November 4, 2013

Vertigo Comics Review: Sandman: Overture #1

imageSandman: Overture #1
Writer: Neil Gaiman
Artist: J.H. Williams III
Publisher: Vertigo

If you’re a comic fan, chances are you’ve heard of Sandman. The seminal series by writer Neil Gaiman has long been revered by the comic populace, heralded for paving the way for many of the more adult books we enjoy on the shelves today. Such reverence is usually left unsullied, as offshoots and prequels tend to be met with disdain (looking at you, Before Watchmen). Happily, Sandman is back in the best way possible, as Gaiman returns to his series years after the end to start at the beginning with Sandman: Overture. Is his return something to get excited about? Read on!

Given the enormous popularity of Gaiman’s original run, it pains me to make this embarrassing admission; I’ve never read it. That’s not to say I’ve avoided it (put down the pitchforks, Gaimaniacs!), but rather it’s on my list of “haven’t gotten there yet.” That said, in some ways my idiocy is actually a plus for this review, as I’m able to view Sandman: Overture for what it is, not what it was. And what it is is something pretty remarkable.

Overture is a sprawling, often whimsical tale that requires close attention and more than one read through. Gaiman’s narrative is quite complex, often weaving many different threads together at once, and as a Sandman newbie I was at times a bit confused. However, Gaiman’s writing is so involving that I never once considered throwing in the towel, instead pouring over every line and panel to connect the dots. Despite the learning curve, the book flows wonderfully, Gaiman’s scripting so assured that he seemingly picks up where he left off with relative ease. His first issue is so big, so ambitious, and so out there that it almost (almost) justifies the hefty price tag. The problem is, right now it feels almost too big, as it’s hard to tell where it’s really going. A lot happens, but as of now it’s hard to discern what it all means, if anything. For all I know this could be par the course for a series such as this, but it’s far from newcomer friendly, and as such I definitely needed a little more direction. Gaiman has crafted a first issue that left me asking a lot questions, and to his credit I can’t wait to see them answered.

Given my novice standing in the world of Sandman, I needed something in Overture to pull me in. That something is J.H. Williams III. The artist, aided by colorist Dave Stewart, brings Gaiman’s vision to vivid life, his art absolutely mesmerizing. We only learned of Overture not too long ago, yet it feels as if Williams was always destined to draw it, his incredible, evocative imagery lighting up each and every page. Despite the surreal, dreamlike world which the Endless inhabit, they never cease to feel grounded. His character work is exceptional; Dream is solemn and contemplative, The Corinthian terrifying and dangerous. Even a sentient plant evokes emotion, its leaves and tendrils quaking with fear as its mind is tormented by nightmares. His layouts are truly beautiful, as panels shift, twist, and bleed into one another in a most inventive way. When paired with Stewart’s incredible colors, it’s hard to think of a prettier book on the rack. Overture is a book that was met with boundless expectations, and in my mind Williams’s art surpasses all of them.

Sandman: Overture is the kind of comic that you’re still thinking about hours, even days after you’ve read it. It’s the kind of book that makes you think, makes you feel, makes you wonder. While this first issue doesn’t lend itself particularly well to new readers, its ambition and willingness to deliver something different sets it apart from the pack, something that’s sure to keep those aforementioned newbies coming back. Though oversized, I felt it ended too abruptly, as if I was just starting to understand that which I was seeing. This is a book that left me wanting more, not out of disappointment, but out of hunger to see the story taken further. If you’ve read Sandman before, this book is likely all you wanted and more, and even if you haven’t it’s definitely worth a shot.

Jeff Lake



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