THIS REVIEW OF ‘HOUSE OF WHISPERS’ #1 CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
by Mickey Rivera. Out from between the realm of dreams and the Louisiana bayou comes House of Whispers #1. This new series from DC Vertigo lives alongside reboots of the long-storied classics, House of Mystery and House of Secrets.
House of Whispers #1 introduces Erzulie Freda Dahomey, a curvaceous and luxurious loa, or Voodoo spirit. As the loa of love, Erzulie presides over a soirée in her realm where her followers may come to the foot of her throne and pray for solutions to the limitless love problems humanity is prone to. Simultaneously, in the waking world of New Orleans, a young girl named Latoya babysits her perpetually distracted sisters. For reasons that have yet to be explained, the “journal” of a powerful and dangerous loa named Shakpana has come into the girls’ possession. This loa’s essence is pestilence and pandemic, though you wouldn’t be able to tell from its humble lab-scientist outfit. Shakpana is mortified as the children not only begin to read from his enchanted notebook, but go on to play a game of “telephone” with its contents.
Writer Nalo Hopkinson is a Jamaican-born Canadian whose work is often steeped in the Afro-Caribbean folklore featured in House of Whispers #1. Vertigo made an excellent choice tapping someone with voodoo spec-fic credibility to head this series. As you would expect from a Sandman Universe story, real life mythology is brought to the fore, reimagined in the context of modern life. Louisiana Voodoo is a practice that just never got a lot of play in past books in the Sandman line, and it’s hard to imagine why. It’s a syncretic hotbed of untapped ideas—a poetic mix of West African, West European, and American tropes. Hopkinson’s Voodoo expertise is used to full effect, introducing a community of loa that is both exuberant and dangerous.
The caharacter design for House of Whispers is engaging and doesn’t get too extravagant with accouterments. Erzulie’s bayou palace is lavish but grounded; it’s steeped in earth tones and sunset warmth while nighttime in the waking world shadows everything in purples and blues. Overall, the art and colors by Domonike Stanton and John Rauch works perfectly with the world envisioned by Hopkinson’s writing.
The most interesting character of House of Whispers #1, to my mind, is Uncle Monday, a massive reptilian man dressed to impress in a top hat and three-piece suit. Though this installment is arranged so that readers are anchored to him as they enter the realm of the loa, not much is explained about who he is. He is introduced on the very first page (after an introduction seen in The Sandman Universe #1), walking up to Erzulie’s party from out a swamp, carrying a net full of crawfish as an offering to her. Later he can be found expounding on how torturing your meat before you eat it raw enhances its flavor. He is no doubt a complicated crocodile man, half brute and half gentleman, a classic Sandman Universe character mix.
As with the mythological figures of House of Whispers #1, Uncle Monday is based on actual folklore. I only wish that more had been explained about the historical significance and mythology behind this character, an escaped slave who was transformed into a crocodile by Seminole shamans so that he could avoid capture. Same goes for Arzulie and Shakpana and any of the other real Voodoo elements we’ve been presented with. Without these stories to color the background, we don’t yet have the sense that we are among gods and spirits.
That may just be Hopkinson’s style, to cook her stories low and slow at first, putting the characters’ actions ahead of their histories. That’s fair. This debut issue offers plenty of magic and mythology to get readers by. But while an understanding of voodoo mythology is not exactly a prerequisite for enjoying this book, your enjoyment will be much enhanced by some research into its rich history, an intellectual wrinkle that absolutely fits in the wide tapestry of the Sandman Universe.
Written by Nalo Hopkinson.
Art by Dominike Stanton.
Colors by John Rauch.
Letters by Deron Bennett.
7.5 out of 10
Check out this five-page preview of ‘House of Whispers’ #1, courtesy of DC Vertigo!