The Sandman: Overture #1 of 6, by Neil Gaiman & J.H. Williams III, DC Comics, December 2013
There’s surely no comic less in need of my recommendation than this new installment (“Back After Fifteen Years!”) of Neil Gaiman’s keynote fantasy series. But The Sandman: Overture #1 was the standout comic this week.
I was generally a big fan of the original series (I only say “generally” because I actually dropped it about six issues in, after the death-in-the-diner issue, and picked it up again with “Dream of a Thousand Cats”; also, I felt that “The Kindly Ones” was hecka padded. But it had many truly excellent stories, and worked superbly as a grand arc), so I was a bit skeptical of Overture being a prequel to the series, explaining what led to Dream being captured in the first issue of the original series. Indeed, we see many elements in this first issue which were revealed only over time in the original series (and, thus, Overture is a poor starting point for people who haven’t read the original), some of which are portents of plot threads which would be resolved in the original (a lengthy sequence with The Corinthian, for example).
But there’s also an undercurrent of mystery, as Dream senses something wrong in the universe, and then in the final scene Gaiman throws a curve, showing that Overture isn’t just going to walk through territory we’ve been through before, but that there are new things to discover – big things – back here in The Sandman‘s past. It was exactly where this story needed to go, as trying to extend a “complete unto itself” magnum opus is a tough feat. (And recall that the few Sandman stories published since the series’ conclusion have been asides, pieces filling out the universe as it were, and not ones that tackled the main character’s story head-on.)
Joining Gaiman is artist J.H. Williams III, who is certainly one of the best renderers in comics today. Where his work often falls down, for me, is in layouts and storytelling, which I often find hard to follow. (His Batwoman had this problem in spades.) While I’m a fan of innovative layouts, they should never compromise telling a coherent story. Fortunately, he adopts a much more straightforward approach here (possibly prompted by Gaiman’s script, I don’t know), and consequently we can happily enjoy the pretty pictures. Williams also supplies the lovely primary cover (an alternate cover is by original series regular cover artist Dave McKean, whose work I’ve never warmed to).
Overall it’s a winning combination, and looks to be an excellent series. So if you had some of the same reservations about it that I did, I would say that you should put them aside and check it out.
Interesting blog post at (of all places) npr.org on the high barrier to entry for new readers of Nail Gaiman’s series The Sandman.
And they’re right: The Sandman does have a high barrier to entry. I bought the series from the beginning, and while I loved the first issue, the issues following were simplistic and sometimes disgusting horror fare, and I dropped the series after about 6 issues. (Yes, I missed the original issue in which Death was introduced.) I only started picking it up a year or so later when “The Dream of a Thousand Cats” kicked off the first of several cycles of short stories in the series.
Honestly it’s difficult to introduce new readers to Sandman. Those early issues (collected in the first volume, Preludes and Nocturnes) are often not a lot of fun, Gaiman’s writing is very shaky as he hadn’t really gotten comfortable with his voice yet, and the art is erratic at best: Sam Keith’s cartoony style didn’t suit the series, and Mike Dringenberg’s muddy pencils and often-perplexing layouts were no better. The second volume, The Doll’s House, lacks focus, seeming like little more than a collection of amusing characters and gags, and has a thoroughly disappointing climax. The third volume, Dream Country, is a quartet of short stories, which are good, but not a good introduction to the series. As the NPR article says, it’s not until the fourth volume, Season of Mists, that the series really finds itself. Yet, there are many details in the first three volumes which are important to understanding the arc of the series as a whole.
I push comics at many people by lending them collections, but even though it’s great stuff, I can’t recall ever turning a new reader onto Sandman. And especially for people who aren’t comics readers, it’s not a series I’d choose to try to turn them on to comics.
Nifty! I may have to get one. (via The Beat)
Wow, has it really been 20 years since Sandman launched?
Tonight Neil Gaiman came to Kepler’s. The moderator emeritus of our speculative fiction book group was able to score members of the group some great seats at the front of the room – a really nice gesture, as Gaiman is one of the bigger draws among touring authors, I think.
I’ve seen Gaiman twice before, once in 1998 at a small convention in Madison, and once in 2004 at Worldcon in Boston. He’s a terrific speaker, intelligent, funny and charming, and I certainly urge you to go see him if you have a chance.
Gaiman was up late last night at Cody’s Books in San Francisco, and he said tonight it’s because he read an astoundingly long story, and consequently he was apparently pretty worn down. He’s certainly a gamer, though, as you could hardly tell. He read a short story and a poem from his new collection, Fragile Things, took questions, and then (as he accidentally said) “hand[ed] until his sign [fell] off”.
I got him to sign my new copy of Fragile Things and my hardcover copy of the Sandman volume Dream Country. I now have four volumes of the series signed, so at this rate I should be done by about 2020!
A good time was had by all, including the various friends I saw there, not all of them from the book discussion group. I told you Gaiman was a big draw…