In a world as expansive as The Dreaming, it's hard to imagine that something was missing. But for many of us, when we discovered the hallowed halls of Neil Gaiman's iconic Sandman, we found that the stories were lacking an inclusivity and representation that was very much needed in the annals of critically celebrated comics. Luckily, award winning sci-fi author Nalo Hopkinson, brilliant artist Dominike “DOMO” Stanton, coloring powerhouse John Rauch, and letterer extrordinaire Deron Bennett have recently entered the picture with HOUSE OF WHISPERS. With their first issue, they've exploded our expectations of "the norm" and built a brilliant fantasy epic around Blackness, magic and family.
Nalo Hopkinson is a fantastic writer who brings something unique to House of Whispers. It's a special kind of magical realism that draws you in with immersive fantasy, but never stops you from feeling grounded...unless Hopkinson wants you to, of course. And there are moments in House of Whispers which will sweep you off your feet. Stanton and Rauch have crafted a sumptuous visual landscape that's unlike anything we've seen before in Neil Gaiman’s iconic universe, and of course that fits, because one of the most vital things about the House of Whispers is that it existed outside of The Dreaming before it was pulled in by an incredibly powerful magical mishap.
Both narratively and conceptually, this creative team is introducing something new to The Sandman world. Hopkinson's narrative focuses heavily on the Yoruba religion as well as the practice of Voodoo. It centers on Blackness of all kinds, not just with the omnipotent beings—who Hopkinson, like Gaiman before her, has included from regional folklore and classical tales—but also with the family of sisters at the core of the story.
House of Whispers is inclusive in a way that other comics are often lacking. Even the background cast is wholly diverse. One of the small moments that moved me as a disabled woman was a panel that focused on a wheelchair user dancing happily at Erzulie’s “soul soiree.” It's rare that people truly explore the intersections of identity within a comic, let alone to the point of including disabled people of color in crowd sequences or public spaces.
Together, Stanton and Rauch have created a unique world steeped in gemstone colors—beautiful reds, greens and purples—which make House of Whispers feel like a jewellery box full of treasures yet to be discovered. That's entirely appropriate as the team has come together to make something utterly splendid that feels dynamically different, but also wholly a part of The Sandman Universe. The skill required for that balance is very much at play in this first issue, where we get to meet a whole new cast of characters. This includes the gods Erzulie—designed by Bilquis Evely—and Uncle Monday—designed by Eisner winner John Jennings—along with our guides on Earth: Maggie, Latoya and her two younger sisters, Habibi and Lumi.
House of Whispers doesn't just introduce us to a new cast of characters, it brings us into contact with a new world, one were Erzulie rules over the House of Dahomey, a supernatural space where souls can party as bodies rest. Dahomey is a place filled with celebration, comfort and kindness, and Erzulie holds court as she offers to council the humans who worship her. It's a world where anyone can get the advice or spell they need from Erzulie if they just know the right way to ask.
Although the first two gods we meet are kind and giving, those aren't the only ones who inhabit this world. Shakpana is the god in charge of culling the human herd, and he's not kind about it. The nephew of Erzulie, he likes to control and command, and with what seems like a simple game of telephone, he infects the four young Earth girls, opening them up to what's about to come next.
House of Whispers hooks you from the get go and doesn't let go. Whether you're drenched in the world of Erzulie and Uncle Monday, or looking through from Earth, this is a vital addition to Sandman lore that reflects and represents entirely new demographics, while expanding on one of the most beloved and lauded comic book properties of all time.
Rosie Knight writes about Young Adult comics and the DC Universe in general for DCComics.com. Be sure to follow her on Twitter at @RosieMarx.