Sandman Overture # 6


By chance, a couple of days ago, I came across my review of Sandman Overture 1, which I read with a grim smile at its optimistic cheeriness and enthusiasm. In particular, I couldn’t help but seize on the assertion that Neil Gaiman had written this preface to the Sandman series of twenty-five years previously, which is certainly what we were all led to believe: six issues, published bi-monthly, starting in November 2013, ending in September 2014.

Today, I paid a fleeting visit to the centre of Manchester to purchase issue 6, which appears exactly twelve months behind schedule, having scraped in just under the wire to do so.

And though artist J.H.Williams is notorious as a slow artist, it is not he who has to take responsibility for this fiasco. As early as the interminable delay between issues 1 and 2, Gaiman accepted responsibility for failing to provide his artistic collaborator with scripted pages to be drawn. I have heard nothing since that suggests that the ongoing difficulty in producing this book was down to anyone else.

Now, should he choose to exercise it, Gaiman has a ready-made excuse for these delays, in the form of his previous defence of George R. R. Martin. I’d like to say that I agree with every word Gaiman says at the other end of that link. Wearing the hat I wear as a reader of comics for fifty years, bearing in mind that throughout that period, and even now, comics is a serial form of fiction that is heavily dependant on the even rhythm of its schedule, I don’t regard such an explanation as adequate.

I have already said, as much as a year ago, that had I known what would happen, I wouldn’t have even started the story. I would have waited for the Graphic Novel collection, and I don’t mean the hardback volume that is already treading on the heels of this comic with a haste that is indecent in the circumstances. The paperback is at least twelve more months away.

But what, we dare ask, is my impression of the Distinguished Thing now that it is present in its entirety? I have carried the comic home without opening its pages, have written the first half of this blog whilst it remains in the Forbidden Planet bag, and I shall now read the story in its entirety, and only then offer my opinion.

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And it is good.

It’s so very good, and so very wide, and it seeps into every part of a story begun twenty-seven years ago, and ended nineteen years ago, as if in every part of it it was in Gaiman’s head during the nights that followed the Great Storm, when the shape and the idea came about.

And Williams draws or paints or does both and neither as if he is shaping the stuff of dream instead of using pencil, paper, ink, or even pixels.

And it will need many more readings for me to appreciate the immensity of this story, including those readings that will be necessary to eradicate the thoughts and feelings that form the first part of this revue.

For it is very good indeed. But it carries within it a sense of completion that makes it very hard to imagine that Gaiman will ever return to The Dreaming again.

Sandman Overture # 4


Ok, let’s try to do without the grumbling this time.

Part 4 of this six-issue story has now been published. It is immaculately written, and beautifully drawn, by Neil Gaiman and J. H. Williams III respectively. However, despite the presence of a token cliffhanger, this is again not a discrete episode, but a portion of the whole, and as such offers little by way of independent satisfaction, despite its attempts to make up for this by way of revelation.

Dream, the Dream of Cats and the small, blue-skinned girl called Hope, arrive at the City of Stars. Dream thinks upon his father, and between microseconds, is summoned to Time’s side, his study. Time is cold and distant, refusing to give Dream the (unspecified) help he seeks, in punishment for Dream having been allowed to borrow the Saeculum*, only to lose it.

(*Saeculum: a period of time equivalent to a potential human life).

Returning to the City, Dream’s band are refused entry because they are not Stars. Dream argues that he must be allowed entry in order to deal with the mad Star who threatens to destroy all the Universe. He, alone, is permitted to enter the mad Star’s cell. The Star calls him her’brother’, underlining that she is in the domain of Delirium, Dream’s youngest sister) (who was once Delight).

Dream reveals his responsibility for this moment: the arrogance and ignorance of his refusal to end the life of the young woman who was a Dream Vortex, until her madness had infected a world a galaxy, a Star.

He is then summoned, unwillingly this time, to Time’s study, where his father is now pleased that Dream has returned the Saeculum (it is implied that this has not yet happened in Dream’s lineal perception, and that indeed it is the responsibility of his successor, Daniel-Dream). Dream does not want his father’s proferred help: he has been taken at a crucial moment, his absence will lead to the death/destruction/delirium of Hope.

As it does.

As the issue ends, Dream faces imprisonment beyond the event horizon of a dark Star, or Black Hole.

