Neil Gaiman has returned to the fictional world that made him famous, with an untold tale of Morpheus from before Sandman #1 that promises to reveal secrets about the original series that have lain only in Neil’s mind for more than two decades. What led Morpheus down the path towards the fate we know? Your Major Spoilers review awaits!
NEIL GAIMAN SANDMAAAAN!!!
A wonderful first chapter.
Prequels are always a little scary.
Awfully short for the price point…
THE SANDMAN – OVERTURE #1
Writer: Neil Gaiman
Artist: J.H. Williams III
Colorist: Dave Stewart
Letterer: Todd Klein
Editor: Karen Berger & Shelly Bond
Publisher: Vertigo/DC Comics
Cover Price: $4.99
Previously in The Sandman: Overture: Morpheus, the titular Sandman, is one of seven endless, immortal beings who embody universal constants: Death, Destruction, Delirium, Desire, Destiny, Despair and ol’ Morphy himself, Dream. In many ways, this is the tale that made Vertigo what it became in its salad days (alongside Alan Moore’s strange and charming love story in ‘Swamp Thing’ and the totemic magic madness of Grant Morrison’s ‘Animal Man’ and ‘Doom Patrol’, anyway.) What rough beast slouches towards the castles of The Dreaming?
A BREATHTAKING OPENING SEQUENCE…
The first few pages of this book are critical for old-school fans and new kids alike, as it will set the tone for what we are to expect from a (tragically brief) return to the world of The Sandman. Thankfully, J.H. Williams is up to the task at hand, with his trademark fascinating visuals showing us a faraway planet, as Gaiman’s narration explains the history and majesty of that lost world before setting into a single character…
…a flower named Quorian. It’s a clever bit of conceit, and as Quorian dreams of the Lord of Dreams himself, we are reminded that Morpheus is not human, or even corporeal, as the creators give us the gorgeous imagery of Morpheus as a flower. Quorian’s dream is more than just a set-piece for showing off, as it leads directly into the meat of our tale, creating the tone of fear and discomfort that will last for the rest of the book. One quick transition later, and we join the murderous Corinthian in turn-of-the-last-century London, with a beautiful layout by Williams that is both clever and a little bit horrifying.
…BUT A BAFFLING ENDING.
Many old friends make their appearances, from Dream’s elder siblings Death and Destiny (whose conversation is confusing, hopefully intentionally so), to Merv Pumpkinhead and Lucien, servants in the land of Dream. There are a couple of newly-created character who pop up in the issue, but each of them, in particular George Portcullis, has the fully-formed qualities that I associate with the best Sandman supporting cast. Nobody is a cardboard cutout in the worlds of Neil Gaiman. Morpheus confronts the Corinthian, preparing to deal with his wayward creation, but the scene is quickly interrupted (regular readers knew it would be, as Corinthian’s eventual capture is a big part of one of my favorite Sandman stories) by something that Morpheus is amazed by: A call that he simply CANNOT resist. The ending double-page spread contains a shocking moment for Sandman fans (one that would ill-serve the story if I spelled it out) leaving the reader and our protagonist equally shocked. Thought we only get a quick moment of the book to process it, it’s the kind of moment that defies expectations, an “everything you know is WRONG” fillip. Written by someone who I trust less than Neil Gaiman, I might be nervous about the ending, but here I’m merely intrigued…
THE BOTTOM LINE: THEY’VE STILL GOT IT.
I’ve told my tale of Sandman #1 on the Major Spoilers Podcast a time or two, but if you haven’t heard it, it goes like this: I bought the first chapter, found it to be merely okay, and didn’t buy any more until much, much later. As such, I find myself in a unique situation twenty-odd years later, in that we’re getting the first chapter of a Gaiman tale, and first chapters are generally my least-favorite part of Neil’s stories. (That’s not to say that they’re in any way bad, just that you get so much cool stuff to look at and consider, and then “BANG!”, we’ll see you next ish!) This book is beautiful, it’s structurally sound, it gives you everything you want from a Sandman issue, and it reminds me why I prefer to read Gaiman in collected form. I will say, though, that $4.99 (or $5.99 for the digital combo pack) is a pretty steep bill for a story that clocks in at less than half the pages of the original Sandman #1 back in ’89, but to be honest, I’d still pay the $5.99 for some good Gaiman story. In short, The Sandman: Overture #1 is worth any of the hype, and even as a story set in “the past,” (as though the original book didn’t jump around in time anyway) it doesn’t fall prey to prequelitis or dashed high-expectations, earning 5 out of 5 stars overall.