Sandman Universe #1 - Review. May All Others Bow
Sandman Universe #1
Story By: Neil Gaiman
Written By: Simon Spurrier, Kat Howard, Nalo Hopkinson, and Dan Watters
Illustrated by: Bilquis Evely, Tom Fowler, Dominika Stanton, Max Fiumara, and Sebastian Fiumara
Colors: Mat Lopes
Let me first say that the notion that I would deign to call myself reviewing a Neil Gaiman book is... well... Is even greater hubris than my own ego would allow me to ascend to. This is much more about me working my own craft as a writer and reviewer. Gaiman is quite simply one of the masters of our time and I'd perhaps venture so far to claim that he is "beyond review". Of course, Sandman Universe #1 is a collaborative effort, with, as far as I understand it, Gaiman more so orchestrating the end product versus writing every word himself. It's very much a passing of the baton, or at least an inclusionary step towards greater delegation of the universal Sandman narrative.
Sandman Universe opens...and let me say that I don't know the Sandman mythology from Adam... with a literary style that immediately causes you to fear that it will be an overly verbose and overtly violent act of exposition. But it's not and it's different and it's wonderful and all of these characterizations that flow unthrottled to my mind in ebullience that becomes unrestrained.
Somehow the script teeters perfectly on the fence between too much and just right, often making me feel and think "man if there's, like, three more words per bubble in verbal density, then I'm out, but I'm lovin' it right here". I don't know how you do that, and can only say it's downright uncanny. Inhuman even. It's representative of an incredibly well-functioning collaborative team of writers, as well as artist-storytellers, letterers, and a GOAT of a colorist. Much in the vein of Feige/Whedon/Russo Brothers and the Berlanti-verse, this is taking the shape of a cohort of inter-operating creators that should yield content that is all the more valuable due to its connective tissue.
I enjoyed the art. In the digital version, you get all of the variant covers and I could have easily spent 15 - 20 minutes just flipping back and forth through those. What is perhaps the most amazing is that across five artists, Lopes covers all of what is nearly a 50-page book. And taking on the challenge of coloring in what is incredibly surreal subject matter is no small challenge. In the first four pages, where we are taken from a pulled back high-altitude view of the realm, to a wonderfully brown and earth-toned view of a library, to being taken back outside where there is a crack in the sky of the world, and how each of those scenes is grounded so distinctively in color...those scenes just don't work without a great colorist.
Bravo to the artists for maintaining a largely consistent stylistic motif throughout the issue. I do look forward to seeing the individual splinter-series that will make up the Sandman Universe at Vertigo so that I can observe each of the artists as stand-alone creatives. This issue works well, and several of the panels are able to evoke the deepest of emotions...pain, loneliness, tragedy, sorrow...this is not a book that you walk away from feeling bright, shiny, and happy, and that is due to top-notch art. It's still comic book art versus other larger volumes that have been released recently across the industry, where the art looks more like paintings. I would have preferred that treatment, but that's more a statement of stylistic preference rather than any gig on the art here, itself.
In Sandman Universe #1 we find the supporting staff of the Sandman a bit disorderly and ragged given a crack in the sky that has appeared. Subsequently, the team, the ones of them that are informed, at any rate, come to believe that these things are occurring because the Sandman has quit his post, and now there is no one maintaining balance between the realm of dreams and that of the waking. Toss in some strange business with Lucifer, and you get a thing that feels very Stephen King in Wonderland.
Sandman Universe #1 is a bit of a tough onboarding for those not familiar with the Sandman mythology. I caught on fairly well enough, but I definitely felt like there were punchlines I was missing or characters I was supposed to recognize and feel were significant. Despite this bit of shortcoming, Sandman Universe #1 is a bold step-off to a large collaborative venture that looks to weigh significantly in the industry's creative offerings this year. I am really looking forward to reading some of the four shared-universe books that this title will spawn: The Dreaming, House of Whispers, Lucifer, and Books of Magic, all of which release to stores across the weeks of September and October. Sandman Universe #1 provides a large pair of shoes for those other books to fill. While some of the side-plots that are setups to some of the satellite books got a bit shaky in terms of conveying why they were important to the main story, the primary plot throughline ran steady and true and anchored the rest of the narrative. Overall, this is one of those books that I mark down as being something that I am really happy that I read, as a matter of reading one of the industry's seminal works. It may not offer the things that every comic book reader needs, but there is no denying its mastery of the art form.