At the official quarterly schedule now applied to Sandman Overture, we should be able to read the entirety of the story in mid-to-late June 2015. It is abundantly clear that only then, with the ability to comprehend this tale as a whole, will its sections come into focus. During Sandman‘s original 75 issue run, Gaiman followed the comic book convention of creating multiple-issue arcs that carried a sense of satisfaction within each part, but he has abandoned this notion for the prequel.

I fully expect that the whole will read as a truly worthy addition to the canon, but I can’t pretend that it makes for great reading on an issue-by-issue basis, and that’s entirely separate from the scheduling.

Until mid-to-late March, officially…

The Sandman: Overture. Issue 2


Since the transition to the New 52 Universe and the corporate/editorial diktat control of its comics, DC has made many fuck-ups. So often have they been inconsistent, illogical, inept, contradictory, incompetent and downright iditic that there is even a website dedicated to Has DC Done Something Stupid Today?, complete with a counter, ticking off the days since the last fuck-up.

To the best of my knowledge, The Sandman: Overture has not featured on this site, and to be fair to DC, my understanding is that it is not they who are responsible for the unconscionable delay between issue 1 (early November 2013) and issue 2 (late March 2014, though only picked up today).

The series was announced, well over a year ago, as Sandman Zero, in which Neil Gaiman would al long last tell the missing Sandman story, the prequel, the adventure from which Dream was returning in issue 1, wearied beyond measure and vulnerable to Magus Roderick Burgess. It had all Sandman fans slavering, though at least one of these slavering fans had a deeply cynical response to the way DC proposed to milk the project. It was to be a six-issue series, drawn (and beautifully) by J H Willams III, but it was to be published over twelve months, alternating with special ‘Director’s Editions’ of the previous issue.

What we actually had, therefore, was that utter throwback, a bi-monthly title, dressed up as something fancy and gaudy and super-good for us, when it would have looked twice as good if honestly announced. But of course it could not be honestly announced because bi-monthlies are contemporaries of the dodo. And how much trouble would it seriously to adhere to standard practice and get half or two-thirds, whatever suits the artist’s speed best, inhouse before you schedule publishing the first of them?

But it didn’t happen that way. And Neil Gaiman has taken responsibility for not having gotten his ass in gear and writing issue 2 when J H Williams III was ready for issue 2. It’s been a PR, a Publishing and a Credibility disaster of mammoth proportions.

For many months now (five, in total) it has reminded me of nothing so much as D’Arc Tangent. Now, to understand that reference you will need to be at least fifty years old and well-read in comics, but for the majority of you, D’Arc Tangent was a black-and-white magazine style comic, an SF story of both epic and personal proportions, starting in 1982. It was a collaboration between Phil Foglio and an individual going by the name of Freff. It also featured an editorial consultancy by Chris Claremont, whilst he still had any credibility. Space Opera and True Romance, effervescent comedy and deep heartbreak, it was a truly brilliant piece of work that had everything you could ever want.

Except an issue 2.

Foglio and Freff fell out irrevocably over the direction of the story. Apparently, Foglio threatened legal action if Freff tried to continue the story without him. So it died an ignominious and insignificant death, leaving issuie 1 as a beautifully construicted waste of time, a nothing of no importance at all. It might well never have existed.

Which is how I’ve been feeling about Sandman: Overture 1 for all the year so far. It was good, but so what?

I’m still not rid of that feeling. There was no ‘Director’s Edition’, not that I saw or heard, and what happens next? Are we to expect issue 3 in late May, or will it be more like August? How much of it has Gaiman written by now? Given the contents, and the glorious quality of the art, how long does Williams need to draw an issue?

What I can say about issue 2 is that it is superb. I wouldn’t have it any different, certainly not to the detriment of the art, but that doesn’t mean it was worth the wait. As others have pointed out, not much happens in this story. Dream correctly identifies that the ‘crowd’ he met in the first issue’s pull-out is merely himself, or aspects of himself. We are never given a definitive example as to how they are different: there seems to be aspects dependant on different spatial areas, temporal locations and species (there is a more than welcome return for the Dream of Cats). and there is a highly intruguing hint at a past event Gaiman mentioned briefly in the series, a quarter-century ago, in that the Universe, or all there is, is threatened by the Vortex Dream let live…

But the most unexpected part of this story is that it begins with Dream instead of Dream: with Daniel Dream, that is, the current face of The Dreaming, required to keep a most mysterious appointment with Mad Hettie, in a dream place she seeks both to return to and avoid. Dreanm retrieves something, a nonworking pocket watch, that may be of interest not to himself but to Dream. And Dream in all his aspects has been pulled to his present location because an aspect of Dream is dead. And is this a different aspect, or one we have seen destroyed already?

