The Sandman Overture # 1 by Neil Gaiman and J.H. Williams III (comicbook review).

January 4, 2014 | By | Reply More

There can be few comic fans that are unaware of Neil Gaiman’s ‘Sandman’ series which ran for 75 issues from January 1989 to March 1996. It was an influential part of the move towards a more mature, serious stance for the medium of comics and was so successful that it remains in print in various collected editions, has won numerous awards and has inspired a large number of spin-off series based on the minor characters.

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The stories concern a family of beings who are all anthropomorphic manifestations of facets of life. The eldest is Destiny, who is blind and yet can see everything that ever was, is and will be, as written in his book. His younger sister is Death, a curiously optimistic and frivolous young lady. Their next sibling is Dream (sometimes called Morpheus), the prince of stories, who basically represents the ideas, dreams and stories of all life. The remaining members of the family include Destruction (who abandoned his post when he realised humanity no longer needed him), the Machiavellian twins, Desire and Despair, and the youngest, Delirium (who once was Delight). The comics naturally focus on Dream, the Sandman of the title and the often quirky situations he encounters as he fulfils his duties. The comic as a whole is populated by whimsical and fantastic creatures the denizens of the dreaming, the residents of Faerie and so on. Gaiman writes all this as mostly straight. Any humour is subtle at most and so the comic is leant an otherworldly, esoteric and often very gothic feel that readers devoured hungrily. So popular was it that it has graced the New York Times best sellers list.

It is therefore not surprising that I approached ‘The Sandman Overture # 1 of 6’ forming a new limited series and written once again by Gaiman, with a degree of anticipation. Gaiman has chosen to make this a prequel and so to explain how Dream ended up in the awkward situation he found himself at the start of the original series. The credits tick all the correct name-boxes; Karen Berger as an editor, Todd Klein on letters, and Dave McKean providing a cover. To long time fans, these are the right folk. The full-colour artwork is of excellent standard, beautiful from page one and a special mention must go to the terrific gate-fold four-page spread depicting multiple different manifestations of Dream, which correspond to many different races of life. I smiled to notice the Dream of cats.

Gaiman’s writing retains its teasing mode, tantalising the reader in an off-hand way and hinting at the depth of the setting and who exactly are the Council of the First Circle? To the experienced ‘Sandman’ fan, it feels very much like coming home, the magic is still there.

But what of the new reader? If I was unfamiliar with the background, I believe there would simply be too many questions posed by this first issue. New characters get enough of an introduction that they make sense, as much as things do in the Sandman universe, but if the reader is unfamiliar with established characters, such as the Corinthian, then the comic might leave too many unanswered questions, almost to the point of incoherency.

As an existing fan of both Gaiman and ‘The Sandman’, I am thrilled by the prospect of further stories and this first issue does not disappoint. It is a graphic production of the highest quality and it has whetted my appetite for the second issue (delayed until February 2014). I cannot recommend it as an ideal introduction to the world of ‘The Sandman’. For that I would recommend getting hold of a copy of ‘Preludes And Nocturnes’, being the first volume of collected ‘Sandman’ stories. But to those who wish to return to the Dreaming, I have no hesitation in recommending this thoroughly. If this series can capture but a fraction of the feeling of the original then it will be well worth the read.

David Corby

January 2014

(pub: DC Comics. 36 page comic. Price: $ 4.99 (US).)

check out websites: www.dccomics.com and www.vertigocomics.com

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