Review: Sandman: Overture #1
It’s hard to believe that it has been 25 years since Neil Gaiman’s and Dave McKean’s Sandman first hit newsstands. For many readers, Sandman was the first comic to give them the inkling that the medium held literary potential, or that there was room to innovate in storytelling and narrative construction. I can only imagine what it must have been like to get each issue one by one—to see the story unfurl so languorously over time—as I, like so many others, read Sandman in collected editions long after the series had run it’s course (to be fair, I was just seven when it came out, and my tastes at the time ran as you might expect, towards more ham-fisted comic fare…).
Now, at long last, a new generation of fans can experience the exquisite agony of waiting that long month between visits to the Land of Nod, as Gaiman and Vertigo have brought the King of Dreams out of his quiet repose for a new prequel miniseries to celebrate the original series’ quarter-centennial. Peek below the fold for a spoiler-free review of Sandman: Overture #1.
For anyone on the fence or who may be harboring doubts about Morpheus’ reprise, let me make this perfectly clear: Everything that made the Sandman books you remember the masterpieces that they are, is present in here. Read this book.
I suppose I should offer some elaboration.
I’ll start with a sad, but well-known truth: as collaborative creative endeavors, many comics suffer some level of deficiency in one or another milieus. One book might have a super tight story, but the art may not quite match the quality of the writing. Another book may have amazing art, but a script that doesn’t click. When the stars align—when it all comes together—you get amazing runs like the first volume of Bendis and Oeming’s Powers, that are talked about as high water marks for years to follow. If Sandman: Overture #1 is any indication, we are witnessing such a run in the making.
This is a situation where the entire creative team is absolutely at the top of their game.
Gaiman’s writing is superb, and he has masterfully re-assumed command of the characters he so artfully created in the original run. Many old familiar faces are back, and what’s remarkable is that it almost feels like they were never gone in the first place: Gaiman dives right back into his myth-building, expanding his universe while simultaneously rekindling memories of what has come before (or rather, what will come to pass). Veterans of will find that this story fits like a glove.
Of course, Sandman’s original run was graced by a series of amazing artists, chief of which was Dave McKean, whose contributions really helped Gaiman set the tone for series. For Overture, McKean has supplied an alternate cover, but the real heavy lifting was done by J.H. Williams III, who has stolen this show, in my opinion. “Lush,” “vivid,” and “breathtaking” are among the adjectives that spring to mind. Truthfully, I think this maybe among the most beautiful single issues I’ve ever had the pleasure to read, and I am excited to see how well the follow-ups mirror the quality of #1. Though the four page foldout will be hard to top…
Also contributing massively to the visual design is unsung hero of the Sandman saga, letterer Todd Klein. Klein’s work was so essential for setting the tone in the classic series, with all of his squiggles, color changes, and skillful use of alternative fonts, that any Sandman outing would feel half-baked without him. I’m so glad he’s here.
Now, I’ve been heaping praise on this book, and I think it deserves every stitch of it, but its not without its… fault. Namely, that it isn’t a very good entry point for new readers to get on board. So much happens all at once that readers who aren’t familiar with the mythos may find the book something of a dazzling whirlwind. That said, I’m not sure that Preludes and Nocturnes was such a great entry point either, with its half-hearted attempts to connect the worlds of the Endless to the wider DCU… That said, my criticism is hardly damning, and I think there is something for everyone to takeaway from Overture, be they new fans or old. I give Sandman: Overture my highest recommendation.