Today, Shelby and Patrick are discussing the The Sandman Overture 1, originally released October 30th, 2013.
Shelby: Nearly 20 years ago, I started reading Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. Just about every time a new book came out, I would re-read the last one or two; if enough time had passed between books, I would re-read the whole series to prep for the newest. The last volume comes out in paperback in December, and I’ve been reveling in what could very well be my last re-read of this series. There’s something about reading something again, especially something that’s been a part of your life for so long. The characters are like old friends, the settings and stories like places you’ve been before and can’t wait to re-visit. I am a huge Neil Gaiman fan, and I adore Sandman; I have been eagerly (and somewhat impatiently) waiting for Overture. From page one, it was like a reunion with an old, old friend.
For those of you who’ve read the original Sandman, in the first issue Morpheus, Lord of the Dream, is captured while in a weakened state. This is the story of how he got into that state in the first place. He calls the Corinthian, one of his finest nightmares, into his London office for a Coming To Jesus meeting. You see, nightmares like the Corinthian are free to run amok in the dream world, but this one has been roaming the waking world, cutting people up and eating their eyes. Dream is about to unmake him for that, when he feels a summons he cannot ignore. Dressed for battle with his helm, pouch of sand, and magical ruby, he finds himself at a very strange meeting with…himself. Lots of himselves.
It’s unfortunate I can’t really demonstrate the full effect of that image. In the hard copy, it’s a full gate-fold, opening up from the spiral spread on the previous page. I was bouncing up and down in my seat when I saw it, I couldn’t wait to open it up and see for what exactly Dream was summoned. As soon as I saw this title in the solicits so many months ago, I knew that J.H. Williams III working on a Sandman book with Gaiman was all my secret dreams come true, and I was not mistaken about that. Williams’ style perfectly embodies the fantastic world Morpheus has literally crafted from people’s dreams. Not only do we see the non-traditional panel structure that so endeared us to him in Batwoman, Williams and colorist Dave Stewart have pulled out the stops on drawing and inking styles. Sinuous lines and bold colors will turn into delicate watercolor, which will blend with an almost Edward Gorey-esque pen and ink. My favorite spread is our first introduction to the Corinthian, one of the most terrifying characters (visually and otherwise) I’ve ever encountered.
The panels in the teeth is awesome, and the style is lurid enough to belong in a Franco Francavilla book. Appropriate, for the Corinthian: fun fact, he doesn’t just eat the eyeballs of the people he kills. He eats them with his eye-mouths; that makes it approximately one thousand times worse.
One detail I’ve always loved about Dream is his appearance. When he appears to dreamers, he appears in a form they would best comprehend. To London clerks, he is a tall, pale man with a predilection for black. To sentient flowers, he is a flower with black leaves and a white face. There’s a story of dreaming cats where he appears as a large black cat with red eyes. He is all of these things and just one thing at once; he is everything’s dream. That is why I am curious to see what these different Dreams turn out to be. Is this going to be some sort of “there can only be one” situation? Are we playing by Highlander rules? Possibly more importantly, what was Death talking about when she told Destiny that Dream had died? You would think the death of one of the Endless would be no quiet affair, so why does no one else (including Dream) seem to know about it yet?
The biggest reason I’m such a fan of Sandman and the rest of Gaiman’s works is the way he interweaves fantasy and reality. Reality isn’t the right word, more the mundane aspects of reality. His characters seem in inhabit our world; they go to their jobs every day, they have their tasks and chores they need to accomplish, it’s just that some of them have pumpkin heads, or embody the concept of destiny. In Gaiman’s version of the world, fantastic magic is behind the scenes, running the show; his works are like little peeks backstage. Patrick, I’m curious to see what you thought of this issue. You are not as fanatically obsessed with the Sandman universe as I, do you feel that same sense of hidden magic? Do you think we’ll get to see the Corinthian eat some eyeballs?
Patrick: I would pay good money not to have to see that. Corinthian eats dem eyeballs! That’s a horrifying image, and I’ll thank you for allowing to to repress it by closing my eyes, sticking my fingers in my ears and tunelessly singing “LALALALALALALALA” until it all goes away.
Obviously, I also love the Corinthian and his eye-socket teeth. It’s an incredibly upsetting concept, one that we respond to immediately on an emotional level. Those two extra sets of pearly whites find a way to bypass the logic centers of our brains and go right for that flight-or-flight response. It’s just like how snakes are intrinsically terrifying to primates — they’ve done studies that suggest that there’s a evolutionarily built-in aversion, something that’s kept generations of monkeys, gorillas and humans from being poisoned by a snake bite. It’s the same thing here — not that I have any examples to draw from, but learning to avoid creatures with two extra sets of teeth would probably be an evolutionary advantage.
Gaiman and Williams know exactly what they’re doing here, and they wield these images with absurd confidence. Shelby, you mentioned the pumpkin-headed library janitor as an example of the mundane imposing itself on the fantastical — and it is certainly that — but he also introduces the famous Freud quote “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” (Interestingly, Freud never wrote that line in any of his published works, and he did publish extensively on the phallic imagery of cigars and cigarettes – so it might be one of those bullshit quotes that people just always wanted him to say.) Pumpkin-Head says that he was talking to Siggy — one can only assume he’s referring to Freud here — and then Gaiman gets to show off just how expertly he can wield evocative language.
Let’s take a sampling of those bolded words: “thrust,” “moist,” “rammed.” Any one of them elicits a visceral reaction from the reader, and piled on top of each other like this makes me squirm — in the best possible way, of course. It’s the primordial language of dreams, but it is also, rather pointedly, the language –both visual and otherwise — of this story.
Gaiman makes the link between dreams and storytelling explicit in the first couple pages of the issue – Destiny reads from his book of the universe, which just so happens to be relaying a story about what’s happening to him in that moment. We’re introduced to that book on the last tooth from that second image Shelby posted – it’s telling the story of what’s happening in the dream. It is fascinating that we don’t actually see what happens between Destiny and Dream: we only get to read what Destiny’s book says about what’s happening. I recognize that that’s a fine distinction, but it’s important. This book, that is also the universe, is effectively a story Destiny tells only to himself. We — as the readers — are privy to that information, the information as presented in the book. In the same way, we’re privy to the dreams of the characters we encounter, and that’s all. So we’re left to make assumptions about that carnivorous flower or the real identity of George Portcullis based on their dreams. These stories they tell themselves.
Which all traces back to the inherently upsetting design of the Corinthian. Williams is a master of suspense, and he deploys hints about the character’s eyes throughout, guarding that secret like it’s the fucking shark from Jaws. Those first four teeth from the page Shelby posted? Those are first person perspective. We’re already seeing through the teeth, even going so far as to show his lightly blue shaded glasses as he peers through them. Unlike the shark from Jaws, Williams is able to render the horror perfectly when we do get a good look at the Corinthian later – my favorite being this return to the first-person perspective, this time set just a few centimeters further back.
It’s all dreams and stories, and they’re made of the same — incredibly effective — building blocks. I may not be as well-versed in Sandman lore as you are Shelby, but I’m eager to see where Gaiman takes us on the rest of this journey.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?