The Sand­man Over­ture

The ea­gerly awaited Sand­man pre­quel’s as good as we’d hoped

Comic Heroes - - Front Page - Neil Gaiman JH Wil­liams III Matt Bielby

WRITER: ARTIST: Pub­lisher Out: Now

: Ver­tigo

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…

A lush, Tim Bur­tonesque cityscape.

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