Mr. Sandman, bring me Lord Dream. J.H. Williams III has made him the most beautiful that I’ve ever seen.
The prequel to Neil Gaiman’s legendary Sandman series of graphic novels has arrived at last, and there is much rejoicing. If you haven’t yet read Sandman: Overture, the first of six issues in this 25th-anniversary miniseries revival, then why are you still here? It’s been days! Just beware: spoilers ahead.
Real talk: prequels aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be. But that’s not the case with Sandman, because whatever we know of his ultimate fate—and his disturbing albino successor—there’s one thing that has always remained a mystery: how did Dream come to be imprisoned by Roderick Burgess in that orb, where we find him in Preludes and Nocturnes? The good Mr. Gaiman is here to finally put the question to rest, and even just one issue in, the fangirls and boys are giddy. Gone is Dream’s Robert Smith hair, but everything else you loved is back.
Here are some of the noteworthy elements of this first issue, to savor until the release of the next in December:
The covers! First things first, yes: covers, plural. Cover A is from the pencil of Williams himself and shows Dream, in full battle regalia (looking a bit like a hell-bird of paradise), standing amid a trippy landscape of fire and flowers. It fits the issue to a T, with a classic Sandman look.
But the variant cover is, to be honest, my favorite. Dave McKean, the artist who brought to life the covers of the original Sandman run, illustrates a gaunt, greenish, and notably shorn Morpheus doing what most of us would if sitting in a high-backed red leather throne: playing with a loose-leaf universe diorama. Creepy, cool, appropriately special.
Morpheus as a plant! Throughout the series, Dream appears in many forms: cat, fox, a panoply of people in historically accurate garb. For the first time, however, he appears as as a towering, dark-stemmed flower. (Because plants can dream, is something we now know.) The aesthetic of Morpheus’ plant face is something akin to a cross between Doctor Who‘s Lady Cassandra and nightmare porridge—but in an alluring, mercurial way.
Gorgeous illustrations! Of course the only way Morpheus could pull off such pretty and frightening petals is the beauty and intricacy Williams brings to each panel and page. Each drawing, from the spread modeled on the Corinthian’s eye-teeth to the pullout spectacular featuring all of Dream’s other selves, is something dizzyingly delicate you could proudly pin on your wall.
The return of favorite characters! Sadly, we see neither Matthew nor Hob Gadling in the first issue, but Merv Pumpkinhead, Lucien, and the aforementioned naughty Corinthian make appearances. Death and Destiny are present and accounted for as well, but we’ll get to that in a minute. The presence of old favorites, however, does not detract from new characters of import, like George Portcullis, with a face to match the name, and Quorian, the dreaming carnivorous plant. Much of the fascination with and devotion to Sandman stems from Gaiman’s mastery of mythology, but his ability to craft interesting tangential (and not-so-tangential) characters deserves some applause, too.
Mystery and intrigue! Naturally, readers are just waiting for the payoff: how did you get yourself in that bubble, Morpheus? And this first issue presents us with some overarching questions to guide the journey. As Destiny reads from his book, he stumbles on a passage about himself, in which he calls Death—though he, the Destiny reading the book, does not know why. Turns out Death, looking absolutely divine as Goth Mary Poppins, wanted Destiny to call her. Why? Because she’d just taken Dream, “a hundred galaxies away.” Ooooooookay. So somehow, Dream has died. Again? Homeboy needs a hobby.
There’s also that itty bitty cliffhanger where Morpheus is being cosmically pulled to Nightmare Sleepaway Camp and he has no idea why.
It seems we have much to look forward to in the next five issues. Catch you guys in December for Round 2.