Neil Gaiman’s highly anticipated return to The Sandman marks a revival of the Vertigo line, and some of the most stunning art you’ll see this year.
It’s hard to believe that it has been 25 years since the debut of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, one of the author’s first seminal works and the flagship of the launch of Vertigo Comics. It’s appropriate that for the company’s 20th anniversary, as Vertigo re-imagines itself for the next chapter of their journey, Gaiman returns to re-spark the Dream and once again show the comic book world how to seamlessly merge art and language into a sequential medium.
In the earliest issues of The Sandman, we witness the imprisonment of Dream in a glass case for decades by a Crowley-like magician, and there is brief mention of his journey there. In this dense prequel, Gaiman opens up the universe to various aspects of Dream’s persona, opening on a plant-like creature that is one such iteration. In First World War Britain, the actions of the Corinthian attract the attention of the Dream King, drawing him closer to his fate.
Where the original run of The Sandman was Gaiman finding his voice in the comic book world, he returns to the landscape he created at the height of his powers. Gaiman’s love of literature is woven into the pages, using the motif of a book to frame his origin story. The (re)introduction of the Corinthian, Merv Pumpkinhead and some of Dream King’s siblings such as Death never feels as though it is one running inside reference, with new readers just as readily able to slip into this fable with minimal knowledge of the character’s rich history.
Keeping alive the tradition of phenomenal art, following the likes of Sam Kieth, Dave McKean and Mike Dringenberg on the original run, The Sandman: Overture appears to be a book that was designed purely for J.H. Williams III to show-off. After a multilayered universe on the opening page, the Batwoman artist is given a plethora of double-page spreads to work with, using the Corinthian’s distinctive “teeth” to frame panels, along with the pages of a book or a less restrictive spiral to encompass the otherworldly pages. Maestro colourist Dave Stewart (Hellboy) seems to find colours that we didn’t know existed, from the rainbow colours of Dream’s transitions to the complete absence of colour in simple line-art inserts. The term ‘surreal’ gets misused far too often, but the abstraction of some of these panels makes it the most apt description for this debut issue.
The Sandman: Overture is the wonderful place where art and storytelling co-mixes with waking dreams, vividly bringing back to life a modern classic in a way that exceeds expectations. The final splash pages reveal a cornucopia of detail that readers will go over with a fine comb, including a few surprising appearances if you look closely. Due out bi-monthly as a limited series, the wait will be all the harder for the high quality of this first new issue. An essential piece of reading.
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