Sandman Overture #1 by Neil Gaiman (writer) and J.H. Williams III (artist)
I would imagine that my feelings about the new Sandman Overture were similar to those of other SANDMAN fans: Afraid that it wouldn’t live up to the high standard of the original yet hoping at the same time that it would. As far as I’m concerned, it met, and perhaps exceeded, those expectations both in terms of the writing and the art. I haven’t read any reviews online, so I don’t know how much my evaluation will match up with other reviews out there. But I want to give you a review that reflects a single reader’s response and not a review that attempts to summarize the general response to the work. If you want that, I’m sure you could spend days reading reviews online of this one issue.
Most comic book reviews are aimed at an audience of comic book fans; however, as most of you know by now, I always write with the assumption that my readers are primary prose fiction readers, particularly of SFF, who read comics on occasion or who are perhaps new to the art form. So, I want to answer this question first: Should you even bother reading the Overture to a famous, long-running comic book series that ended years ago if you’ve never even read any of those older issues before? Honestly, my first response after reading it was, “No.” After reading it again to decide if I should review it for this site, I’ve decided that my answer is a definite, “Yes,” which is why you’re reading this review right now.
I think there are a few things you should know before reading it, but other than that, I think it’s a great place to jump into the world of SANDMAN and comics in general. I’m not sure we’re gonna see this much hype over a single comic for a long time to come; this SANDMAN event is a rare one. So, I think you’d really enjoy being in on the fun, particularly if you can get to a comic book store on at least one of the Wednesdays it comes out. If you do, you’ll enjoy seeing a comic store in action. Unlike most comics, this series will not be coming out monthly. DC really wants to make the most of this event, so they are releasing an issue only once every other month! In between months, as I understand it, they’ll be releasing bonus material to make as much money as possible. However, I don’t mind. I’m just gonna enjoy the ride. The more SANDMAN stuff they put out, the better.
So, what do you need to know to enjoy this first issue? First, you need to know that Sandman is one of The Seven Endless: Desire, Destruction, Death, Delirium (who used to be Delight), Destiny, Despair, and finally Dream, as Sandman is also called. He’s also known as Morpheus, among others names. Sandman is as changeable as any dream or nightmare we might have, and he takes on forms to match a particular dreamer’s world — to cats he appears as cats; to people, as people; and to fish, fish. Sandman runs his domain and communicates periodically with his Endless brothers and sisters with whom he is at times in conflict. However, he is closest to his sister Death, a beautiful and kind young woman who dresses as a goth (and helped create and make popular the goth look in the 1990s).
In this first issue, you’ll meet Blind Destiny who holds the Book of Fate. Destiny talks to Death as the Endless often do when they need to communicate: He summons her through the picture of her that hangs in his gallery of portraits of each individual Endless. And of course we meet Sandman. In this issue, he takes on a particularly interesting form since a unique, intelligent flower, one of three major species on a far-away planet, dreams of Sandman. Since these plants have “beautiful minds,” they are capable of experiencing the stories of dreams, the realm of Sandman.
There is perhaps one other character you should know about: the Corinthian. The Corinthian was created by Sandman to be a nightmare to reflect back to human beings a part of themselves they hesitate to acknowledge. He looks perfectly normal except for his eyes that are almost always hidden behind dark sunglasses: Each eye is actually a mouth with teeth (very memorable image). The Corinthian, when we meet him in the original Sandman stories, has been on a murderous rampage for many years. Those of us who have read SANDMAN, know this character and know that somehow he escaped from Dream into reality to kill real people instead of merely conveying the illusion of murder in nightmares. This first issue of the Overture explains why Dream was delayed in his dealing with The Corinthian.
Perhaps the final background you should have is knowledge of the first Sandman story arc. In that arc, Dream is captured by some Crowley-like occultist who was actually attempting to capture Death. Gaiman has recently explained in interviews that Dream is far too powerful to be caught by paltry humans. Gaiman has claimed that the only reason human beings were capable of such a rare accomplishment was because Sandman was exhausted by some prior arduous task or event. Gaiman has been vague as to what that event could be. Sandman Overture, however, is Gaiman’s fulfilling his desire to return to the world of Sandman and tell us what major event exhausted Dream so much that he could be caught by mere humans. This first issue only hints at what’s to come, but I’m already pleased with the initial hints.
I haven’t really mentioned one other component to Sandman Overture that makes this work a must-buy: The Artwork. J.H. Williams III did the art, and for that reason alone, you should buy this comic. If there were no words on any pages, you should buy these comics. Honestly, the art is that amazing. Williams III is my favorite comic-book artist, so I knew what to expect, and even so, I was taken by surprise. I’ll include a few images with this review to give you a taste. Notice, in particular, the image showing Sandman as a plant dreamed by a plant. I did buy a copy of this comic on comiXology just because I wanted to read it the morning it came out (my comic shop is an hour away). But anything by J.H. Williams III must be bought in paper, and there’s no better example than Sandman Overture. Get your copy as soon as you can. I can’t wait to get to the store to hold a physical copy in my own hands.