Written by: Neil Gaiman
Art by: J.H. Williams, III
J.H. Williams, III
Variant Cover by:
J.H. Williams, III
Rating: 9 (of 10)
After two delays and much anticipation, the second installment of The Sandman Overture has arrived. Neil himself explained that the delay was “mostly due to the giant signing tour I was on from June, and [...] not getting script written on the tour, with knock-on effects,” back in November of 2013. A second delay occurred shortly afterward. Whether or not this was due to Gaiman himself, or a publication snafu, has gone unspecified (at least to my knowledge). Despite this, the wait was worth it. Gaiman delivers on the second installment in spades, with J.H. Williams really exploring the glossy pages of Vertigo’s trade paperback copies. I have no intention of revealing plot, so let your mind be put at ease. Even if I were to spill the beans on a few plot points, trust me, you would be as confused as me. No difference there.
The comic book game is a fickle mistress, with plots yanking you along like a dog on a leash. It is clear where the master is going; getting there, that is the hard part. Gaiman is no different, with his beats primarily relying on ambiguity to drive home his majestic plotting, only this time he has the home field advantage. The Sandman universe is a really big place, bigger than one is lead to imagine. Any surprising plot point advanced, therefore, has the benefit of feeling fresh. Nothing is contrived, only illuminated. Because the emphasis of The Sandman Overture lies in explaining how Dream of the Endless was caught by Roderick Burgess in Sandman #1, there are plenty of Easter eggs to find on closer examination. Best of all, these scant breadcrumbs are never pursued, but left to the imagination. Gaiman trusts that the reader can fill in the blanks, which feels much more satisfying than being fed a hamfisted explanation of how character X survived catastrophe Y.
What is revealed, or intentionally muddled, satisfies, but it is Williams’ artwork that truly brings the comic alive. I would venture a guess that the two consecutive delays stemmed from Williams stepping up his art game, if not a grander emphasis on the publishing quality on the behalf of Vertigo. If the first issue came off as an impressive Wes Anderson project (a fresh take on a fatigued concept), indie and in vogue, issue 2 feels like a hyped blockbuster. It may be just me, but the binding and printing quality seems vastly improved, with a generous awareness of spreads and splash panels that allow the reader uninhibited access to what is going on in the comic. This allows Williams’ layouts to come alive in ways that were only hinted at in issue #1. Everything flows, despite the extravagance and what could have been a very confusing ordering of panels. This is important, because it keeps the reader involved in the story.
But nothing is perfect (otherwise you wouldn’t be reading a review, hmm?), even the work of Neil Gaiman. As the plot rolls out, I feel many things. I feel impressed, awestruck, moved, but not very surprised. As the story unfurls, the moments of “reveal” seem incremental, adding a layer of unforeseen understanding to a sprawling universe. Perhaps I am being a stickler for a more ambitious tale, but as is, Gaiman’s storytelling is still seasoned, par excellence as far as comic writing goes. Nothing feels cliché, but I can’t help but feel that the philosophy of addition will be quickly exhausted. I am quibbling with a diamond, finding flaws, but blinded by its unceasing iridescence.
I can say with confidence that The Sandman Overture #2 is worth its weight. The story is satisfying, engrossing, playful, and brimming with the fantastic set pieces that are so beloved in Gaiman mythology. Vertigo is clearly putting their chips down on this limited run, so we ought to pay attention. The ramifications are endless (pun intended). This is a series not to be missed.