An undisputed masterpiece, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman saga virtually defined the smart, literary, often horrific comics that were Vertigo’s stock in trade during the 90s. While the final issue saw print in 1996, the collected volumes will remain in circulation for what will probably be an eternity, and with good reason. And while Sandman ended exactly when and as it was supposed to, sometimes you just want to get the band back together one more time. Despite a handful of spinoffs and side projects (including a pair of superb Death minis, not to mention Neil Gaiman and Yoshitaka Amano’s gorgeous The Dream Hunters in 1999), there’s been little hope of more Gaiman-penned Sandman stories. Until now, most of us were okay with that.
Sandman: Overture is the story of the journey that was alluded to in the pages of Sandman #1 back in 1988 (or, for those reading the collected volumes, Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes), before Dream was captured by an evil magician. Simple enough, really. However, If Sandman: Overture #1 has a flaw (may as well get it out of the way now before the praise begins), it’s simply that despite this taking place before that “first” Sandman adventure, Overture may come off as impenetrable for someone completely new to the Sandman mythology. But for fans? Well…you’re in luck. Sandman: Overture #1 really does feel like you’re seeing old friends who you’ve only vaguely kept up with for the first time in years.
Virtually every introduction of every character you’ve been waiting to see is done with a theatrical flourish by JH Williams III. For what is essentially just the opening chapter in a story that is “merely” a prelude to a larger one, Gaiman and Williams dive right in. Ever wonder how Dream presents himself on other planets? Ever think you’d see a Sandman story that spans alien worlds in deep space and the London of 1915? Does that all seem deliciously impossible? Well, it isn’t.
There’s not enough to be said for JH Williams’ art on Sandman: Overture #1. Devotees of Mr. Williams have come to expect the swirling, innovative layouts, psychedelic colors, handsome character designs…none of this is a surprise. But seeing him work within the world of The Endless is a treat. From the “pages within pages” motif deployed at several points to the full-color all the way to the edge of the page and beyond dream and spacescapes, this could be the finest hour of one of comics’ finest visual storytellers.
At a mere 20 pages (ah, but what beautiful pages!), one can’t help but feel that Sandman: Overture might have been better served released as one volume rather than in bi-monthly installments. But the novelty of seeing Neil Gaiman play in his most famous and beloved sandbox again is just too delicious to complain about. Mr. Gaiman defined this world, and he knows these voices well. It’s strangely comforting to “hear” them again. Welcome back.