Sandman Overture #1 (of #6): Comics Review

Sandman Overture #1 (of #6)

(This review is spoiler free. No key events or characters details are described)

Not to be confused with the Golden Age superhero Wesley Dodds, or the Marvel super villain and Spider-man antagonist, Sandman is a figure from myth – a defender and builder of dreams. He is a powerful and creative character first published in a comics in 1989. This year is Sandman‘s 25th anniversary – to commemorate and continue the adventures of Sandman – AKA Lord Morpheus – a new comic series telling a prequel tale begins in Sandman: Overture #1.

Cover artwork by Dave McKean. Image from BleedingCool.com

Art

Occasionally comic book artwork will cause a shift in what a reader will expect from a comic – expectations are raised or altered. Three things usually mark a comic as presenting strong artwork – I think it is a cliche to talk about comic artwork that shifts readers expectations, but I also think it’s necessary – usually those three things are sales, talk, and awards. Comic artwork that causes shifts usually creates sales, triggers discussion, and receives awards. Sandman is one of these comics, similar to how Saga has attracted a strong following, and received recognition for its clean art style and dedication to lofty, fantasy visuals.

Sandman is know for it’s visual impact. Artwork in Sandman: Overture guides the readers eyes around the page. It is whimsical, and darkly serious all at once. It’s because of the visual aspect of the comic that, I think, the reader is drawn into Dream’s adventures, and feels a solid sense of emotion around his success or failures. The Sandman – AKA Dream – certainly experiences many failures on his adventures through the dreaming worlds he is tasked with shepherding and cultivating (The events of the original Sandman series). Thanks to the sequential art of the comic, his story has emotional heft. Complex panel arrangements intensify particular facial expressions, and certain movements.

Here’s an example. We see Dream take the form of a flower. Despite the images being described in words on the page, the artwork communicates emotion – Dream’s concentration and anguish. The fantasy and whimsy is there too: who would have thought that watching a flower with human-like features could be compelling? With powerful colours used throughout, the comic is a thrilling and vibrant story to read.

I also enjoyed one moment in the story where the Sandman is drawn in the style of Jack Kirby. It’s a fleeting, and interesting idea. In an interview for Comics Alliance.com, Andy Khouri and Sandman: Overture artist J.H Williams III discussed the art. There are some potential spoilers, as the interview includes samples of the interior art with completed dialog. The Q&A has some insights into how the comic art for Sandman is built, however, and showcases some of the characters who appear in the issue.

Cast

Prequel comics are limited in which cast members can return to the pages: of course, it’s not a spoiler to say that Sandman himself and his household make a return. Other characters, however, are inevitably earlier versions of themselves. The might be a sense that they are not quite yet the characters who appeared in the original story. They are on the way there, but not yet. This can be a good experience, and thankfully, some characters readers may recognise from the original series have made a return. New characters also turn up: there is some humor around a new character named George Portcullis. He maintains a London officer for the Sandman. close to the end of the comic, a large page, which folds outward, also shows off several new additions to the Sandman cast.

Themes, Ethics, Values.

It’s difficult to discuss the exact themes of the comic, or the ethics and values it might include without naming specific characters, however the Sandman raises a consistent theme and discussion of ethics that readers of the original series will recognise. New readers might find this different – potentially shocking. Sandman questions the scope of ethics created by humans. It examines our basic laws – do not kill, cause no harm to others – sees how they apply to sentient, fantasy characters and creatures who come from higher and colder places.

Unearthly or eldritch are good words to describe this theme, and the ethical discussion. Human laws and practices are stacked up against Unearthly and eldritch customs. The result is a discussion that takes place in issue #1 of Sandman Overture. A character who ostensibly helps dream in his task of managing the vast dreaming worlds of the universe – the places we create in our dreams – does not see why he cannot attack and kill for fun: he argues that he is invincible, and could amass great power through destruction and remodeling of the world outside the dreaming. Sandman reminds him that there are rules: that boundaries must be maintained between the dreaming (fantasy world) and the waking world (our day-to-day reality).

The question is left unresolved. The Sandman is called away to another task before he can continue the debate. Themes of the comic include the effect and power of dreams on reality, death, and destiny. Specifically what happens during and after death, and whether destiny is predetermined.

A bit more on Sandman Overture #1 (of #6)

Sandman: Overture #1 received a mature audience rating. This is deserved, since some of the dialog describes adult content and acts of violence. Choices by the publisher make the comic difficult to read – two full page advertisements for other comics and an editorial page interrupt the flow of the story at the beginning of the comic. Despite this advertising choice, the comic is certainly a strong reading experience. Definitely a comic to re-read for plot details, and for the artwork.

Sandman: Overture #1 is published by Vertigo Comics ($4.99 USD). Neil Gaiman (W.) J.H. Williams III (A.) Todd Klein (L.) Dave Stewart (C.) Cover artwork by J.H. Williams III

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