House of Whispers #1 – Nalo Hopkinson, Writer; Dominike “Domo” Stanton, Artist; John Rauch, Colorist
Ray – 9/10
Corrina: Intense, Layered Story
Ray: The second of the Sandman Universe titles, House of Whispers #1, debuts this week, plunging us into a lush new world of suspense and chills. Unlike the surreal, gothic The Dreaming and its sister titles The Books of Magic and Lucifer, House of Whispers #1 takes us out of Neil Gaiman’s British-influenced world and into the world of the American Bayou. Written by Jamaican novelist Nalo Hopkinson, this title features an all-black cast and is steeped in the culture’s traditional mythology. The titular house stands alone in the swamp, a never-ending party staffed by spirits and Gods. The story begins with the enigmatic Uncle Monday, a powerful man with a face so scarred it’s almost reptilian (was Killer Croc an influence here?) and a taste for crawfish and suffering, rolling up on the house with a bag of crawfish in tow and being greeted by the house’s mistress. That would be the mermaid Mistress Erzulie, a charming and powerful woman who rules over the party and grants boons to those who come seeking her favor – whether their wishes are to their ultimate benefit or not.
Meanwhile, in New Orleans, the sort-of blended family we were introduced to in The Sandman Universe #1 continues to try to get along, but both the younger girls are causing some problems. Those problems are about to get much bigger thanks to the presence of Shakpana, a powerful and dangerous spirit that has escaped from the House of Whispers and is causing mischief in the human realm. Latoya and Maggie make for an interesting couple, but Lumi and Habibi are a bit unlikable – probably intentionally because I imagine there’s going to be a lot of character development as the series goes on. One thing that impresses me about this title is the quite effortless diversity. It’s an all-black cast, yes, but everything from different body types to disability is casually shown. This title feels real. Amid the compelling cast, there’s a real sense of suspense as forces beyond the human cast’s understanding circle them, and the end of the issue comes with a fantastic cliffhanger as the two worlds of mythology collide in a way no one saw coming. Two series in, I can safely say that The Sandman Universe is looking extremely strong.
Corrina: The original Sandman series was dense. By that, I mean that I had to read each issue several times over to absorb all the layers of meaning in a particular story. That’s what made the series so fascinating and so long-lasting.
And density of story is the same thing that makes this debut worth buying. I read it several times. I re-read the beginning several times. I spent time speculating as to the meaning of certain words or phrases and not because they were unclear–the narrative is crystal clear–but because they had several levels of interpretation. (The only current superhero writer doing this right now is Christopher Priest in Deathstroke.) Hopkinson has full command of the genre of comics, working with Stanton to use the visual medium to expand the story to its full potential. I loved that Mistress Erzuile’s body kept changing throughout the story, depending on the role she was playing for those dreaming.
I didn’t read the earlier Sandman Universe stories and if, like, me, you didn’t either, that should not be an obstacle to following the story in this issue. The family in New Orleans comes across clearly and I read their actions with a growing dread as to what might happen next. If the ending had happened on a television screen, I would have jumped back out, more than a bit surprised and scared.
The story and visuals of this are outstanding. Well done.
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Disclaimer: GeekDad received this comic for review purposes.