universe #1 will prove a welcome return to form and an exciting promise of what dreams may come. Based on what we see here, this will be one of those rare anniversary events that will live up to the legend of what inspired it. If this is your first time venturing into the Vertigo Universe, you should be fine, but you may want to treat yourself to the original Sandman books that lay the foundation for what we see here anyway.
Sandman Universe #1 releases on August 8, 2018!
Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.
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