It’s The Sandman! I love The Sandman. How did I end up putting a Sandman based property on my White Whale list?
I guess The Dreaming ended up a bit on the White Whale side for two reasons:
1) When I read the original Sandman series about ten years ago, I binge read them over a few nights. This helped to both keep my immersion in the series and follow the plot. The original could be confusing as all hell at times.
2) I was a little scared. The original Sandman series (and Sandman: Overture) was absolutely monumental in scale, and one of those series that I thought had a very strong ending. Writing a sequel—after everyone thought everything had been tidied up— is a huge, huge deal. I was more than a bit sceptical and a little worried that I would be the victim of anticipation whiplash. It had happened before. This isn’t the first Sandman comic with the title ‘The Dreaming’
So this became a Whale of my own conscious making. All because I was a little worried about the answer to the question:
Could Simon Spurrier and artists Bilquis Evely pull it off?
In The Dreaming, Volume 1: Pathways and Emanations, we find Lucian alone and at a loss in his library because he cannot recall the location of a book. For most of us, a bit of absent-mindedness could be excused, but this is Lucian — who is part of the Dreaming. And sure enough, when we get a peek outside the library, cracks have started to appear in the makeup of The Dreaming
The narrative then switches between various denizens of the Dreaming. Lucian is anxious, as usual, while Mathew retains his excellent level of snark. But when Merv Pumpkinhead starts acting with the subtlety of Leeroy Jenkins? That’s when events really start to get rolling
New to the cast is Dora, a dream-travelling, foul-mouthed being who spends most of the time resembling a young woman. Dora cannot remember her previous identity, but she clings to the idea she has a grievance to settle with Dream. But unfortunately for Dora and for most of the cast, Dream — Daniel really — is gone.
And not just gone, but somehow disconnected. The Dreaming has been without its master before; Morpheus was trapped from returning to the Dreaming at the very start of the volume of The Sandman. But there is something worse going on with Daniel, and those who remain in The Dreaming are struggling to understand how this can be.
While some of the beats here are very much shared with the original Sandman, there are enough distinct elements here that the story does not feel like a retread. Something seems to be unmaking The Dreaming and constructing something—a rather uncanny something—within its space.
The Dreaming, Volume 2: Empty Shells is a slightly different beast. The previous volume, while strongly character-driven, still spend a good deal of time focusing on the problems of the Dreaming. Empty Shells, on the other hand, is more interested in the nature of storytelling. Going off on tangents and side-stories is very much in the DNA of The Sandman, but don’t think it is quite as tightly done here than it was in the original. Reading here takes far more care than in the first volume.
One of the highlights here though is the slow unveiling of what may have befallen Daniel, and it is marked by the return of yet another character from the original series. While Daniel is not the same as Morpheus and is a more compassionate being than Morpheus, it turns out they do have some of the same weaknesses after all. The poor boy. A more surprising highlight though is the interactions between dear, sweet Abel, and the nascent being that is emerging in the space that is The Dreaming.
With the sort of disconnected nature of the second volume, I was a little bit worried about how the final volume would pan out. There were a lot of loose ends, and I was still confused as hell as to what was happening within the Dreaming and with Dora. But all the praise in the world to Simon Spurrier here, because in The Dreaming, Volume. 3: One Magic Movement, he does it.
He pulls it off
It’s seriously impressive. And it really makes me glad that I waited for all of the volumes to be released before I started The Dreaming, because Suprrier’s writing in the third volume, pulls the second one up by association. One Magic Movement is a solid read, right from the get-go. Like the previous two volumes, there are beats here that are shared with the original Sandman run, and many plot points can be tied directly back there too. But it still retains its integrity as its own story.
The art across all three volumes here is fantastic. While I may have sometimes had concerns about where the plot was going and how things would tie in together, I always kept faith in the art. Bilquis Evely’s work is perfect, capturing the unconventional spirit of the original Sandman while maintaining her own distinct style. While she’s the lone illustrator of the first volume, numbers 2 and 3 bring in other guest illustrators, and all of them have been well chosen for the task (Abigail Larson in Volume 2, Marguerite Sauvage, Dani Strips and Matias Bergara in Volume 3. I think Matt Lopes does the colour for most of the issues, and Simon Bowland the lettering.) Evely seems to have set the tone for the Dreaming itself, while the others strike out in other areas. Matias Bergara’s take on Dora is one of my favourites
Speaking of Dora, her story does get a resolution, and she’s much more integral to the entire plot than even she would believe. As a very spikey character, and much more ‘contemporary’ one than The Dreaming’s other denizens, I’ll confess that it did take me a while to warm up to her. But once we work out how she fits into the grander scheme of things, her attitudes and behaviour make perfect sense.
So was it worth the wait? Was I right to hold off on this? Overall, I think I made the right choice. I don’t know how I would have judged the second volume if I wasn’t able to dive into the third straight away, but I do know I appreciate it more for being able to do that.
And to answer my question: did Spurrier and Evely (and others) pull it off? Did Bernie kick a big one? It is not 100% perfect, but yes, this is a worthy addition to The Sandman universe.
Yes, I would make Volume 1 the bingo for my White Whale