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Going Home Again

Brian Hibbs

So… Sandman: Overture?

I was pretty excited when I heard that Neil Gaiman would be returning to Sandman — Comix Experience has a history with the book, after all — but I’m also not at all afraid to say I was a smidge nervous.  The last few comics Neil has written have been…. well, they were certainly technically fine (he’s a pretty good writer, after all), but they also felt a bit bloodless, and appeared like they had more originated from someone asking Neil to write something than a story that Neil had passionately originated from his own mind and heart.

(There’s nothing wrong with that — that’s how most comics are created; but seldom, I think, is that how the best comics are created)

Then there’s also the whole “aging act” thing — you know, how you just love a band or a story or a character or some other thing, but how going back to it isn’t nearly as good as you remembered that band was (or, even worse, sometimes, that it is really terrific, but it is just different enough that the mainstream pretty much ignores it.  For example, I really liked Rush’s last two albums, but I don’t think that any of the “classic rock” stations in the Bay Area really ever played a single track from them, despite playing “Tom Sawyer” 6 times a day…. or Jeff Beck’s last record, or… well, you get the point, I guess), and then you start to wonder how much you liked the original in the first place? (you fickle fickle fan)

So, I’m pretty happy to say that I thought Neil’s return to Sandman with “Sandman: Overture” was simply terrific — it had just enough classic strains of what we liked about it before, melded with a writer pretty much at his peak, and with what appears to be a pretty intriguing new twist to go with it.

Yes, there are bits that are going to seem very familiar: “There is a book. A book filled with everything that has every happened, everything that ever will happen. It is heavy, and leather, and chained to his wrist.” and so on. You can’t stray so far from what worked, after all, and the characters are who they are — and because this is a prequel you at least think you know where all of the pieces have to come out. But Sandman has always been about stories, and I’d argue that seldom were there a lot of surprises once things were set in place in Sandman because stories have rules — could “the Kindly Ones” have really gone any other way, from a plot perspective?

But that’s from us who loved this with a spoon 25 years (!!) ago — I think if this is your first time reading this world and these characters, I think you’re really going to see why we fell in love all the way back then, because there is an incredible cosmology being formed here (And, actually, “Overture” might solve the problem I always had with starting new readers at v1 — I always thought “A Doll’s House” was the much much better entry point, because there weren’t any more bits about how much the Martian Manhunter loved Oreos or whatever, that so dates the first story arc)

But, yeah, for those of us who already were fans, if you’re a lapsed comics reader, I entirely think it is worth your while to come back to Sandman — especially as a periodical reading experience.

In fact, there’s a specific physical thing that happens here in the serialized comic book (I’ve been led to believe that the reason it wasn’t described in the solicitations was that Neil wanted it to be a surprise for the reader, so I won’t say more than that — because it was a lovely surprise!) that I strongly believe will be mediocre at best in a collected edition — and downright dire in a digital version. This first issue at least is very much meant to be a comic book, if you ask me.

If you are a lapsed reader somehow reading this review, I’d like to urge you to try and start up a conversation with the person behind the counter of your local comics store, and ask them about what is happening in comics right now that that’s on the same level as Sandman.  Because there really is a lot of wonderful contemporary comics out there that you will delight to discover — the first one I’ll give you for free is “Saga” by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples — my deepest hope would be this brings back many readers from “back in the day” and reintroduces you to the general resplendent wonder that is comic books.

I didn’t say anything yet about the art, and that there is because I really don’t have the words.  This is the work of J.H. Williams III’s career — and given all of the awesome astonishing comics he has drawn before, that’s saying a lot. Stunningly, epically beautiful where the page is at least as important as the panel. Brother can draw.

There are a few weaknesses, sure — the house ads are a bit jarring when they come; and if you didn’t like Sandman back then (and there were many people who didn’t), this probably won’t change your mind — about half the issue had a certain level of “read this before” to it (though the verses change), but all of that was extremely minor to me. I thought this was truly EXCELLENT work, and I’m kind of proud to have it on my shelf.

What did you think?

