Image via Johann Snyman on Flickr.
At San Diego Comic Con 2012, writer Neil Gaiman announced his plans to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of his series The Sandman by writing a prequel. Today marks the release date of the first entry in that story, The Sandman: Overture #1.
Two prefaces before we head any further: the first is a spoiler alert. I describe some images, name some characters, and mention plot details that you may not wish to know, though I tried to keep it to a minimum. If you'd rather head into the Overture with a clean mental slate, it's time to close that browser window.
Preface number two: I have not read the full Sandman series in several years. I planned on binging over the past few weeks, but life happened and before I knew it, it was release day. So I won’t be able to connect all the dots, tracing each image and line of text to a specific reference from the original issues. What I can offer instead is a description of what it’s like to be a longtime fan, of both the series and its creators, opening up the first new Sandman story in a decade.
From the first page to the last, The Sandman: Overture #1 is an eruption of hallucinogenic artwork and unreal storytelling. The first vignette, featuring the promised “Morpheus-as-a-flower” artwork, immediately and deftly swipes you from the realities of everyday life—emails, deadlines, chores—and drops you off in a bewildering and yet familiar world of mythology and dreams.
The writing is typical Gaiman—fantastical and contradictory, and yet it all seems to make perfect sense within the universe he has created. Almost every word feels heavy with significance, even though I’m not sure what that significance is yet, this only being the first issue.
Gaiman at Comic Con 2012
It’s clear that in drafting the story, Gaiman took as much pleasure from capitalizing on the talents of artist J.H. Williams III as he did with his own task of writing. Williams III is one of the most stylistically recognizable and imaginative artists in contemporary comics. As I was reading, I sometimes had to stop and stare for a good five minutes, just to absorb the dense volume of detail that he manages to pack into a single page. None of it feels superfluous. Everything is necessary.
Take what he does with the creative potential of one of the original series’ most popular characters, The Corinthian, a twisted nightmare with tooth-filled mouths for eyes. An entire two-page spread consists of panels set within The Corinthian’s teeth. On another page, we see what the character sees from inside his mouth-eyes. It’s hard to imagine most of this without viewing it for yourself. Not to be a huge nerd, but it’s brilliant.
Before leaving us to await issue number two, Gaiman and Williams III treat us to a four-page gatefold, the climactic epicenter of the issue. Without saying too much, Morpheus has a perplexing confrontation with what appears to be himself (or more specifically, himselves) and the issue ends with his stunned face uttering a single word: “What?”
It’s difficult to write much more than this without overstating my authority. All I know is that expectations were pretty high—after all, the original series won 19 Eisner and six Harvey Awards, and is beloved by an enormous cross-section of society. And yet, I do not feel disappointed. In fact, I feel both relieved and satisfied.
Long story short, I'm psyched about what's to come.
The Sandman: Overture #1 is available from Vertigo in print and digital formats as of today. Two covers are available, one by Williams III and the other by long-time Gaiman collaborator Dave McKean.