The comics industry sluggishly moved forward during May, as publishers and comic shops continue to struggle with the reality of the global pandemic. Thankfully, a couple books from the Sandman Universe did drop during May, allowing me to continue this column. Is that a little selfish of me? Perhaps. But outside DCeased, the Sandman Universe titles are probably the best thing DC has going for it, so let’s dive in.
Books of Magic #19
(w) David Barnett (a) Tom Fowler, Craig Taillefer (c) Marissa Louise
Kicking off the “Field of Dreams” arc, David Barnett’s story gives readers a much deserved break from the usual “will Tim Hunter turn evil” schtick that Books of Magic has examined time and again (including in this series). Breaking from the familiar formula, Barnett introduces a new supporting character, Izzy, into Tim’s world who is also a peer. Now that Tim has been acclimated and introduced into the world of magic, Izzy takes on the role of audience surrogate. This adds an interesting wrinkle as she and readers rely on Tim to explain what’s happening, but given his own inexperience he takes on the form of an unreliable guide. So when things unsurprisingly start to go sideways, it makes for an entertaining read.
Of course, this title isn’t just the work of the writer, as the script is given life by the art team of Tom Fowler, Craig Taillefer, and Marissa Louise. The trio of artists are tasked with creating a whole new realm distinct from the Dreaming or Faerie, and they succeed in the world of the Festival. Though it does resemble a town fair, there are enough distinct elements to make it stand on its own. Where the Festival really shines is in the creature designs, with some very interesting and grotesque figures popping up across the issue.
House of Whispers #20
(w) Nalo Hopkinson, Dan Watters (a) Dominike “DOMO” Stanton, Matthew Dow Smith (c) Zac Atkinson
Nalo Hopkinson and Dan Watters continue to weave an intricate web of social commentary in this installment of House of Whispers. As America grapples with the reality of systemic racism, the writing duo offers readers an insight into black culture and mythology – albeit shaded by the trappings of the overarching Sandman Universe. Why do gods allow hatred to fester? Why don’t they offer protection for the disenfranchised? Why didn’t they intervene when Africans were slaves? While the issue doesn’t provide any meaningful answers to these questions, the idea of these questions being asked in a comic book by a mainstream, corporate publisher in 2020 is encouraging.
On a more technical level, House of Whispers continues to suffer from the weight of its own ambition. Whereas the other Sandman Universe titles have a singular narrative focus, House of Whispers is divided into three or more intertwining narratives that rarely feel connected, other than by the great artwork by DOMO Stanton, Matthew Smith, and Zac Atkinson. House of Whispers #20 may be a narrative mess, but it’s a beautiful-looking, narrative mess. And for those readers patient enough to sift through it, there are powerful messages to be found.