Going Home Again

So... Sandman: Overture?

I was pretty excited when I heard that Neil Gaiman would be returning to Sandman -- Comix Experience has a history with the book, after all -- but I'm also not at all afraid to say I was a smidge nervous.  The last few comics Neil has written have been.... well, they were certainly technically fine (he's a pretty good writer, after all), but they also felt a bit bloodless, and appeared like they had more originated from someone asking Neil to write something than a story that Neil had passionately originated from his own mind and heart.

(There's nothing wrong with that -- that's how most comics are created; but seldom, I think, is that how the best comics are created)

Then there's also the whole "aging act" thing -- you know, how you just love a band or a story or a character or some other thing, but how going back to it isn't nearly as good as you remembered that band was (or, even worse, sometimes, that it is really terrific, but it is just different enough that the mainstream pretty much ignores it.  For example, I really liked Rush's last two albums, but I don't think that any of the "classic rock" stations in the Bay Area really ever played a single track from them, despite playing "Tom Sawyer" 6 times a day.... or Jeff Beck's last record, or... well, you get the point, I guess), and then you start to wonder how much you liked the original in the first place? (you fickle fickle fan)

So, I'm pretty happy to say that I thought Neil's return to Sandman with "Sandman: Overture" was simply terrific -- it had just enough classic strains of what we liked about it before, melded with a writer pretty much at his peak, and with what appears to be a pretty intriguing new twist to go with it.

Yes, there are bits that are going to seem very familiar: "There is a book. A book filled with everything that has every happened, everything that ever will happen. It is heavy, and leather, and chained to his wrist." and so on. You can't stray so far from what worked, after all, and the characters are who they are -- and because this is a prequel you at least think you know where all of the pieces have to come out. But Sandman has always been about stories, and I'd argue that seldom were there a lot of surprises once things were set in place in Sandman because stories have rules -- could "the Kindly Ones" have really gone any other way, from a plot perspective?

But that's from us who loved this with a spoon 25 years (!!) ago -- I think if this is your first time reading this world and these characters, I think you're really going to see why we fell in love all the way back then, because there is an incredible cosmology being formed here (And, actually, "Overture" might solve the problem I always had with starting new readers at v1 -- I always thought "A Doll's House" was the much much better entry point, because there weren't any more bits about how much the Martian Manhunter loved Oreos or whatever, that so dates the first story arc)

But, yeah, for those of us who already were fans, if you're a lapsed comics reader, I entirely think it is worth your while to come back to Sandman -- especially as a periodical reading experience.

In fact, there's a specific physical thing that happens here in the serialized comic book (I've been led to believe that the reason it wasn't described in the solicitations was that Neil wanted it to be a surprise for the reader, so I won't say more than that -- because it was a lovely surprise!) that I strongly believe will be mediocre at best in a collected edition -- and downright dire in a digital version. This first issue at least is very much meant to be a comic book, if you ask me.

If you are a lapsed reader somehow reading this review, I'd like to urge you to try and start up a conversation with the person behind the counter of your local comics store, and ask them about what is happening in comics right now that that's on the same level as Sandman.  Because there really is a lot of wonderful contemporary comics out there that you will delight to discover -- the first one I'll give you for free is "Saga" by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples -- my deepest hope would be this brings back many readers from "back in the day" and reintroduces you to the general resplendent wonder that is comic books.

I didn't say anything yet about the art, and that there is because I really don't have the words.  This is the work of J.H. Williams III's career -- and given all of the awesome astonishing comics he has drawn before, that's saying a lot. Stunningly, epically beautiful where the page is at least as important as the panel. Brother can draw.

There are a few weaknesses, sure -- the house ads are a bit jarring when they come; and if you didn't like Sandman back then (and there were many people who didn't), this probably won't change your mind -- about half the issue had a certain level of "read this before" to it (though the verses change), but all of that was extremely minor to me. I thought this was truly EXCELLENT work, and I'm kind of proud to have it on my shelf.

What did you think?