Page 45 Review by Jonathan
"You know the feeling... right? Sure you do.
"Happens every morning, right after you wake.
"The moment you forget your dreams."
Dream has vanished. Left the Dreaming and gone... well... no one seems sure quite where. All that remains within the disintegrating imaginary edifice at the centre of the Dreaming are a collection of familiar assistants and acolytes such as Lucien the librarian, Matthew the raven, the demi-deranged double act Cain and Abel and the... well, just plain old argumentative arsehole in the case of Mervyn, the cigar-smoking pumpkinhead. It's good to have them all back!
It'd be lovely to have Morpheus as well, or Daniel at least, as the reincarnate youthful Lord of Dreams was named. But he's vanished with nary a trace and now seems unable or perhaps unwilling to answer the call of his sigil in the Gallery of the Endless located within his castle.
Fortunately, Lucien, if he can remember it - for this mysterious decay is beginning to affect the inhabitants too - has a plan... As a former raven himself - something Matthew, as well as myself had forgotten - he is aware of the psychic tether between the Lord Of Dreams and his atramentous avians. And so Lucien sends Matthew soaring off to roam the realms looking for their master before all of his creation crumbles away completely.
It's a stratagem that twangs, sorry hangs, by the proverbial rubber band of a tenuous thread, to say the least, but it certainly forms an excellent conceit for allowing Matthew to pass mostly unawares by the characters who will form the cast of the four cornerstones of this new DC Vertigo Sandman Universe. Said sound formations being formed of The Dreaming, Lucifer, The Books Of Magic & The House Of Whispers.
So, yes, we will see several old favourites return, albeit many filled with the same egotistic notions of grandeur and / or crippling neuroses as before, for example in the form of the likes of the ever <ahem> trustworthy Lucifer Morningstar, still getting worked up about his absent daddy issues, and Timothy Hunter, still grappling with school life whilst wondering which end of his wand is which, plus new characters aplenty, particularly in The House Of Whispers, which looks to open a hitherto unknown corner of the Vertigo mythos by taking us to a bayou where the houseboat of Erzulie Fréda floats, a voodoo goddess who attracts the souls of her followers looking for agony aunt-esque advice on both supernatural and worldly issues.
Matthew does eventually manage to locate Daniel, if not find him, just in case you are wondering. So we catch at least a glimpse of the albino teenage sulkpot at large in the big city and perhaps get half an answer to the question. It seems he is there of his own volition, rather than caged against his will, which is where, if you recall, SANDMAN itself began all those years ago, in SANDMAN VOL 1: PRELUDES AND NOCTURNES.
All of which above formed most of my review of the lead-in Sandman Universe one-shot, which DC has wisely decided to include in each of the first collected volumes of the four individual titles, indeed it opens this volume as I presume it will the others. I'm not normally one for publishers recycling material unnecessarily, but here I think it is most definitely a worthwhile exercise. We certainly found people were willing to try the different titles before settling on which they wanted to read (all of them in most cases) after reading the one-shot.
I do however promise not to recycle the above review when each of the subsequent three volumes are released!
Now, whilst Neil himself was involved with the writing of the one-shot, being credited with the story idea, he is not, involved directly as such with the writing of the four ongoing titles. Instead he's hand-picked the writers, including comics veteran Si Spurrier to helm The Dreaming, who with the likes of GODSHAPER and THE SPIRE has certainly proven he can craft an atypical tale or two.
So... what happens in the first volume of The Dreaming proper then...?
"Naturally the Judge anticipates their hesitation. He observes, after all. He assesses.
"He recognizes instantly that this youthful crop of nightmares takes forms beyond his fathom.
"It follows that to them, he must seem a relic. An anachronism, unfit to be feared.
"That can be changed.
"It has been remarked that the gaze of Judge Gallows is alone sufficient to constrict a dreamer's throat. This is of course hyperbole.
"It is not rage nor terror that glimmers there... but calculation.
"The simple certainty that within moments the judge has ascertained, by his own cold metric, the precise value of life he observes.
"And that none is worth more to him that two pennies for the reaper."
"Bring me the Black Chest, Mervyn."
Yes, it doesn't take long for Judge Gallows, Nightmare of the Major Arcana, brought to life by the previous Morpheus himself to decide he needs to take charge whilst Daniel is off... galavanting around.
Of course, His Honour starts off by telling Lucien he's only turned up to "...advise by consent..." and just to "regard me as an observer... no more.." before he promptly decides some serious gavel bashing and restoration of order is precisely what's required! Well, establishing his new world order... I'll not spoil precisely what is inside the Black Chest for you...
What a great new villain Si Spurrier has created (well recreated if you know your DC history down to the minutiae), straight into the league of the tooth-eyed Corinthian for pure malevolent menace! We get the full back story of his creation and it's abundantly clear he's not the type of beak to let a miscreant off with a slap on the wrist and six months community service...
We do also find out a little more about the nature of the trouble which Daniel is involved in, well, undoubtedly got himself embroiled in, very probably unnecessarily. Oh, did I not mention it was trouble that was responsible for the unexpected jaunt which has induced extreme trepidation and vexation in all of his creations? Aside from old hang 'em high himself, who is now having the time of his life. Well, you probably didn't expect Daniel simply to have sloped off to Skegness for a fortnight, but suffice to say, the Lord of the Dreaming seems not to have lost his penchant for peril, regardless of his incarnation...
Delightfully delicate yet dangerously dirty art from the gloriously named Bilquis Evely, I believe she may be Brazilian and I know she has done various work for DC previously. Her fine linework ensures the panels are packed with detail without it ever feeling overcrowded. I loved her facial expressions too, she's particularly adept at a furrowed brow, and there's a lot of that going on here let me tell you. Combined with the colour palette, I was minded in places of Peter HIGHEST HOUSE Gross, who of course has a fine Vertigo pedigree himself, having combined so successfully with Mike Carey on the original Sandman spin-off LUCIFER material.
Readers new to the SANDMAN mythos will have no problems getting utterly engrossed in this intriguing opener, indeed it will, I suspect, undoubtedly engage them sufficiently as to tantalize them to investigate the original material. Fans from the first time around will, I feel, believe that Si Spurrier has done more than adequate justice to Neil's creations, the wider Sandman canon and already begun to append some brilliant elements of his own to it. I look forward to seeing the wider story arcs unfold grittily yet gracefully with genuine excitement.