Thee Comic Column #57: Sandman Overture

image courtesy of www.thecwaustin.com

Last year when Neil Gaiman first announced that he would be returning to Vertigo to pen a new story about The Lord of Dreams I was instantly elated. While it’s true that in 2013 most everyone is a bit burned out on sequels, prequels, spin-offs and the like, Mr. Gaiman’s classic series Sandman – which ran for approximately eight years from 1989 to 1996 –  is a complete epic that, in my mind at least, retains all of the power that it had over me from the first time I read it and remains unsullied by time – a remarkable story that effortlessly weaves the nuances of the beauty, tragedy and triumphs of life into a fable for the ages. Sandman has remained pretty much pure as the driven snow for many of those that have carried it through two subsequent decades since its realization, two decades that have given it time to live and breathe in our hearts and minds.

Having anticipated Overture for a little over a year this has all seemed a very important aesthetic for a creator to consider: returning to a beloved character or franchise can indeed be epic, if the original has had sufficient time to ‘grow up’ with those who read it. And Sandman is pretty much the only example of this that I can think of. And I definitely do not mean that as a chastisement to other ongoing stories/characters, merely as an accolade to recognize that when Neil Gaiman set out to do the original run on Sandman he knew exactly where it was going, reached that point and then moved on and did a lot of other great storytelling and character creating before coming back to the stranger with the pale white face and unpredictable black-as-a-moonless-night hair that made him a superstar writer to begin with.

Reading issue one of the new series I found myself wondering how long Sandman Overture had gestated in Mr. Gaiman‘s imagination. Surely the fact that he did indeed leave that original window into this story back in the very first issue of Sandman – that at the time Dream was imprisoned by Roderick Burgess he was returning from an event that had significantly weakened him – suggests that Gaiman knew this day would come. That also helps. Nothing worse than squeezing a prequel out of a retcon. Definitely not the case here, as once you pick up the first issue of Overture and allow yourself to fall back into the world of the Dream King, there’s really no doubt that this was inevitable. That this story was meant to be told.

image courtesy of comicsalliance.com

As I wrote in this column at the time, this past spring I re-read the original Sandman in preparation for this event, and now that Overture has begun I must say I clicked back into the world of The Dream King flawlessly, carried into Morpheus’ handful of dust via the once again OUTSTANDING artwork of JH Williams III (great interview with him at comics alliance HERE). I’m a huge fan of pretty much all of the original Sandman artists, especially Sam Kieth, Kelley Jones and Marc Hempel, however the choice of Mr. Williams as illustrator for this new chapter in Dream’s saga is yet another aspect that is going to make this book a must for anyone who loves this world. Williams’ often surreal, fairy tale style and his skill at manipulating his layouts brings such an otherworldly quality to these characters that it feels as though it creates a harmonic vibration with the old material, evoking the epic yet still somehow quaint style of the original series while pushing us further through doors of time and space and granting us a glimpse into Dream’s ineffable existence that we’d previously been denied merely by the fact that we are in fact human and our senses are limited to the Earthbound (usually). Consider his depiction of Dream as a plant – I literally had to stop reading and just take all of this gorgeous visual information in before I could continue, and that’s not really something I normally do with comics, regardless of how much I like the art.

Between Neil Gaiman’s story and JH Williams III’s art – all this from just one issue thus far – I feel a bargain has been struck; a promise that the creators will take us to places no human has ever seen before. Except maybe in our dreams.

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Can’t find a comic shop? You can always use old reliable Comic Shop Locator at 1-800-COMIC-BOOK. Or you can take some of my recommendations. If you live in the greater Chicagoland area I recommend any of the wonderful four locations of Amazing Fantasy Books. In Los Angeles it’s The Comic Bug. Las Vegas it’s Alternate Reality Comics. San Francisco? Try the Isotope Comic Lounge and if you happen to venture a little further North I’d say you have to visit The Escapist Comic Book Store in Berkley (with the wonderful Dark Carnival Books next door and owned by the same folks). Read on!!!

Shawn C Baker

Shawn C Baker

Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.

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