Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Book Review: Neil Gaiman / JH Williams III – 'The Sandman: Overture'

'The Sandman: Overture'

Neil Gaiman's 'The Sandman' is one of the greatest comics ever. I'm sorry if you disagree, but it is a fact. For a child in the north of England whose only real exposure to comics was in the form of 'The Beano', it was a revelation finding 'The Sandman' in the graphic novels section of Scunthorpe Central Library and for the first time showed me what the medium was truly capable of conveying.

Gaiman created a rich, dark fantasy world with all the intellectual and whimsical prowess that he infused into his later novels to tell the story of the Dream King Morpheus and his siblings, The Endless, as they interact with human affairs over the centuries. It isn't just naughty kids getting away with the things we wish we could, or the usual battle of superhero and super-villain. Instead 'The Sandman' series deals with deep issues in a a compelling, complex and dramatic way. Always ably abetted by a host of phenomenal artists, it is easy to see why after 25 years, this series is held in such high esteem.

'The Sandman: Overture' is a six issue prequel series, finally compiled together in a deluxe hardback book, that looks at the events leading up to Morpheus' imprisonment as we find him at the start of the first part of 'Preludes And Nocturnes'. Gaiman, now 25 years more experienced and renowned as a fantasy writer, delves deep into the story, weaving a story that spans time and space and connects to a lot of later threads in the tale, yet manages to stay on track with an end in sight.

We see not only how Morpheus got into the afore mentioned situation when we were first introduced to him, but also see the origins of The Corinthian, the creation of The Dreaming and Morpheus' War Helm. The book sees not only cameos from well-loved characters such as the rest of The Endless, Lucien, Merv Pumkinhead, Mad Hettie, and also introduces new characters that will undoubtedly leave a lasting impression on fans.

Despite the wonderfully rich story, with it's comic format it is very accessible and easy to follow, even if you haven't delved into the rest of the series yet. To this end the stunning artwork of JH Williams III ('Batwoman', 'Promethea') adds a great detail. As mentioned before, 'The Sandman' has always featured great artwork, but some of Williams' work in '...Overture' is beyond stunning. Coupled with the work of Dave Stewart, Todd Klein, and the return of Dave McKean it lives up to the legacy. Quite simply, some of the design elements cannot be done justice in words and really need to be seen to be fully appreciated.

It is arguable that '...Overture' is an unnecessary extension to an already pretty perfect series. But once you get reading it, you are reminded by just how many questions you had after the series ended. '...Overture' answers them and adds even more depth to an already inspired universe. The subtitle 'Overture' isn't just a buzzword for the sake of it. This series is a grand declaration before the story plays out in full, echoing, predicting and yet still complete as it's own movement within the fuller story arc.

'The Sandman: Overture' is another great example from Gaiman and his team as to what the comic medium can truly accomplish. The epic scope, and intricate plot, the sumptuous artwork all come together to create a worthy addition to the series. If you haven’t' experienced the series yet. This is a good place to start. If you're a long-time fan, you won't be disappointed.  

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