The Sandman: Overture #1
By Neil Gaiman, J. H. Williams III, & Dave Stewart
Sandman was one of the flagship titles in the early Vertigo line of books in the late 80’s. Neil Gaiman, both well-known and well-respected among the literary community, forever changed the landscape of comic books with this famous work. Although the series ended in 1996, fans always wondered what Morpheus had been up to before his imprisonment which kicked off the original story. When the prequel mini-series, Sandman: Overture, was announced we frothed at the mouth for more details. When Gaiman told us that J. H. Williams III would be providing the artwork, I think the comic book community collectively wet themselves a little bit. The question on everybody’s mind this week should be: will this book live up to the character’s legacy? The answer is a resounding “Yes, yes, yes, and yes!”
The first issue of the Overture prequel throws the reader right into the midst of the story. Gaiman is unforgiving in his delivery, as the tone and overall execution of the plot seem to pick up where the amazing predecessor left off. For anybody starting their journey with the Dream-King in Overture, they may feel overwhelmed. However, this will simply encourage one of the greatest privileges for newly interested parties: the joy of reading the original book for the first time. As a crazy fan of the original series, the immediate depth, lyricism, and detail were incredibly satisfying. This first issue was no-holds-barred in its wholly literary approach and the fully-realized utilization of the original subject matter and familiar characters. It felt like reuniting with an old friend, as lengthy character introductions are deftly avoided in favor of pure story-telling magic. Even considering this initial installment was an over-sized issue there was just a ton of things happening in this book; dream worlds of alien species, the book of Destiny, multiple personifications of the Dreaming, and much, much more. The story of Overture feels so wide-ranging at this initial stage it will be a wonder to see how Gaiman resolves this in only a handful of issues, but however this is accomplished it will surely be magnificent to behold. In typical Sandman fashion, there seems to be vague allusion scattered throughout the initial portions of the book which suggest how the story may ultimately end. This was a device often employed in the original story to great effect, as it is the journey towards the final resolution that is amazing to behold. The layers of mystery and intrigue keep the path between beginning and end obscured just enough to leave readers guessing. The only disappointment here is that we have to wait two months between each issue!
While reading Promethea, which changed my idea of what a comic book could be, I often wondered what it might be like to have J. H. Williams III doing artwork for a book like Sandman. Now it becomes clearer why the community may have been slightly damp when we were told of his commitment to this new mini-series. Nobody currently working in the medium could produce the kind of work that so perfectly exemplifies the overall feeling of Sandman: Overture like Williams. There are layers of meaning and higher symbolism present throughout this first issue that make the story that much more enjoyable and immersive. The beautiful spreads and excellent panel layouts help convey the magnitude of the plot like no other artist could do. The illustrations are sharp but vary subtly in general style and tone as the context of each scene shifts. Dave Stewart’s colors are beautifully vibrant and lush, particularly in the more cosmic scenes and there are additional layers of story which appear to be present around the paneling in a number of pages. This is clearly a product of pure passion for the story being told. The realism combined with the fantastic nature of many of the more bizarre scenes is immensely powerful; this is exactly the type of work fans could’ve hoped to accompany this book.
This story is pure poetry for the mind. The graceful words combined with the deeply cosmic images will make your heart soar as you venture through the astronomical and the subconscious. As the original Sandman books from Vertigo changed the landscape of comics before, Sandman: Overture feels like it has the same potential. Thank you to the creative team for bringing this beloved story back to our lives with new adventures and mysteries of the mind. Sandman: Overture #1 was wildly whimsical, dark, and deeply intelligent in every respect. If you haven’t read the original series, it’s time to catch up on the ten trade paperback collections so that you can relish in the sheer power and beauty of Overture with the rest of us.