Flowers, Fire, and Dreams in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman: Overture #1, Part 3

The next segment of The Sandman Overture Issue #1 doesn’t have a very auspicious beginning.  Pages twenty-five and twenty-six open up into a spread with Morpheus flying towards his Castle and his Dreaming kingdom: now no longer a rosy distant portrait but a very real, colourful, clear and vibrant world as portrayed by J.H. Williams III: its sheer vitality equalling that of his work in Alan Moore’s Promethea. However, Morpheus sails down from a sky shrouding itself with the light pinks and purples of evening clouds, and a flock of luminescent phantasmal giant fish beings floating by even as his turn of the century clothing changes into his trademark black robes … with its hem igniting on fire. If you recall what happened to the sentient plant version of Dream at the very beginning of the story, this does not bode well for him at all.

However, Morpheus is not being set on fire. Rather, he seems to be tugged at by some sort of “call” which as he explains in his thought narrative “A call is, itself, unusual. A call that cannot be resisted is unique.” So perhaps Morpheus doesn’t know about the death of … Dream in the other galaxy yet, but whatever the case he can apparently delay answering this “call” long enough to prepare himself which–if you recall Season of Mists–would be to claim all of his tools: including his Sand of Sleep and his Helm of Dreams made from a dead god’s bones. As an aside, if you look at the forested hilltop in the distance I strongly suspect we are seeing Fiddler’s Green before he decides to take on human form: but that is definitely another conjecture on my part, if not a fun thought to think about.

On page twenty-six we are reintroduced to Merv Pumpkinhead and Lucien the Librarian in the latter’s Library before we, well, technically even know about them. After Merv talks about attempting to explain to a certain dreamer named “Siggy”–or as we know him Sigmund Freud the Austrian psychoanalyst of dreams–that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar (with Merv’s penchant for crudity), there is another flash of white and black light–which startles both dreams–as Morpheus manifests in his throne room.

But before we go further into that, here is an interesting mystery. The foremost book in Lucien’s hands is entitled Book of Backwards Seas by W.G. Spacemen. As Lucien’s Library deals with books that are either possibilities that do not exist yet or never will in at least one reality, I am not actually sure where this reference comes from: if it’s derived from Tharg’s Future Shocks, the original 1970s text on futurism by Alvin Toffler, something by G.K. Chesterton, anything from classic science-fiction, or–as Neil Gaiman is wont to do (legend behind Dream Hunters, I’m looking at you)–something made up entirely. The fact is any way you look at it, it is something that reinforces that whatever is happening in the plot of Overture and whatever is about to occur has occurred already–because this is a prequel story–or will occur because time is most likely not linear with regards to the Dreaming, and that space or a galactic arena will be involved. It seems such a poor examination given how I am literally at a loss to figure out where this “imaginary book” came from, but hopefully it is something that will be revealed in time elsewhere.

Now, as we get back to the matter at hand, we follow Lucien to pages twenty-nine and thirty where, sure enough, Morpheus is preparing for battle: taking his gloves, his Sand, and his Helm. From pages twenty-five to thirty so far, the panels are made up of swirling line or almost calligraphy: as though they are part of Morpheus himself … as though they are part of his face and the stem of his deceased plant counterpart. Lucien himself seems to have something of a “presentiment” that Morpheus will not be coming back. By this point and on pages twenty-nine and thirty, the thick ink panels of the previous pages have become transparent but also scattered against the background of the cosmos and by page thirty they transition into pure flame. It is a flame that burns Morpheus. You can see his screams and if that weren’t enough, on page thirty we get the following caption from his perspective, “And I am pulled halfway across the universe in one fraction of forever, with a pain that feels like birth …”

So with another statement that is a prelude to his own transformation, death and passing on into another being entirely by The Wake, we come to the most epic segment of The Sandman Overture #1: the fold-out page spread. Pages thirty-one to thirty-two are nothing less than a spiral of black Morpheus in the centre of the cosmos burning in flames: even as he claims that he is prepared for anything that awaits him. Then, the spread folds out …

And what we find is nothing short of … Dream. In a splash page that takes up four whole internal pages, Morpheus finds himself in the centre of what appears to be different versions and incarnations of himself. However, it might be more accurate to say that Morpheus is actually encountering the different other aspects of Dream the Endless.

When Morpheus dies in The Kindly Ones, the Dream element of him becomes Daniel. Morpheus is, supposedly, dead but Dream remains. It is the principle behind “The King is dead. Long live the King.” Also, we have seen what we, up until this point, thought as Morpheus changing into different aspects of his capacity as Dream: depending on the perspective of the dreamer. This is why I wonder if Quorian, at the beginning of the story and his change from an “it” into a “he” might not perhaps have been intended as the new Dream in that Galaxy in case something happened to the previous one: or if simply witnessing the former’s death traumatically changed his sense of consciousness.

Yet while this scene here challenges the assumption that Dream is one being with different aspects, in the same way that Neil Gaiman always works with a plurality of meanings–of all perspectives being true–it is also inclusive of and even complements it. A good analogue to this would be to look at Doctor Who: in which The Doctor Regenerates into various forms, with similar and different personality traits which–sometimes through the advent of special circumstances–actually encounter each other in their temporal travels. But what we have here is something of an ancient anthropological perspective of the Endless: that they can be one being and many beings simultaneously, and that perhaps different traits and functions create different identities for one godlike being. Essentially, what we seem to be looking at here are many different aspects of just one Endless: Dream. So while Morpheus has not died yet, it seems as though a part of him–as Dream–already has.

Yet there is definitely a convergence here that transcends all of space and time and, even judging by the structure of the splash page folding out, reality is definitely not linear here. In fact, it is very unclear as to where here–in this case–is. Is it within Dream himself? Is it in the heart of the Universe? Or just a different galaxy? Or all of the above? Whatever the case is, I don’t think that Morpheus is, at all, prepared for this: even as his other aspects have been waiting for him.

Certainly, Morpheus’ reaction in the last page–page thirty-three?–of Overture #1 almost seems to say it all and, perhaps, even capture the reactions of the reader-audience when–in a similar arrangement of concentric spheres mirroring the first page of the story we see his helmet dissolve and a shocked expression on his face followed by just one word.

And this is the question that ends Issue #1 of The Sandman Overture, even as we are told that the next issue will deal with “A Concatenation of Dreams”: which, on the surface, seems to mean that we will be dealing with a series of interconnected events, or the interactions between the incarnations of Dream the Endless. As a “To be continued” story, it leaves us with only a few answers and even more questions.

Yet the foremost question on my mind starts at the beginning of all this: is this great threat that Dream faces something intrinsic to the Dreaming itself, to himself in all his aspects, or something far, far worse. Perhaps by the next issue of The Sandman Overture, we can continue to explore this terrifying possibility and the continued unorthodoxy of Neil Gaiman’s imagination together.

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Matthew Kirshenblatt is a graduate from York University, Toronto, Ontario, and is a writer and blogger living in the city of Thornhill. He is a comics and mythology fanatic; having written his Master's thesis, "The Spirit of Herodotus in Gaiman and Moore: Narrative Spaces and their Relationships in Mythic World-Building," he also contributes science-fiction, horror, and revisionist short stories to Gil Williamson's online Mythaxis Magazine. Nowadays, he can be found writing for G33kPr0n, and creating and maintaining his Mythic Bios: a Writer's Blog, in which he describes his creative process and makes weird stories, strange articles, reviews, overall geek opinion pieces and other writing experiments.

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