The Sandman: Overture Review
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I’ve always been a giant nerd for comic books, and while they’re becoming more and more a mainstream hobby, there have been many times when I’ve felt the need to defend my affection for the form. The easiest and most effective way to do this was simply to pass along a collection of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, a 75-issue series that ran from 1989 to 1996 and redefined what comics could be. Intensely literary and filled with wonderfully realized characters, this modern fantasy traced the journey of Morpheus, a godlike being whose domain and power were the dreams of all sentient beings (cats included). To coincide with the 25th anniversary of the start of the series, Gaiman and artist J. H. Williams III began publishing a prequel miniseries, The Sandman: Overture, in 2013. While delays hampered the individual issues over two years, the full run is now available in a collected edition.

Readers of The Sandman will remember that it began with Morpheus’s capture and imprisonment by a British occultist in 1916. It’s hinted throughout the series that this only happened because Morpheus had been returning from a terrible struggle in a particularly weakened and vulnerable state. Overture finally reveals the nature of that struggle—one that not only tested Morpheus to the limit but also set in motion many of the events that played out over the series run.

While The Sandman spent a fair amount of its time on Earth, examining Morpheus’s relationship to the mortals whose dreams he guides, Overture departs almost immediately for distant realms. An act of mercy on Morpheus’s part some time earlier has resulted in a catastrophe that could destroy reality. Now Morpheus must not only travel to the ends of the universe but also confront his past, his Endless siblings, and his parents—whose existence was never even hinted at previously—in order to rectify his mistake.

As that description suggests, Gaiman is operating in full-on fantasy mode here. From Morpheus attending a meeting of hundreds of various versions of himself to his trying to talk an insane star down from taking too rash of an action, there’s so little of the vibrant humanity that marked the main series run that it threatens to overwhelm the reader. Those looking for a grounded story may get lost, as Gaiman’s prose takes on more poetry than usual and the flood of strange ideas continues. As always, Gaiman can turn a phrase that will echo in your head for days, but it can be hard to keep up with him here.

It helps that Williams’s art matches Gaiman’s writing so well, forgoing traditional panels for kaleidoscopic swirls of color and darkness and character designs that shift focus depending on their current function in the story. This story features Morpheus in his full power as master and embodiment of dreams, and the hallucinatory imagery helps drive home just how very not human Morpheus is.

Even considering the varied styles employed during The Sandman’s seven-year run, Overture stands out as unique. It doesn’t pack the emotional punch of some of the series’ best arcs, but if you can relax your need for perfectly linear storytelling (this is Dream, after all), it will sweep you along to the inevitable conclusion, after which you can go and pull your collected Sandman editions off the shelf and rediscover them all over again.

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