The Sandman: Overture is a comic book that might as well have been tailor-made for me. Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors, JH Williams III is one of my favorite artists, and Dave Stewart is one of my favorite colorists. It’s a true personal dream team.
As I mentioned in a recent blog post, I’m a bit ashamed, given my affinity for Gaiman and comic books that it took until 2020 for me to finish Sandman. Now that I’ve completed the main series, I’m working through the various prequels, sequels, and spin-offs that have popped up in the 25-ish years since it’s conclusion. The story is a direct prequel to the events of Sandman #1. It’s going to be hard for any of that material to top Overture.
As anyone who has read Sandman can attest to, Dream is the main character of the series but the series is often only about him in an indirect manner. That’s far from the case here in Overture. From open to close it’s a multi-verse spanning adventure with Dream as the headliner. I found it to be just trippy enough. Gaiman does one of his finest jobs in the series of treading to the line between well-written weirdness and incomprehensible mess without ever crossing it.
What really makes Overture special is Williams’ art. He is at the peak of his panel-bending powers here and the material is such an absurdly good fit for his skills. It is clear that Gaiman is not jus writing his Dream story, but that he is writing it specifically for JH Williams III to draw. With the exception of mostly just the opening and closing page of each chapter, the entire story is made up of two-page spreads. Williams uses his trademark method of finding ways to break the page up without resorting to a traditional panel layout at almost any time. Changing Williams out for another artist would lead to a pretty good Sandman story, but nothing near the product presented here.
One more small note on the art that isn’t terribly relevant to the rest of the book…I first saw the cover to issue #1 (also the cover to this collection) on the shelves in 2013 when the series initially began releasing and it was entrancing. I’d never read a page of Sandman but it was, and remains, one of the favorite comic book covers I’ve ever laid eyes on.
This one is just great. I can concede it’s not for everyone. This isn’t going to win over anyone who hasn’t enjoyed Sandman they’ve read previously, and if you don’t enjoy JH Williams’ art you are probably going to have a tough time with this. But I enjoy all of those things and they came together in such a delightful way. I hope 2021 has more comics as good as this in store.