As is the case for most of us who celebrate the holiday, Thanksgiving means one word to me: family. Whether it’s the family given to you by blood or the family you’ve chosen for yourself, today is the day for being thankful for those you love. So it is fitting that my review for this week deals with a rather singular family: the Endless. This is not a happy family, it is dysfunctional at best, but the Endless are a family whose relationships affect galaxies. When your brothers and sisters are Death, Desire, Destruction, Destiny, Delirium and Despair, your family gatherings tend to get a little dramatic. Sandman: Overture is a prequel to the award-winning Sandman series (written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated largely by Dave McKean) and brings us back to the perspective of the king of sleep known equally as the Sandman, or in the case of his family, Dream. Overture begins before Dream was forced into the human world in the insane adventure of the original Sandman series and leads the reader directly into the events of the first issue of Sandman. Overture is also written by Neil Gaiman but brings in a new illustrator, J.H. Williams III. There are just six issues in this short series and this review will cover them all without spoiling the events of the Sandman series for those who have not yet read it. Although seriously, if you haven’t, you need to fix that. Immediately.
Overture begins with the death of Dream. Or rather, the death of a Dream. Given that he is the king/god/whatever you’d like to call him of sleep, dreams, and nightmares, there is not one single version of him but rather thousands. The void created by this particular Dream’s death means that the Endless version of Dream must track down what has happened to this alternate version of himself and solve the problem before the literal end of the world begins. As it turns out, this involves a mistake in Dream’s past. It will be up to Dream, the cat version of himself and a small orphaned girl to fix the mistake before an insane star brings about the destruction of everything they know.
The reason that I originally fell in love with the Sandman series is the very same reason that I loved Overture. Dream is such a strange, conflicted and flawed character that as a reader, I’m never sure whether to pity him or empathize with his more human moments. Make no mistake, Dream is not and has never been what you would call a traditional hero. He’s proud, selfish, easily angered and prone to making mistakes because he doesn’t think about the consequences. And yet, almost due to his flaws, he makes for a very interesting character. When Dream succeeds, it’s almost despite himself.
In addition to this, Overture is the first time we get a sense of the parents behind the Endless family. While the original Sandman series introduced readers to the brothers and sisters whose squabbling and only occasional love for one another made them one of the most dysfunctional families I’ve seen, there was never a hint of the genesis of them. Overture finally reveals the root of the problem in the form of their father, Time (of course), and mother, Night. When Dream is forced to go to his parents for help, it becomes an incredibly obvious that this is a family of gods and there is no mortal affection to be found here. As dysfunctional as they are, it made the Endless more well-rounded to finally see all of them.
And there is no way that I could finish a review of Overture without heaping praise on J.H. Williams III. The original Sandman series had some fairly incredible artwork so I went into the Overture series with very high standards. After having read all six issues, I want to plaster every last panel all over my walls. Overture is a story of galaxies, alternate realities and stars. Williams does that story glorious justice with absolutely gorgeous artwork that perfectly encapsulates the ethereal feel of Gaiman’s writing. I know that’s overly dramatic praise but damn do they drive me to it. If you read Overture for no other reason, read if for the brilliant pairing of magical storytelling and equally magical art.
Before I give my final judgement on this review, I have to say that I think it would be almost unreadable if you haven’t read the original Sandman series. It has been a few years since I have and I’ll admit now that I was confused for at least half of the story. Overture deals a lot with alternate realities, the consequences of our decisions and the strangeness of the gods so it’s not exactly straightforward to begin with. But it hits you right in the chest when the last few pages bring you full circle back to the beginning of Sandman. Without that prior knowledge, it’s likely to just be confusing and pretty. If you have read Sandman, Overture is well worth your time as another look at Dream and yet another magical story from Neil Gaiman.