When the time came for Vertigo to launch as an offbeat, mature readers imprint from DC Comics, Karen Berger built that house on a foundation of sand. Specifically, the acclaim and attention directed towards “The Sandman” from Neil Gaiman and a platoon of various artists over its seventy-five-issue run. Now, after a pseudo-hiatus, surviving through life-sustaining titles like “Fables” and “Unwritten,” Vertigo has made a surge back onto the new comics racks with releases like “Hinterkind” and “Coffin Hill” as well as the looming promise of new “American Vampire” issues. With “The Sandman: Overture” #1 from Neil Gaiman and artist J.H. Williams III, there is no doubting that surge is fueled by the same sands that opened the doors of the imprint years ago.
With Gaiman’s flowery writing and Williams’ gorgeous artwork, I’d pay five bucks for the pages available in the preview alone. That said, the rest of this comic book would be a bargain by comparison. While digital comics have a presence now that was non-existent in the first round of “The Sandman,” this comic begs the reader to enjoy the paper version, complete with a double-gatefold spread as Morpheus begins to grasp the complexity of the situation begging his attention. Take my word for it: Williams’ art makes the paper copy that much more impressive and the story becomes much more immersive when that gatefold opens, like the doors of an airplane hangar, revealing wide open spaces that invite the reader to come and explore.
In the journey leading to that point, Gaiman checks in with Destiny, Death, the Corinthian, Merv Pumpkinhead (complete with an amusing anecdote) and Lucien the librarian, all the while adding more depth to those characters while refreshing (and, let’s be honest, re-introducing or even introducing) the Endless to readers. Although it has been years since I’ve poured over the pages of a comic with Morpheus as the focal point, this felt familiar, yet alarmingly fresh. Gaiman’s writing is full of character and emotion, just as it always has been, but here, with his comic book darlings, his writing becomes more vivacious and engaging. “The Sandman: Overture” #1 is steeped with poetic moments and lovely collaboration between writer and artist, but there is no doubt this comic book couldn’t happen without the effervescent imagination of Neil Gaiman. The opening sequence in particular, defines how familiar yet innovative this tale is set to be, and Gaiman’s work on Destiny plays to all of his artist’s strengths.
More than once in the early portion of the comic, it appears as though the two creators are taking turns, or, perhaps, like proper gentlemen trying to hold the door open and insisting the other pass through first. Gaiman gives Williams all the room in the world (or at least in the two pages) to stack dialog and break apart scenes into organically framed moments. Williams, in turn, provides panels that Gaiman then fills with story, unafraid of sacrificing artistic landscape in the name of storytelling. Colorist Dave Stewart wonderfully polishes all of the line work in this story, intelligently surrendering to Williams’ vision throughout the tale as best fits the narrative and visual. Letter artist Todd Klein leaves nothing undefined, immediately and thoroughly giving voice to Dream and his siblings present in this issue. Without getting overly self-analytical, I cannot find enough words to praise the visual spectacle of this issue and implore readers to take a peek inside. You don’t have to buy, but looking inside might convince uncertain readers otherwise. Quite simply, it’s a very pretty comic book with a wonderfully enjoyable, mysterious story.
Like a genius disturbed by a random thought demanding more brain power and immediate attention, Dream is distracted from his confrontation with the Corinthian, setting up the still sprouting seedling of the story that is “The Sandman: Overture” #1. Neil Gaiman is back writing his characters and telling his story. J.H. Williams III’s brilliant artwork magnifies that creative output and adds even more impact to this comic book. It packs a hefty price tag, but the story and the artwork live up to the billing individually and transcend it to become much more together.