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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Some thoughts on Comic Books and Comic Book Movies: Part 2 of 2

I don’t know if this is unusual or extremely common — to abandon a genre because you believe that you’ve read something so good (Sandman) that everything else you read in that genre just seems inferior or childish in comparison.  In retrospect, I realize that the comics I was reading while in college — at least the Marvel ones — were some of the best of that time, that their original owner had deemed fit to save, and if you actually read the month-to-month issues, so much of it really was drek.

In any case, every once in a while, I’d still read a graphic novel or two — a lot of the ones that were recommended to me, though, really weren’t all that appealing.  Sometimes they had an interesting start, but would lose my interest as they progressed (“Y: The Last Man”).  Sometimes they seemed to want to rely too much on shock value, and not enough on writing and characters (“Preacher”, “Batman: The Killing Joke”) making me wonder how anyone could actually get enjoyment out of them.Michael-Keaton-Batman

Comic books though, started having a resurgence on movie screens. There was, of course, Tim Burton’s “Batman”, featuring Michael Keaton, a far cry from what most people remembered from the 1966 TV series. Jack Nicholson made for a memorable, and far darker Joker than Cesar Romero. Batman was dark and brooding. But he also was more human than the perfectly behaved Adam West. The film turned into a rather imperfect franchise that ended with the laughably bad “Batman and Robin”. It was enough to show that a more realistic and darker comic book movie could work — unfortunately the franchise  went down in such big flames that it probably put a damper on future efforts, at least for a good while.15

Later, Sam Raimi had his take on Spider-Man. Tobey Maguire was, imho, a great Spider-Man — certainly he was a little old for the part.  But he does have a young enough face that it still is quite  believable.  And it was the movie that showed that special effects technology had progressed to the point that you could believe you were seeing a man swinging from webs attached to skyscrapers.  It also had a great sequel, featuring Alfred Molina as ‘Doc Ock’, the iconic Doctor Octopus from the comics. These were actually fun movies that didn’t take much effort to enjoy. Once again, I was a Spiderman fan — not a comic book fan, per se. But those first two movies were just fun. I guess there may have been a kind of nostalgia aspect to it. But comic books was suddenly serious business.

Now, this is about as far as I got yesterday, writing this, before I realized I didn’t have time to finish. And if you were looking forward to reading part 2, I apologize for that. But partly because I want to write my review of “Captain America: Civil War”, and partly because I REALLY do not want to write my thoughts now on a whole lot of other comic book movies, I am going to leave this almost in its current state, with only a few final thoughts:amd-batman-jpg

I’ve grown to love comic book movies. I loved the entire Dark Knight series. Certainly, the third one was not as good as either of the first two, but I still enjoyed them. I loved Watchmen — it wasn’t perfect, but for an adaptation of a great graphic novel that most people thought to be unfilmable, it was terrific. But what really got me going was the MCU — “Iron Man”, both Captain America films, “Guardians of the Galaxy”, and especially “Avengers” were stand-outs, to me. These were comic book films for both comic book fans AND non-fans. They became a kind of serialized story, like comics were, and like how a lot of TV has become. And now we have a Netflix division of the MCU, and IT’S going strong, without a single misstep among the first three seasons (Daredevil 1 & 2, and Jessica Jones). DC now wants what Marvel has, and they did take a bit of a misstep with “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”. But people still loved the movie, and I didn’t dislike it as much as some people seem to think I did. And I still am looking forward to their next few entries in their shared universe, especially “Suicide Squad”, and the Ben Affleck solo Batman film (after all, Batman was the best part of Batman v Superman).x-men-apocalypse-final-poster

And someone last night, when I was at the CA premier, pointed out to me that only 3 weeks from now, the next X-Men film is coming out. 2016 has an unbelievable number of comic book films coming out, some of which may be quite good. It’s gotten so that I’ve actually started reading comics again — well not the comic books themselves, but some trade paperback collections of them. I discovered Mike Carey’s “Lucifer”, a fantastic comic book which is a direct spin-off of Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman”. TV’s “The Walking Dead” inspired me to start reading the TP collections of (the?) TWD comic. I’ve been also enjoying some of DCs New 52 comics, particularly the Batman ones. I haven’t actually been reviewing them, and I probably won’t. But we’ll see. Anyway, Comic Books are back in my life now, and I even enjoy several of the TV shows (“Flash” is good, light-hearted fun, for example). And that’s all I’m going to say for now about it.

My final thoughts turned into a couple of paragraphs. That happens to me a lot — I go off on tangents. I’ll probably write my non-spoiler “Captain America: Civil War” review a bit later today. In short, I loved the movie. I’ll go into more detail later.

Some thoughts on Comic Books and Comic Book Movies: Part 1 of 2

I already bought my tickets to the very first thursday night showing of the third Captain America film, “Captain America: Civil War” (in IMAX). But I before I see that movie, I wanted to clear my head and get my general thoughts on comic book films in general, in writing.

