DC Comics is trying something new. In the wake of their Rebirth initiative, the publisher has rapidly expanded its content to include diverse new imprints such as Young Animal, Wildstorm, Black Label, Ink, and Zoom. As their lineup expands, it can be hard to figure out what to pick up each week. That’s what our team is here to help with, every Wednesday, with the DC Round-Up!
THIS WEEK: We return to the Sandman universe, and it’s still the stuff of our dreams.
Note: the reviews below contain spoilers. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on the comics in question, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdict.
The Dreaming #2
Written by: Simon Spurrier
Illustrated by: Bilquis Evely
Colors by: Mat Lopes
Letters by: Simon Bowland
These are amazing times we live in, aren’t they? Everything old is made new again. There’s a brand new Star Wars movie in theaters every year. Doctor Manhattan is running loose in the DC Universe. And we have four new Sandman titles, bristling with fantastical stories. The toys are out of the toy box again and I just love it.
It’s strange…you hear a lot of vocal opponents to bringing back Watchmen in any form. Purists, I suppose. There’s this idea that the story has already been completed and any further exploration would tarnish the sanctity of the original. Parts of the Star Wars fan base take a similar approach, finding cause for outrage with each new offering. Who dares touch their beloved treasures? But I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t think there’s always room for more Sandman books. My theory is that Sandman readers know the truth: Stories are meant to be told.
The mysteries and secrets continue to deepen in this series dedicated to the denizens of the Dreaming, the wondrous place we all visit when we’re deep in sleep. We’ve had three issues of this book now (I’m counting the intro in Sandman Universe #1) and it’s like Christmas on Halloween. The Lord of Dreams is missing, again, and his kingdom is literally falling apart. The gates are undefended against intruders, the sky is cracking in half, and the crew is at their wits’ end trying to hold the place together.
As usual, the books being published under the Sandman banner are storytelling at its finest. There are plenty of visual cues and hints that tell the tale without relying on overt exposition, like the subtle emphasis on the key that Merv will later decide to steal. Changes in color palettes set the scenes apart nicely and the backgrounds are intricate and whimsical, filled with bubbles and nightmare forests. The lettering stands out as especially brilliant in this issue, with a 3-D bubble effect for a lucid dreamer who is losing control and several instances of text getting larger and bolder mid-scream as the emotional intensity ratchets up.
The first mystery is the location of Dream himself. Is he in trouble? Did he quit? Will he come back? But it’s far from the only mystery in the story and maybe not even the most interesting one in a book that exists to highlight the supporting cast. The absence of Dream is the perfect backdrop to watch how these curious characters deal with a vacuum.
Lucien is rattled and unsure of himself. Things that used to come easily to him now seem beyond his grasp. Even spontaneous narration, his favorite thing ever, is a struggle. He often can’t find words and loses his train of thought. Comfortable as a librarian and historian, Lucien is now being forced to step into more of a leadership role and he doesn’t seem sure he’s up to it. His ordered world is spinning out of his control. The library is missing a book.
Dora doesn’t know who she is. Her origin and true nature are a mystery and so she prefers to live alone where she doesn’t have to pretend to be something she’s not. And everyone else is something she’s not. She steals food to satiate the unusual hunger within her. She has a seething rage that is difficult to keep in check. Dora won’t ask for handouts and won’t be indebted to anyone. All she wants is to live free.
Mervyn Pumpkinhead feels like he’s the only one who sees the big picture. The Dreaming doesn’t just run itself, it’s working class heroes like Merv who keep the lights on. He’s “homegrown”, a local. When a slew of unwelcome immigrants are taking jobs from the veteran workers and thieves are allowed to run rampant, something needs to be done. It’s time for hard decisions and the ones in charge don’t seem able to pull the trigger. Merv’s going to have to take things into his own hands.
“Emptiness has replaced certainty” as Lucien narrates for us in a moment of clarity, and the emptiness expressed by these characters is all too familiar. It wouldn’t be a Sandman book without making us feel that connection. This is the stuff of our dreams and nightmares, after all, and it’s a story that is meant to be told.
