SANDMAN UNIVERSE / HAL JORDAN & THE GLC / FANTASTIC FOUR [Reviews]: First Family Homecoming!
Vertigo has a special place in the hearts of a lot of people who grew up reading comics in the Nineties. Karen Berger and Shelly Bond curated a ridiculous run of titles for mature readers based on the sensibilities of Alan Moore’s SWAMP THING, Grant Morrison’s DOOM PATROL, and Neil Gaiman’s SANDMAN that yielded a string of classics down through the years including, but not limited to, HELLBLAZER, THE INVISIBLES, TRANSMETROPOLITAN, PREACHER, 100 BULLETS, Y THE LAST MAN, FABLES, SCALPED, and HOUSE OF MYSTERY.
However, with the exit of both founding editors, the line has been on life-support these past few years, still actually publishing titles but with nowhere near the acclaim or sales that it’s known in years past (and the sales were never that dynamite to begin with; with Vertigo, it’s always been more about critical praise). And but lately here, Gerard Way’s Young Animal pop-up imprint has been absolutely scratching the itch that many old-school fans had been experiencing, with most of the current Vertigo staff engaged with those titles. So, it was a small surprise that DC announced that they were bringing back an entire line of comics set in the Sandman universe: THE DREAMING, THE BOOKS OF MAGIC, HOUSE OF WHISPERS, and LUCIFER. Fortunately, Neil Gaiman is on-board, a wise move, as attempting this situation without him is a bad idea, both creatively and optically. However, everyone’s favorite master storyteller isn’t actually scripting any of the four titles; he seems to be more serving as more a sort of editor-in-chief or showrunner, setting up the general premise and then letting hand-picked creatives loose to do their best work. He probably wisely elects not to lean on former talent like Mike Carey, Garth Ennis, or Peter Milligan, but instead enlists a new generation of writers and artists, only a very few of whom I’d even heard of before. THE SANDMAN UNIVERSE #1 is the overture that starts spinning the threads of the four new titles, and it does a fine job of whetting readers’ appetites for the line as a whole while teasing out a focused linear narrative that’s engaging all on its own.
We open in The Dreaming with a significant portion of the beloved supporting cast that Gaiman first created in SANDMAN thirty years ago. There are several old favorite bits that do an effective job of pushing readers’ nostalgia buttons: Lucien’s grandiose meta-narration, Cain murdering Abel, Matthew taking the piss out of his cohorts. And the sigil-holding. That was the one that punched me in the gut from out of nowhere. Young Animal has definitely been checking off most of the Vertigo boxes in my heart, but nothing can do it for you like the original. The new conflict is that there’s a great crack in the firmament of The Dreaming, Daniel is M.I.A. like any good Dream of the Endless is wont to be, and so our boy Matthew the Raven has to go looking for him. This is the framing sequence through which we’ll catch glimpses of our new titles. And this whole deal is basically an anthology sampler, so I’m just going to power through as quick as I can to keep this word-count as low as possible for our dear Brother Sgt. Moody.
First up is THE DREAMING, which it looks like will be featuring Dora, an amnesiac monstress who Matthew says showed up right before “the changeover,” meaning the end of Gaiman’s original run, though I can’t tell if that’s for real and I don’t remember her or it’s a retcon and she’s a new character. She’s compelling enough either way. I presume THE DREAMING is going to be about her and probably Matthew, Lucien, Merv, and friends dealing with what’s going down at the homefront while Daniel remains out of pocket. Simon Spurrier and Bilquis Evely appear more than capable of entertaining us with this set-up. I’m probably most onboard with this title of the four. (Quick note on creator credits: everyone just gets a lump credit at the end without assignation and the individual one-page ads for the books at the end don’t have creative listed, which seems silly, so there’s a real chance that I might be mis-attributing something somewhere, but I tried.)
Next, we have THE BOOKS OF MAGIC, starring the original bespectacled boy wizard. I never hit the original monthly series after Gaiman’s mini so have minimal nostalgic connection to young Master Hunter. We get just a taste of what’s going on here, but Kat Howard’s script and Tom Fowler’s expressive art in particular offer an intriguing glimpse of the tone of this story about a secret boy wizard attending a school where at least one instructor seems like a formidable antagonist. I could care less about Tim Hunter, really, but this short effectively sold me on giving the book a shot, so well done. Mission accomplished.
HOUSE OF WHISPERS is the title that seems like it’s got the blankest slate, not directly based on any titles that hvae come before. Nalo Hopkinson and Dominike Stanton conjure a tale of three sisters and the oldest’s girlfriend who it looks like will have some doings with the local voodoo goddess type who operates out of the swamp around New Orleans. I liked the tone of the character interactions just fine, but I don’t know how you can have seven pages of New Orleans without one horn in a single panel. Jazz, man! There should have been a second line marching in the background and notes in the air on every page. Other than that, compelling enough.
The last book, LUCIFER, is probably the most relatively mainstream, the first volume alone having already been published for 75 issues by Mike Carey & Peter Gross, as well as having a television adaptation that just finished up its fourth season on Fox. It looks like Dan Watters and Max & Sebastian Fiumara have a circle-is-now-complete set-up here with Lucifer now finding himself a father with a son in need of a mother and determined to do better by his boy than God Almighty did by him.
