Sandman Overture by Neil Gaiman, Illustrated by J.H. Williams III and Dave Stewart

wesley_dodds_001DC Comics had a number of different characters dubbed “Sandman”, going back to ‘Wesley Dodds’ in the 1930s. That early character fought crime, wearing a gas mask and a fedora, and eventually becoming a founding member of the Justice Society of America. In the 1970s Joe Simon and Jack Kirby developed their own Sandman comic book. This one, Garrett Sandford, was supposed to be the Sandman of myth. This one also became a sort of superhero, eventually becoming an honorary member of The Justice League. There was yet another Sandman named Hector Hall, that first appeared in DC comics in the 1980s — he succeeded Sandford as the Sandman after he killed himself.

 

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Dream

But the Sandman of this series, aka Morpheus, aka Dream of the Endless, is a creation of Neil Gaiman. It was eventually retconned that those other Sandmen were creations of the activities of Morpheus in the waking world. In Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, there are 7 siblings who are called “the Endless”. They are immortal beings that personify various aspects of reality. Besides Dream, there’s also Death, Desire, Destruction, Destiny, Despair, and Delirium (who formerly was Delight).

 

 

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One of Dream’s siblings, Despair

Morpheus rules the land of Dreams over which he has dominion. But he’s also the lord of storytelling. And much of his comics deal with stories and myths and dreams. These are not your typical superhero fare. Some of the stories are personal, some mythic, some dealing with the nature of reality itself, and Dream’s place in it. While the early comics in the series shows Gaiman finding his legs, there still is a hint of his brilliance. As the series progressed, Sandman gained much in the way of recognition, not just as a great comic book, but as a literary work. Because of the more mature nature of some of the stories, Sandman was moved to DC’s Vertigo imprint, which was reserved for titles that would appeal more to an adult audience. The comics have won numerous awards, and really epitomize the endless potential of that medium. “Sandman” is the book I always point to when someone tells me that comics are for kids or that they are poorly written or somehow inferior to ‘more serious’ writing. Certainly, there are a few others that I could use as examples, and they are all great works in their own ways: “Maus”, “Watchmen”, “The Dark Knight Returns” are among the giants. Even “Cerebus” had its moments of genius, and I’m sure that others have their favorites. But this was my introduction to seriously good comic book writing.

The Sandman
Morpheus and his favorite sibling, Death

 

Gaiman concluded his series in 1996. Since then, there have been various one-shots, and spin-offs of the series, not all with Gaiman’s involvement. There was “Dreamhunters”, “Death and the High Cost of Living”, the spin-off comic “Lucifer” (which now has a television show loosely based on it). And most recently, there is this book.

sandman-overture-coverThe premise of Sandman Overture is that at some time in the past Morpheus had a lapse in judgment. And as a consequence to that lapse, all of reality may be coming to an end. Dream, and all of his aspects from different parts of reality, find themselves (himselves?) drawn to a mysterious location, and through conversations with his different aspects, he decides on a course of action, not because he cares that reality is ending, but because he cares that he may be responsible for that ending. One of his aspects in the shape of a cat, joins him on his quest to, against all hope, save reality, or at least make up for the mistake he made so long ago. Eventually, he’s joined by a young female humanoid named Hope and the three travel together.

sandman-overture-hopeThe magic of the series is here. If you are a fan of Gaiman or his Sandman stories, I think you will greatly enjoy it. Note that I first tried reading this in Kindle format. As much as I love my Kindle, I find that it is not a great format for graphic novels. While the free PC Kindle reader that Amazon publishes is a bit better, mostly because of the size of the screen, it still is much easier to read this in physical form. So I ended up purchasing the hardcover edition after all.

sandman1pg2and3-clrI’m not one of those people who lives and dies by the artwork in graphic novels, but the artwork here is definitely beautiful. The writing is up to Gaiman’s high standards. The story itself is epic, yet filled with personal moments that I won’t spoil for you. I simply loved this, and now I want to go back and reread all of the original series.

If you have not ever read Sandman before, I recommend that you read the entire series from start to finish. There are a few good options for this: there is a set of 10 trade paperbacks, starting with Preludes and Nocturnes, and ending with The Wake. There’s also a 5 volume ‘Absolute’ edition. Or, you can opt for the 2-volume hard-covered Omnibus edition, which I’ve heard is excellent (I may purchase it for myself, eventually). The other books I mentioned (spin-offs, etc.) are also worth reading (Lucifer, for example, is excellent, much better than you might expect based on the TV show). But I definitely recommend that you read the main series before you read this book. As I mentioned earlier, it does take Gaiman a little bit to find his footing, but once he does, I suspect that you will be impressed. Or at least I hope so.

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