Saturday, 2 August 2014

The Sandman: Overture #3 Review (Neil Gaiman, JH Williams III)


Have you ever heard Neil Gaiman speak? He talks very. Very. (Deep breath) Very. Sl. Ow. L. Y. It’s almost comical how plodding and sonorous his voice is, but that voice is also his narrative style which has made reading his novels, for me anyway, impossible. They’re not fast paced to start with but then I hear his voice and suddenly the snail’s pace drops to a near stop. 

That’s how Sandman Overture #3 reads: extremely slowly. It doesn’t actually feel like you’re reading a single issue, it’s like you’re reading a novella or something, there’s so much text. Which I suppose makes up for the looooooong stretches between issues - Overture #1 came out on Halloween 2013 and it’s August 2014 and we’re only on #3! In fact, Gaiman’s said that this issue will be the last of the year with #4 slated for 2015! I guess he’s so highly regarded though that he can get away with missing deadlines. 

But this issue isn’t bad because it’s drawn out or overwritten (though it is both), it’s because it’s actually really badly written. So, Morpheus has teamed up with a giant cat version of him and together they’re trying to stop a crazy star - a literal giant gaseous star that’s apparently gone nuts (yes, they have minds apparently) - from triggering a war that’ll destroy the universe? Or something trippy like that. Forces are being marshalled across the galaxy including - surprise! - the freakin’ Green Lantern Corps! That’s right, those dudes make a cameo to remind us that Sandman is part of the DC Universe! 

That’s just the context of this issue though, what happens is that Morpheus and Cat Morpheus rescue a little girl called Hope who acts as exposition-starter to Morpheus who tells her his tragic love story. The end. And, because Gaiman sets all of that war stuff up so damn slowly, that it doesn’t feel urgent or impending, it feels - well, just dull which is the opposite of how we’re supposed to feel about that storyline. Zzz… huh? Wuzzat? War? Oh, something excitings going to happen! More narration… zzz… 

Can we put a kibosh to little girl characters called Hope, please? It’s starting to become cliche. And Cat Morpheus feels derivative, like Gaiman read Saga and noticed how the most beloved character in this huge-selling comic is the Lying Cat and decided, hey, I’ll do the same! So we’ve got two characters who feel totally derivative and, frankly, surplus to the story, at least as it is so far. 

Morpheus’ love story too - which is conveniently set up when Hope asks him something like why’re you sad, have you never known love? or some such drivel - is just one long dreary exposition-filled slog through the most tedious love story you’ve ever heard, that never once convinces you that Dream once felt emotions. 

The one plus I’ll give Gaiman is that we find out the origin of the horned gates of the Dreaming and his awesome helm. Also those witches from The Kindly Ones make an ominous appearance too. But that’s it. 

Far and away the best thing of the comic is the art team Gaiman’s assembled which are the top tier talents of the industry - JH Williams drawing, Dave Stewart colouring, Todd Klein lettering. And Williams’ art is, as you’d expect if you’ve seen this guy’s work, incredible. The imaginative layouts, the splash pages which are so beautifully laid out - a massive piece of land being held up by a giant troll across two pages for example - and Morpheus’ ultra-stylish Western outfit, are just a few highlights. But he can also transition between inks and pencils to a painted style and lose none of his precision. And Dave Stewart’s colours - we all read comics up close but hold this comic out at arm’s length and look at how the colours form on the page. It’s like the pages are lit up! 

It’s also worth noting that Vertigo have listened to readers’ complaints (or maybe Gaiman told them to cut the shit?) of that first Overture issue where the ads were every other page, the editorial was slam bang in the middle. They’ve cleaned things up in this issue so there are minimal ads and absolutely no breaks in the story. It’s page after page of comic until it’s over and THEN we see a couple ads, plus a preview of something called Bodies. Much better, Vertigo! 

Sandman Overture is the first Sandman book I’m reading in single issues so maybe I’m being unfair and #3 - which is essentially a bridge issue - will read better in the collected edition. Maybe. But judging the comic in itself, I found it wholly unremarkable and quite a bit boring to read but beautiful to look at. 

And no more Green Lanterns, please!

The Sandman: Overture #3

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