When I was growing up, one of my best friends was a comic book fan — I wasn’t. He was so incredibly protective of his comic books that I never even got a glimpse of them — they were all protected in plastic coverings, hidden in what he described to me as a very large collection of cardboard boxes in his basement. But like me, he also loved science fiction (unlike me, he was a big fan of fantasy as well, but almost nothing that he ever recommended, outside of a small handful, ever gained my personal seal of approval.

reevesThat said, I did grow up watching the old George Reeves Superman TV series — even at my young age, I recognized that they were kind of silly. Mostly Superman spent is time dealing with minor mobsters and rescuing his mortal friends, Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane from danger. Part of the problem, as I saw it, was that the criminals were always stupid — Superman was supposed to be this great hero, and yet they would always try to shoot him.

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Yvonne Craig, Burt Ward, and Adam West

As a child, I was lucky enough to have the Adam West “Batman” series on TV. I was 6 years old, which is likely to be the perfect age for that particular Batman.  But it was such a good, and fun show that even my parents enjoyed it, plus it was on early enough that I didn’t have to fight to stay up late to see it (like I did with the “The Ed Sullivan Show”). Today, it was a very silly show, but as a six year old, it was great. It also was helped by the very silly villains with their truly over-the-top behavior, but always treated quite seriously by the actors hired to fill those roles. This was a far cry from the darker DC movies of current times. It was pure camp, probably the purest we’ve ever seen.  The fact that it was silly, but never actually treated as a parody was part of the appeal of the show.

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Lee Meriwether, Frank Gorshin, Burgess Meredith, and Cesar Romero from “Batman: The Movie”

The Richard Donner, Christopher Reeve “Superman” didn’t really make a big impression on me.  I know a lot of people loved them, and that’s fine.  The first one came out when I was just graduating from High School, ready to enter college, and since the film really left no big impression on me, I had to actually look that up.

X-Men_Vol_1_135But what did make an impression was the fact that Caltech had a student-run coffee house  a couple of blocks from the campus that would be open late.  You could stop by after or in the middle of studying, get yourself a burger or a milk shake, and relax.  It didn’t actually look or feel like a restaurant — other than the  semi-broken and already antiquated pinball machine in one corner, it was like relaxing in someone’s somewhat messy living room. There was an Intellivision set up in front of one sofa, which, for the most part, didn’t appeal to me.  But what did was all of the scattered comic books (both Marvel and DC) that were scattered across tabletops, and a couple of these circular, rotatable metal stands (the kind that still exist today to sell comic books).  It was there that I discovered Spiderman and X-Men and the assorted Avengers, as well as rediscovering Batman and Superman. Based on what was available there (which wasn’t much, I admit) I discovered a love for Marvel, particularly Spiderman and the X-Men. The other stuff was good also, but those two are what appealed to me the most.

cerebus51-4I was still friends with the guy I mentioned above, with the big, but secret comic book stash.  And when I told him about my experiences, he made some really good suggestions of other series to follow.  The most notable suggestions included DC’s “Watchmen”, and “The Dark Knight Returns”, as well as indie comics like “Badger”, “Cerebus”, and “Nexus”.  But most notably, it included Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman”.Sandman-Conversation

“Sandman” (and to a lesser extent, the early Cerebus comics) changed my opinion on comic books in general.  For me, comic books were this mindless kind of fun that I could enjoy to decompress from work or studying. But Sandman was different.  The story itself was incredibly well-written, and it was storytelling about how stories and myths are actually created. Sandman was just so head and shoulders above most of what I had been reading in comics up until then that I actually started to lose interest in all things comic-book related up until that point. It made everything else look so… bad by comparison.  I still read Cerebus (until, I felt that it went off the rails and had lost everything that I had enjoyed about it up until then). I loved Watchmen, and The Dark Knight Returns — they were still smart and extremely well written (and they should be required reading for anyone at all interested in comic books in general).  But they were also complete.  And then when Sandman itself, ended (and what an incredible ending) that was the last actual comic book that I would read for a long time.  I still picked up the occasional graphic novel, recommended by that friend.  But I would no longer read actual physical comic books. They just couldn’t stand up to Sandman.

It was a lot like when I had been reading the juvenile Tom Swift books, and then I discovered Isaac Asimov and Frederick Pohl, and Larry Niven and Frank Herbert and Theodore Sturgeon and Arthur C. Clarke.  And I could never ever read a juvenile book again because they made me realize that they were such a waste of time. The only juvenile book that I find I can still read, to this day, is “The Once and Future King”, by T.H. White — I could not get through the first Harry Potter book at all. It just feels so terribly unreadable to me, like Monty Python with all of the funny bits edited out.  And really, to me, that’s how most comic books started to feel.