Then, we finish back up in The Dreaming with a cliffhanger that sets a lovely, ominous tone for the overarching story. Overall, this is an enjoyable taste of what’s to come. A few different flavors to try out. When this whole deal was announced, I figured I’d pick up this first issue, but none of the main titles seemed compelling to me based on creative and premise alone. Now, I’ll definitely pick up the first issues of THE DREAMING and BOOKS OF MAGIC. And honestly, with the releases staggered out, I could see myself possibly giving the other two a shot, though I might wait to hit them in trade as well, a time-honored method of Vertigo consumption nearly as old as the line itself. If, like me, you heard that Gaiman was bringing back the line but weren’t really intrigued by the talent attached, maybe pay your five dollars right here, dip your toe back in the rising tide of The Dreaming, feel that shiver up your spine reminding you who you used to be once upon a time, and let someone you never met whisper a story into your ear. 4/5 I Stand In Your Gallery And Call You.
Well, that was a fun read! I just binge read the last five issues of Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps so I could write this review, and it was pretty damn satisfying. There’s something to be said for reading a story arc from start to finish in a matter of 48 hours. That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed this particular story arc because it felt like something new and old at the same time. Sure, like every GL story they get their collective butts kicked at the beginning then somehow, some way they literally will themselves to win usually by some type of Hail Mary play that almost gets them all killed, and almost always involves Hal going solo on a life or death mission that no one thinks will work, but they do it anyway because they will follow John Stewart into any fire.
But, what set this story apart for me was that it wraps up a long running story arc that’s been going on for years and it feels as though we’ve gotten a little closure. Revenge/redemption/resolution! What more is needed? The battle between the Green Lantern Corps, and the Dark-stars, and Robert Vendetti’s epic run finally come to a climactic end and we finally get to see Tamar-Tu get what he deserves…way to go out on tops guy! Great storytelling and fantastic artwork! 4/5 Power Rings (the whole arc a 4.5/5).
Spoiler #1: I enjoyed the issue by Dan Slott (writing), and Sara Pichelli (art). Dan has captured their voices, knows his history and is one hell of a storyteller. His Surfer book with The Allred’s alone made me excited that he’s the new writer of FF, not to take away from his now historic decade-ish long run on Amazing Spider-Man (which he stuck the landing on folks, like a perfect 10.0!)! Pichelli’s art is always a joy on any book that I’m reading. Everything looks wonderful, as anticipated! Her previous stints on Spider-Man and Guardians reassure me that she had a strong handle on NYC and the cosmos setting I’m anticipating to appear in this appear!
Spoiler #2: The FF “technically” are not in the first issue. Which, in the long run, makes sense to me, sorta…..
*** notice *** This review isn’t going to rehash the history of the FF, nor go into the behind the scenes explanations as to why the First Family of the Marvel Universe has been MIA since the end of Secret Wars in January of 2016. (It’s not important to the book itself.) I leave the bean counting to the bean counters and the office politics to the suits and ties. That’s front office stuff. We’re here for the product, not the policies.
*** end notice ***
So the MU has been without the FF for a little more than two years. Yet, they really haven’t been gone. Human Torch was with the Inhumans, while The Thing was the Guardians of the Galaxy for a good while too. Both Ben & Johnny recently reunited for the Chip Zdarsky run of Marvel’s Two-In-One series as they (along with Dr Doom) search for Reed & Sue in the Multiverse.
Spoiler #3: in preparation for this series return, I read all 8 issues before diving into FF #1. Completely unnecessary. Fun books, but uh, yeah. Not really relevant to the first issue of this series. The first issue of FF doesn’t even touch that both Ben and Johnny have been losing their powers as of late and think it’s because of their connection to Sue & Reed being severed for so long.
Spoiler #4: Man, everyone is proposing to everyone these days! Bat books, X-books, now the FF?!? I’m sure most of you have had one of the major story spoilers spoiled already about Ben & Alicia. I’m happy for the couple, but I’m guessing that Johnny has completely moved on from his past romance with Alicia ? I mean sure, she was really a Skrull named Lyja and this all happened back in the 1987 (FF #300) — but this time around, Yancy Street’s finest is finally getting the girl. It’s been a long time coming since (1962!) FF #8!
But the FF aren’t in this issue. Not together anyways. Which, in the long run? It’s fine. More and more folks binge read (I read 8 issues before I got to this one issue), or read via Marvel Unlimited or line as they “wait for the trades”. I mean we waited THIS long, what’s a few more weeks? So sure, it would’ve been nice to see the family on the same page, with the warm hugs and tears of joy. But for pacing and set up? It makes sense. There’s even a one page gag by Slott and the always entertaining Skottie Young about this. Oh yeah, There’s also a backup story about Doom and his current wearsabouts drawn by Simone Bianchi!
So, is this a fantastic first issue? A mighty return in the mighty Marvel tradition? I honestly give it 4 Bibles because it is a strong issue, but it just missed the mark due to the FF themselves not being in the issue. Cameos by Jen Walters & Wyatt Wingfoot did push this book from a 3 to a 4, however.
“And so you’re back from outer space….”
Welcome home Reed & Sue!