Writer: Benjamin Percy
Artists: Travis Moore, Chris Mooneyham & Klaus Janson
Colors: Tamra Bonvillain, Nick Filardi & John Kalisz
Letters: Carlos M. Mangual
The running joke at the comics convention circuit is that they’re going to kill off Nightwing. The publisher apparently wanted to do it years ago, but I guess someone talked some sense into him. Dick Grayson is the original Robin, beloved by fans. We’ve all grown up with him and watched him mature and change slowly over the decades. His removal from our lives would not be taken lightly.
They certainly could have done it. It would move some paper: the death, the funeral, the aftermath. The fans would probably gripe and protest, harass the DC staff about it at convention panels. And then they’d bring him back anyway within a year, two tops. It’s been done so many times that we’re all completely numb to it. Death has no sting in comic books, and hasn’t for quite some time.
Which is why this move by DC strikes me as kind of brilliant. They did something even worse to Nightwing than kill him — they let him live. He was shot in the head by a sniper (who is about to get completely jacked up in the pages of Batman, just you watch) and the character now has to go through the challenge of recovery, with all of the blackouts and memory loss and motor control issues that come along with it. For those of us who grew up with Master Richard, this is tragic to watch.
Another brilliant move: skipping all the hospital time and jumping forward a few weeks or months to Dick’s new life. He looks different, dresses different, talks different. His own past is a black box to him. He doesn’t want any connection to his past. No Batman, no Alfred, no nobody. He doesn’t even remember Babs. Like, doesn’t know who she is and wishes this strange redhead would stop bothering him. I’m hard pressed to think of a more tragic situation for those of us who have watched the long drama of their relationship play out.
The comic will speak for itself (read it, it’s good) but I was struck by the tone. There’s been a definite decision in the DC Comics boardroom to humanize their characters and explore personal tragedy throughout the line. This Rebirth experiment feels like a hard right turn from the approach of FlashPoint and the New 52. Rather than discarded continuity and radically “fresh” takes on longtime characters, we’re seeing a dawning recognition that we readers love these characters as they have been established. That we want to live and grow alongside them, not to be constantly reintroduced to something that resembles them.
As he’s done before, Dick Grayson is leaving behind his old life and becoming something new. We hurt for him. We support him. And we can’t wait to see who our dear friend will be next.
- Roy Harper’s funeral was held this week in the pages of Green Arrow #45, and it was beautiful. A simple ceremony among friends, without the costumes. It contained an absolutely heartbreaking moment with Hal explaining to a grieving Ollie that he doesn’t have the power to bring back the dead or turn back time. It was only one panel but it hit me just right, with the hopeless look on Hal’s face as he glances away and says, “You know if I could…” We know, Hal. God do we know.
- As an obsessive compulsive collector I have always been supremely annoyed by crossover events in which the storyline hops from title to title. It’s pure marketing bullshit, but this is comics and I’m certain we just have to deal with it. So to help you follow along at home: The story from Justice League Dark #1-3 is continued in this week’s Wonder Woman and Justice League Dark: The Witching Hour #1 (worst title ever), then it moves into Wonder Woman #56, then back to Justice League Dark #4, then Wonder Woman again, before concluding this meandering path in a title called — hold on, let me check my notes — Justice League Dark and Wonder Woman: The Witching Hour #1 (new worst title ever!). For the love of Hecate, it’s like they are trying to throw us off the scent of this story.
- There’s a new character in Harley Quinn that is just so wonderful. I don’t even know if character is the correct word here, as it’s kind of a fourth wall breaking type deal. Her name is Jonni DC, Continuity Cop. She exists outside of space and time (from Harley’s perspective) and pops in every now and then to make sure Harley isn’t doing anything that contradicts something found in the printed material of any other DC comics. She’s like the voice inside of those “Editor’s Note” boxes, but personified. Pure comics gold.
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