 

-B

17 Responses to “ Going Home Again ”

  1. Yup, this fired on all cylinders!

  2. It was WONDERFUL. Gaiman shows how he is the master at turning a word, and just how damn spoiled we were every month in the 90′s.

  3. was on the fence leaning towards “no” because of his recent comics output but this convinced me to pick it up.

  4. On the fence. Have a hard time believing that I can be dazzled by a Brian K Vaughn book either, although that Fiona Staples sure looks special.

    Maybe someday.

  5. @mateor: I can’t speak to the new Sandman (even the original series left me cold, but JHWIII art may convince me) — but I can tell you SAGA does live up to the hype, and that’s from someone who was consistently intrigued by, but underwhelmed (or even actively put-off) by a lot of Brian K. Vaughn’s prior output.

    One of the great things about SAGA is that BKV, by accident or design, is working in a world and genre that foils one of his more irritating tics, the Aaron Sorkin style insertion/digression of Wikipedia factoids shoehorned into the dialogue. Everything in this world is MADE UP, and there’s no room for those Wiki factoids — which are supplanted by even wackier MADE UP factoids and details (like feline living lie detectors, rocket-ship trees, an intergalactic bestselling tawdry romance novel that’s secretly a subversive plea for peace, etc.) Unless you hate fun, you won’t hate SAGA.

  6. I’ll be honest, I’m glad I bought the Sandman book but it seemed a bit wordy with lots of unnecessary captions. I haven’t read the originals in a long time, so I can’t comment on if this is in the style of that series or if this is a new “i’ve been writing prose” quirk.

    The art is predictably gorgeous but perhaps not so much playing with form in such overt ways as previously demonstrated in say, Promethea. I’m glad I bought it in single issue floppy as suggested by this blog post because what is referenced would probably not translate well to either digital or trade format as predicted.

  7. Here’s the thing about SAGA: I like the art, I like the gimmicks (the lie detector cat, for instance, although it should be said that like any Brian K. Vaughan gimmick, these gimmicks get old fast)… but the plot is, well, kind of really, really stupid. And all the characters are kind of really stupid. And a number of the characters – the main characters in particular – are also really obnoxious, in that particular way that Brian K. Vaughan protagonists tend to be, where they spend all their time wandering around whining a lot and being aggressively useless.

    So… I keep reading SAGA, which means I think I like SAGA. But I have no idea why. I don’t like the plot. I don’t like the characters. I don’t like the dialogue, which is as cheesy and over-baked as anything Vaughn’s written before. I don’t like pretty much anything that can’t be put down to Vaughn’s side of things, in fact. I might just be liking Fiona Staples’s art – which is very good art, but honestly, can’t carry this thing on its own forever.

    Oh, and if you’re irritated by Vaughn’s almost pathological need to bend the structure of his series so that every. single. issue. ends on a cliffhanger, and a cliffhanger which is delivered with the same “bam, pow, didn’t see that comin’!” tone regardless of whether it’s the death of a character, an obvious fake-out death, or the “stunning revelation” that the protagonist dude had banged other people before he met the protagonist lady, you will have very little patience for this book.

  8. SANDMAN OVERTURE was a bit wordy, with a lot of unnecessary captions (and unnecessarily florid dialogue) – but (and it’s been a while since I read the books, too) I remember that as a tic of Gaiman’s that often became more pronounced through the series, as it became increasingly clear that he just wanted to write novels.

    To be honest, there’s not enough of a story established here – or even enough of a premise – for me to judge Gaiman’s side of things yet. J.H. Williams’s art is stunning, though – it makes me irritated that once again, 90% of commentary on this is going to be about Gaiman, and not about the guy who’s doing the vast bulk of the work in actually making this thing.

  9. I loved the issue, it defiantly felt like an old friend.
    I wonder if the reason why people are saying that the house ads are so jarring is that we are all so used to reading it in trades these days, that we have forgotten what it was like in the single issues.

  10. “I can tell you SAGA does live up to the hype, and that’s from someone who was consistently intrigued by, but underwhelmed (or even actively put-off) by a lot of Brian K. Vaughn’s prior output.”

