Sandman Overture: endless delight

SandmanThere was always a fair chance that this, a return to the eternity of the Endless, could have been a massive disappointment. It’s not. Five stars, no hesitation. Sandman: Overture is every bit as beautiful and brilliant as Gaiman’s original ground-breaking series. In some ways it’s even more densely layered with hidden meaning; there’s a gloriously wistful, knowing nostalgia to many of the ‘guest appearances’ by familiar faces.

While the story is entirely new – why was Morpheus so exhausted at the start of the original story cycle? – the setting and the style are as comfortable as Christmas. Dream and Desire, bickering as always. The Corinthian, more malicious and menacing than ever. Fragile Delight, spiralling into delirium. Lucian and Merv both take a bow; and although Bast doesn’t exactly show her feline face in person, her spirit imbues a significant proportion of the story.

But Overture is not simply an exercise in nostalgia. It is a new story, weaving yet more threads into Dream’s convoluted tapestry. We learn more about Morpheus’ parents and the nature of the Endless and – inevitably – there’s a bit of a quest and a couple of ‘once upon a time’ moments. The story-telling is masterful, balancing profound philosophy with snarky humour and whimsy.

Once again, Dream must accept responsibility for his actions and (repeating another Sandman theme) once again, all of existence spins on the actions of an innocent soul. This is a mature writer flexing his creative muscle, gleefully blending the series’ mythology with hard science, DC Comics’ golden age history, global folklore, ancient legends and even, yes, Brer Rabbit. Watch out for that briar patch.

Overture is fey and witty and daring; deliciously self-indulgent and outright dazzling in places. It takes stunning liberties with the medium and gets away with them, confronting the reader with inky blackness and spiralling psychedelic artwork; overlapping dialogue in the series’ outlandish style. The artwork is simply astonishing, especially in the hardback deluxe edition. To be honest, I wouldn’t bother with the ebook – I can’t imagine how the gate-fold to super-size illustrations would work.

There’s even an epilogue for the hard-of-thinking, just in case you didn’t quite figure out who saved the day. The ‘special features’ in the back of the SpecEd are entertaining, too, although they’re utterly overshadowed by the story itself and its high-class presentation.

Now the bad news. If you haven’t read the original Sandman series then Overture is probably not the place to start. It could so easily be a bewildering cacophony to a newcomer – and you’d miss all the subtle references anyway, which make up much of the pleasure. That’s the only reason that this isn’t a straight 10/10.

For Sandman aficionados, Overture is a small slice of heaven. Treasure it.

Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason

Sandman Overture by Neil Gaiman is available as an ebook (if you must) or in hardback special edition (trade paperback to come, presumably)

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