And is this very scene, amongst the multitude of self the spark for Dream’s long decision to drive himself towards the only alternative to a change he can’t effect?

Once we have this story as a whole, I think we will have a web that folds many things into one thing, like Dream en masse becomes Dream, in his most familiar aspect. I hope I’m not driven to be cranky again by getting there.

 

The Sandman: Overture, issue 1


I confused myself in the comics shop earlier, about how long ago it really was since Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series ended. but it is still the best part of twenty years since the final issue of the series, and twice as long as the series ran. And I’ve always been counted among those who would happily have sold a reasonably distant member of their family for another story. And now finally that’s not necessary (just as well given I don’t have any suitable kin to offer), because Gaiman has not merely agreed to write that one more story, but has actually completed it and the first issue has been published.

Of course, DC being DC, the event is going to be milked for all its worth and the herd in the next field as well for, whilst Gaiman’s story will consist of only six issues, these will only be published on a bi-monthly basis, meaning that the end of this story will not be known until September 2014. To ensure our money doesn’t get stagnant in our pockets keep us going in between episodes, we will be able to buy ‘Special Editions’ of the previous month’s comic, with ‘extras’. I will say no more.

So, what’s it like, returning to the Dreaming with Gaiman after all these years? Has he still got it? Does this feel right, does it feel authentic? Hell, yes, it’s like never having been away.

Gaiman’s story is the one before it all began, the one that ends with issue 1, almost twenty-five years ago, when Dream of the Endless was captured by the self-styled Magus, Roderick Burgess, returning from a mission that has left him desperately tired and weak. This is that story, so already we know two things. The first is that this is taking place during the Great War in Europe, and the second is all of Dream’s future to come.

Stories are always difficult to tell when you know their ending in advance. The ingenuity of The Day of the Jackal (on film at least) lay in how it sprang its story of why the Jackal failed, when his approach had been so impossibly meticulous. Gaiman has an advantage in that this story need not connect itself in such a sense to the already-known series, since all it has to do is to deliver a ‘desperately tired and weak’ Sandman to a pre-arranged point, but Gaiman wouldn’t be Gaiman if he ignored that challenge.

What we have so far is a mysterious dream sequence far away in space, on a planet that is not Earth, and whose inhabitants include a race of intelligent, if immobile plants, one of whom dreams of a strange black-petaled, white-faced plant that senses something deeply wrong on this planet, and then burns. This incident creates ripples: Destiny reads in his book of entertaining his sister Death, who is perturbed that she has just collected their brother Dream a hundred galaxies away, and it is never very good when one of the Endless dies.

Then there is the Corinthian, disobeying Dream by entering the waking world, by killing. He is brought to Dream’s London offices to be uncreated away from all his friends, but Dream’s intentions are disturbed by a summons: not a common thing but not unknown,yet this is a summons that cannot be refused. Dream has time only to return to the Dreaming, leaving the Corinthian to roam unchecked, to collect his helmet of office and his pouch of sand (he wears his ruby already) before being summoned in an instant to, we assume, this planet of humanoids, insects and plants.

He arrives prepared for anything. Except for what he finds: a fold-out, four page spread of Dreams: nor dreams, but Dreams: himself, replicated, variegated, over thirty different incarnations, all answering the summons.

Where this leads is two months away, in another year.

Overture comes with alternate covers, at least for issue 1. As was traditional, Dave McKean has also returned, but series artist J. H. Williams III has drawn an alternate cover, as depicted above, which is the one I’ve chosen. Williams has been one of the leading artists in comics for over a decade, and he is immaculate in this issue, meticulous in his detail and in full command of his craft. Parts of the art is in black and white, although it might be better to describe it as grey and white. Practically the only quibble would be that, in the London office sequel, his Sandman is hugely reminiscent of the Shade, from James Robinson’s Starman, but then I like the Shade so I’m fine with that.

This is, as usual, very much a first issue, setup and mystery, and a generously depicted atmosphere. There are still stories to be told within Gaiman’s Dreaming, within Gaiman’s Endless. This is the first: I will not be alone in hoping it will not be the last.