    Hey, @DocK, you (and pee-slingers Graeme & Jeff) are starting to convince me. I’ve actively hated BKV in the past. Y never fully capitalized on its promise, Ex Machina actively lost its way and became something downright horrible, and Runaways just stopped mid-story. I don’t trust BKV. At all. I never leave the party glad I walked in. So why is Saga different?

    Everyone says it’s great, but what about Saga promises BKV isn’t going to fuck it up yet again?

  11. “but what about Saga promises BKV isn’t going to fuck it up yet again?”

    See, that’s the risk in experiencing anything in life: you don’t know what’s going to happen.

  12. “Everyone says it’s great, but what about Saga promises BKV isn’t going to fuck it up yet again?”

    Nothing, as far as I can tell. I think the appeal of SAGA, from what I can see, is mostly in Staples’s art, and to a lesser extent in charming little gimmicks thrown here and there (Lying Cat, Prince Robot, etc.). But the arc of the book itself feels fairly directionless.

  13. @LumpyDan, I’m all for experimenting with new experiences. But when it comes to past history being the best indicator of future performance, “fool me once, shame on BKV.” “Fool me four times, shame on me.”

  14. Dasbender – For what it’s worth, I share your opinions of Y and Runaways (didn’t bother with Ex Machina), but I’ve been enjoying Saga quite a bit. To be honest, I chalk it up to the narrator. She adds a sense of whimsy, punches up the cliffhangers and helps make the more rambly bits seem like there’s a point to them.

  15. Dasbender – “Everyone says it’s great, but what about Saga promises BKV isn’t going to fuck it up yet again?”

    It’s not as tied to it’s plot or concept as any of his previous series – nothing is promised by the book or it’s concept except following the characters, all of which are excellent. The characters all have motivations and clear personal aims, but nothing in the book makes it feel this will be the sum total of the book.

    The question you should be asking is, why is Saga so much more popular and successful than any of his previous series?

    moose n squirrel – “I think the appeal of SAGA, from what I can see,”

    It’s one of the appeals, sure. Not the be all and end all though.

    “Oh, and if you’re irritated by Vaughn’s almost pathological need to bend the structure of his series so that every. single. issue. ends on a cliffhanger, and a cliffhanger which is delivered with the same “bam, pow, didn’t see that comin’!” tone regardless of whether it’s the death of a character, an obvious fake-out death, or the “stunning revelation” that the protagonist dude had banged other people before he met the protagonist lady, you will have very little patience for this book.”

    So… it’s bad he ends the book on a cliffhanger which is the death of a character, and it’s bad if he does it with fake out deaths of a character*, and it’s bad if he does it with a character moment?

    Can I also suggest that it’s probably less a pathological need to have a cliffhanger, and more a strong sales hook, designed to bring people back for the next issue?

    (*Considering he killed off one his most popular characters in the first ‘death’ cliffhanger, have the endings with threats of death to characters been such obvious fakes?)

  16. And before getting sidetracked by the comments, I’d intended to say that personally, I’d have given Sandman Overture a Good.
    Although Williams came in at his usual high level, Gaiman was off his. What was added to The Sandman lore by this issue? We got to see his last conversation with The Corinthian, but it added nothing to what we previously knew about either character. To me, the whole issue felt like that – yes, it’s nice to see Death and Destiny, however they also didn’t actually do anything, except remind me of a very similar scene later in the series. If we’re just going to rework the old riffs, and not having them lead anywhere new, then I’m not sure what the point to it is (it’s also why I don’t particularly care for prequels – rarely ever more than a cash in).
    I’m a total Sandman fanboy though, so I’ll probably get the trade – five bucks for an issue with distracting double page ads totally breaking up the art is too much to bother with.
    (And whilst I’m having a total whinge, what is with Vertigo’s current house ads? Who are they meant to appeal to? How do they think it builds desire for their product? Weird.)

  17. I am informed by what I hope is a reliable source that the house ads will be put in the back of the book with all future issues — the ONLY reason it didn’t happen with this one was the surprise gatefold fucked the needed pagination.

    -B

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