Friday, 19 December 2014

The Sandman: Overture #4 Review (Neil Gaiman, JH Williams III)

Morpheus, Morpheus Cat and a girl called Hope travel to a “star asylum” where a mad star (as in those massive cosmic balls of gas) threatens to end all of life everywhere. Can Morpheus save the day? Well, Sandman Overture is a prequel, so, duh! 

I mentioned in previous reviews how slow and plodding this series has felt but Sandman Overture #4 takes this to a new level: literally two microseconds fills five entire pages!! Neil Gaiman’s narrative so far has had varying degrees of success but I feel that this fourth issue (with two more to go) is more disconnected than usual. 

The biggest flaws for me were two things: 1) Morpheus and his siblings have a FATHER, and 2) a star – like our sun – can be INSANE. Why are they flaws? Because neither of these things should have human qualities. They aren’t human. In fact we, as humans, could barely comprehend them on any kind of level, so different are they, and yet Gaiman ascribes them almost cutesy aspects that make them relatable to us when they really shouldn’t be. 

So who is Morpheus’ father? We’re never told explicitly but there is a lot of Christian imagery to suggest he is God, whatever that may mean. But, again, he and Morpheus discuss Morpheus’ mother/the Father’s wife and how they don’t talk. Whaaat?! The Father is something so ethereal he doesn’t have a name but the dialogue between him and Morpheus descends into trite human melodrama? And what does Morpheus’ Father add to the narrative anyway? Nowt, bar confusion.

It isn’t just pacing that’s the problem – though I did keep picking up and putting down this comic as it really didn’t engage me – but it’s the total lack of narrative tension. This “mad star” that threatens all living things in the universe – we know Morpheus, or someone, stops it because this is a prequel and many books follow Overture. Factor in Gaiman’s near lethargic storytelling style and you’ve got an energy-free comic! 

THE saving grace for Sandman: Overture #4 is JH Williams III’s art. I can’t possibly do it justice in words but it is gorgeous. While I put the comic down more than once, I immediately went through the whole thing first, eyes agog at the sheer beauty on every page. It’s like an issue full of splash pages that break down into single panels that shimmer and slide on the page as if you’re witnessing magic firsthand - Dave Stewart’s extraordinary colours aid to the effect. Williams is an enormously skilled artist but his work on this series has been the finest he’s produced. Gaiman’s script may not be stellar but Williams’ art certainly is. 

I’m still not sold on the girl Hope or Morpheus Cat as characters – they seem too derivative of Saga – but they don’t bring the series down either, being quite minor characters. I also appreciated that editorial made an effort to keep all of the comic pages together and all of the ads at the back, separate. If you remember the first issue of Sandman: Overture #1, there were ads and comics pages spliced haphazardly together; in #4, everything is kept apart so you can enjoy the comic and then look at the ads (which I dutifully did, though I can’t say any of Vertigo’s current books really appeal). 

Sandman Overture #4 is certainly not a bad comic but it made me wonder if we needed a miniseries to explain how Morpheus was so weakened that he was captured by amateur human magicians in the first Sandman book. Overture #4 is very rambling and includes further, possibly unnecessary, additions to Morpheus’ world, though, if nothing else, we get some career-best artwork from JH Williams III - so I suppose it’s worth it.

The Sandman: Overture #4

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