Review: 'The Sandman: Overture' by Neil Gaiman and J.H. Williams III

The Sandman: Overture by Neil Gaiman (writer), J.H. Williams III (illustrator), Dave Stewart (colors), Todd Klein (lettering), and Dave McKean (original series covers) 
DC Comics/Vertigo (November 2015)
224 pages; $14.99 hardcover/$14.24 e-book
Reviewed by Blu Gilliand

OvertureWhen a series reaches the level of fan adoration and critical acclaim that Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman has, there’s always going to be a clamoring for more. Yes, it has been nearly 20 years since the 75th and final issue of the comic series was published by DC, but the work has aged magnificently, standing even now as a testament to what the medium is capable of, and as a standard which is rarely equaled.

Gaiman has demonstrated on more than one occasion that he’s not opposed to revisiting his creation if he’s got a good story to tell. He wrote The Sandman: The Dream Hunters, and a handful of stories for the Endless Nights anthology, and now he’s come back again with a prequel to the original series. The Sandman: Overture was a six issue limited series that began in 2013, and is now collected in its entirety in a beautiful hardcover edition.

When you say “prequel” these days, it’s a common reaction for fans to wince and flash back to the uninspired, fill-in-the-blanks efforts George Lucas trotted out with his Star Wars prequel trilogy. Let me go ahead and put those fears to rest: this is no nostalgia-fueled victory lap. Yes, Overture does fill in some gaps that fans have been fretting over since the beginning of the series – namely, what brought the Dream King so low that he could be captured by a bunch of cut-rate occultists, as he had been when we first met him way back in issue one? And yes, there are plenty of nods and hints and cameos that will stick out like sore thumbs to those who have read the entire series. But Gaiman achieves this organically, refusing to shoehorn fan favorites in for the sake of fan service, choosing instead to include only those things that make sense for the story he’s now telling.

I won’t go into a huge plot summary – suffice to say there’s a star that has gone insane, and its become a threat to the entire universe. Dream, feeling that he is somehow responsible, ventures to the far corners of existence to try and save, well, everything. Along the way he encounters many other manifestations of himself, has a conversation with God, and visits a city of stars. It’s an ambitious piece of storytelling, enhanced in immeasurable ways by the gorgeous artwork of J.H. Williams III, who matches Gaiman stride-for-stride in scope and innovation. Panels melt and flow into one another, and there are times when Williams employs several different art styles on the same page, and yet these flourishes never disrupt the flow of the story. The contributions of colorist Dave Stewart and letterer Todd Klein are likewise integral to bringing the story to vivid life.

Although it’s a prequel, I still think it’s a good idea for those who have yet to encounter The Sandman to read the rest of the series before diving into Overture. It is, after all, a beginning that’s being told at the end of the story, and it benefits from having knowledge of all that comes after it. However, whether this is your first foray into Gaiman’s masterpiece or a welcome return for a long-time fan, I think you’re going to be thrilled with the results.

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