The Sandman Overture
The eagerly awaited Sandman prequel’s as good as we’d hoped
WRITER: ARTIST: Publisher Out: Now
Surrounded by the loud, vicious, bantering noise of most current comics, Sandman is – as ever – a breath of fresh air, not least in its refusal to place violent conflict at the centre of what it does. The original Sandman run lasted 75 issues from ’89-’96 and there was hardly a fist-fight in it; since then, fans have had to make do with increasingly luxurious collected versions, and numerous spin-off series, many starring Death, Delirium, Lucifer and other key supporting characters.
Neil Gaiman, the writer and creator of this incarnation of the Sandman – an oddball Jack Kirby superhero
A wonderfully told story, beautifully illustrated
here reinvented as Morpheus, an anthropomorphic personification of “dreams” and key member of the powerful pantheon called The Endless – has kept himself busy elsewhere over the years since, goodness knows, but now returns to the world that made him. We’d first met his Sandman in a weakened state, the patient captive of an occultist who’d accidentally caught him during WW1. What mysterious conflict had rendered Dream so weak that this was even possible has only ever been hinted at, until now.
The Sandman Overture is a six-issue prequel miniseries, then, and a beautiful one, luxuriating in the incredible art of JH Williams III. During its original run, Sandman bounced all over the place visually – dozens of pencillers and inkers were used – but that ends here. It’s a fool’s errand trying to pick the best comics artist when there are so many great ones working, but damn, if there’s a more handsome title out there right now, I’ve not seen it. Williams is a versatile, inventive draftsman, and he’s never had a place to show off quite like he does here.
In the first issue alone we get entire spreads that appear like folios from some huge book, or as panels in a portcullis, or as individual teeth in a leering mouth. We flicker from ink washes to raw pencils to fully-painted lushness as the story bounces on, finally climaxing at an amazing gatefold four-page spread that’s quite the equal of Steranko’s famous one in Agent Of SHIELD, though rather more restrained.
Gaiman, meanwhile, places us firmly in 1915 – the only stated hint that this is a prequel, which may baffle those not paying attention – and has his usual fun with the assorted supporting characters who undercut the distant pomposity of our star. There’s Merv Pumpkinhead, Death’s “rude mechanical” janitor; George Portcullis, a nice chap with a most unusual face; and a cheery Death, here dressed more like Mary Poppins on the way to a funeral than her usual garb.
This is a wonderfully told story, beautifully illustrated and laden with intrigue – who, for instance, are all the different Sandmen we meet at the end, one drawn Kirby-style, another like a Gustav Klimt, and a third resembling a giant cat? Overture seems sure to be one of 2014’s best-loved comics, and perhaps 2015’s as well – after all, the second issue is already hugely late…