Please note: the following review contains light spoilers on details, but does not spoil the plot. Read at your own risk!
If you’re a fan of epic, whimsical, character-driven tales that rarely follow traditional storytelling structure and feel oddly like historical fiction at times, then you probably know Neil Gaiman. He’s the guy responsible for introducing the mysterious Lord of Dreams into our lives; the most beloved character in the Sandman comic book series that ran from 1989-1996. But if you’re not yet familiar with Gaiman’s work, then the new Deluxe Edition of Sandman: Overture—the prequel to Sandman, out November 10, 2015—might even be a bigger treat for you than the usual suspects. (Though it is sure to delight them, too.) If anything, it’s sort of like something you’d stumble upon in, say, your most provocative dreams.
The book kicks off with multiple plot strands, bringing many familiar faces into the fold. The standout of which involves Dream in 1915 London, where he has summoned The Corinthian—a nightmare he created—to give him some rather upsetting news. The scene plays out like a Noir film, a contrast to the Harry Potter-esque flight over the city that Dream later takes to land back in his Kingdom (stomping ground of the visually delightful Merv Pumpkinhead). But, as with most books in the Sandman series, Gaiman’s lush world is only made all-the-more incredible thanks to its visuals. Later on, as we venture into the troubled past of Mad Hettie, J.H. Williams III artwork—along with Dave Stewart’s colors and Todd Klein’s lettering—take center stage. With their tapestry-like panels that sometimes resemble possessed Salvador Dalí artwork, there is a mounting, ticking time bomb feeling of unease. A beautiful playground for Gaiman’s nursery rhyme-like dialogue at its most startling and remarkable. “Time goes in so many ways… it runs. Sometimes it even flies. But as for telling the time… sometimes what time tells us is for it alone to know.”
It’s rare, the comic book that effortlessly weaves in drama with such an adventurous, childlike quality. Characters like the goddess-esque blue girl, the giant Dream of Cats who accompanies Dream on his surreal journey across time and space to investigate the mad star, do so magnificently. Same goes for the set-piece where Dream encounters multiple versions of himself, akin to a Where’s Waldo? children’s book. Throughout the book, the darkness and mystique of Dream’s character is honored, even in surprising moments of comic relief.
A personal highlight came in the second half of the book, where we find out a game-changing character revelation for Dream and the rest of The Endless, (his siblings who embody powerful forces of the universe—Death, Destiny, Destruction, Delirium, Desire). No spoilers, but the revelation serves to expand and enrich the world, as well as humanize our enigmatic protagonist.
As the book reaches its climax, the stakes are kept enormously high (because duh, Gaiman isn’t one for slacking off). Dream attempts to save a broken universe, the pace is kept consistent and rigorous. The Sandman mythology is called upon at one point near the end, which results in some of the most intricate and extravagant panels we’ve seen. If anything, Williams ultimately emerges as the star of this book.
Forgive me for being morbid, but I’d gladly swap a couple of toes to have any of his glorious pages framed in my bedroom.
No matter where you are in the comics reading spectrum, take your time reading Sandman:Overture. That’s how you’ll get the most out of this wild, topsy-turvy ride, both visually and emotionally. And if you’re a newbie to the series, then cancel all your plans. You’ve got a whole lot of spectacular reading to do after this.
The Sandman: Overture hits bookshelves on Tuesday, November 10, 2015. Don’t hesitate to reach out to me on Twitter (@trilbyberesford) with your thoughts on the book, or make a comment in the section below!
IMAGE: Vertigo Comics