Maybe it was portrayal of the Lord of the Dreaming as a mopey loner, ambling through the universe’s subconscious. Or the idea that the personifications of Destiny, Death and Destruction were a squabbling yet loving family like yours. Or the way that rotating art teams seemed to capture different facets of Sandman’s fictional universe. No matter why you liked it, Sandman was great. Then the seminal comics series was gone. It’s back now, in a new miniseries full of reminders of why you loved it in the first place.
The Sandman: Overture #1 celebrates the 25th anniversary of the original run by going back before the beginning of the series’ first story arc, which saw Dream imprisoned by human sorcerers. In case you’ve never known or have just plain forgotten about the Sandman comics, it was a much-lauded series by Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean and an honour roll of comics’ best artistic talents about Dream, the eons-old ruler of the subconscious. He’s a member of the Endless, a family of entities who embody various existential concepts like Desire, Delirium and Destruction. Over eight years, Sandman told the story of Dream’s life with unabashedly literary flair, detailing the loss of his great love and attempts to usurp his power.
This first issue recaptures so much of what made Sandman wonderful over its long lifespan. Let’s start with the utterly beautiful art. Not only does J.H. Williams III deliver dizzying page designs with his signature flair, but he does it in a myriad of styles, too. There’s a ton of detail on each page but the visual feast doesn’t take away from the expressiveness of the character’s faces and body language. It’s clear that you’re in the hands of a master artist.
Even better, those myriad styles bleed into each other, serving as a signifier for just how sprawling Dream’s purview and influence is. Look at the page above, where the colour and skewed perspective of an otherworldly dimension intrudes on the black-and-white of early 20th Century London. Dream presides over the realm where ideas are born and images like that let readers know that this is a comics series concerned with the power of imagination.
One of the best things about Sandman is how Gaiman creates clever, circular micro-mythologies inside of his larger stories. But the pioneering Vertigo series never explained everything at once. It gave you just a taste of a concept — always wrapped in dour lyricism or funny little truths — to be intrigued but left enough unsaid to make you wonder about the unfilled spaces. So it was with the Corinthian, when the serial-killing nightmare-made-flesh first appeared and so it is with Dream’s attendant George Portcullis in this issue. You may never see him again but the contact you get makes you want to know more. Overture spreads additional layers of honey onto an already rich confection of lore, weaving in new landscapes to sweeten things even further. But old friends are here, too, and there’s a sense of excitable reunion about the whole thing.
Speaking of wanting more, Overture #1 makes me wish this were the beginning of a new ongoing series. That’s because the beauty of Sandman was always in the knowledge that you’d be travelling down a long, sinous skein of mysteries and imaginings. It can be scary when beloved creators come back to signature works. But the only scary thing about this new Sandman is that it’s going to stop and we’ll be bereft once more.