Shelby: There are a few dreams I’ve had in my life that I remember very clearly. Once I dreamt I had to go to a new job, and in order to get there I had to swim underwater. On my first day, we’re swimming and swimming, and I’m running out of air but I have to stay behind my guide. Then I woke up gasping; I had been holding my breath in my sleep. Not too long ago, I dreamt I was in a dark room that was even darker near the door. I had to pass through the darkest part of the room to leave, and as I did, two hands shot out of the shadows and grabbed my arms. That was one that had me bolt upright in bed, and then turn on every light in my apartment. I think these dreams stuck with me because there was a sense of reality to them; I was actually holding my breath, I could almost feel the stranger’s hands on my arms. Dreams are like bits of reality spun together to resemble a sort of whole, a feeling that Neil Gaiman and J.H. Williams have somehow captured in their long-awaited second installment of Sandman Overture.
This issue is full of cryptic meetings. First, an all-white version of Dream meets with Mad Hattie, a homeless woman over 200 years old, in a dream. She shows him the ruins of the sanitarium she used to inhabit, and he takes with him a watch that doesn’t tell time in the way we think of it, thanking her for help long ago. Then, the various aspects of Dream meet and come to the conclusion that an aspect of themselves died, the universe may be dying as well, and they need to speak to the First Circle. Finally, Dream meets with Glory of the First Circle in his ruby. There, Glory tells him that a star has gone mad, and that madness is spreading. Like flies to honey, the madness is drawing creatures to feast upon it, and eventually the universe will no longer exist. Turns out, there was a dream vortex a long time ago that Dream was supposed to eliminate, and did not, and that is what caused this whole thing. So, Dream and his cat aspect (Cat Dream from here on out) head out to make things right.
There’s a lot to take in this issue, even more so if you aren’t super familiar with the original Sandman story. I’m going to stay away from lengthy explanations, however, and focus on the issue at hand. Gaiman is talking about the end of the universe, total entropy. Speaking of Entropy, I think this might be her.
Williams delivers page after page of beauty in this book, but this one really stuck out to me. The flat, heavy lines contrast with everything else in the book, and colorist Dave Stewart gives the whole scene a luscious, cool palette. I mean, just look at the way the stars on her skin sparkle off the page! Truly, truly breathtaking.
Back to the idea of entropy. Gaiman describes what is happening here as a madness which will spread until “the mind that is the universe will cease to think.” I can’t think of a better description for the process of order degrading to chaos than a cancer-like madness. The real question is why; why is Dream fighting this natural and irreversible process? It’s because he kicked the whole thing off, and now he’s got to fix it: not because it’s the right thing to do, but because Dream has always been pretty arrogant. He admitted to his self-centered behavior himself in his visually overwhelming (in a great way) meeting of selves.
I don’t think he’s looking to right any wrongs here, I think his pride just won’t let him be in the wrong. It could very well be an issue of semantics; whether its his sense of duty or sense of pride, as long as he’s stopping the end of all things what difference does it make? His motives already have me thinking about how this story ends. We know this quest will end with him weakened enough to be captured at the beginning of Sandman; will that prove to be the price he pays for his hubris, or an unjust punishment for a heroic deed?
Only two issues in, and I want to peel away the layers of this book until I find its undoubtedly gorgeously illustrated core. Drew, if I recall, you are not especially familiar with the original Sandman title; does this book suck you into its dream like it does me, or is it too confusing to sink in? What did you make of Hattie’s dream of the asylum?
Drew: The asylum certainly is weird, isn’t it? Or, maybe it’s weirder that Hattie would so desperately want to return to it that she would dream about living there after her life had fallen apart. Either way, the rooms of the asylum provide Williams with an excuse for some stunning in-panel dividers.
As for the imagery of a living building, it’s not entirely without precedent in The Sandman — Fiddler’s Green was a living location (or, is at least as alive as any other dreams), and I’ve never really shaken the idea of the living flesh walls of the house John Constantine’s ex-girlfriend was living in (you know, the one who had Dream’s sand pouch). I’m not yet entirely sure what to do with those connections, but they do rather effectively stitch this series into the fabric of the original run — no mean feat for a prequel made almost 15 years later.
As for your questions about familiarity — I’m not sure it really matters. So long as we understand who dream is and what he is capable of (which I think the first issue established quite well), there’s not a whole lot else here we need to keep up. So far as I can tell, all of the other characters (besides Lucien) are brand new, meaning old and new fans are largely in the same boat as far as knowing exactly what’s going on.
Even those details that directly fall out of having read the whole series — why there would be an all-white Dream in the “Now” portion of the story, versus the black-haired, black-cloaked Dream from the “1915” portion — are laid out clearly enough for the novice. Hattie herself remarks that there’s something different about Dream now — she accuses him of being Dream’s son or brother — which is really all novices need to understand what’s going on. I may not have seen exactly how the switch takes place (and don’t worry, I can hand in my nerd badge on the way out), but the change in appearance and lettering, as well as Hattie’s open comments about those changes, makes it clear that this isn’t the same Dream. Having read the first few trades, I can make some educated guesses about what happens (at least thematically), but it ultimately isn’t important to the proceedings here.
Then again, the talk of how time “goes in so many ways” may just have the characters interacting with the main series in a more direct way. I don’t mean to suggest a Back to the Future part II kind of rehash — I sincerely doubt that Gaiman would do anything like that — but it seems to me that Dream may have set up something in 1915 that would require attention today. That whatever that something is (a promise, a deal, a system of some kind) could have been effected by the events of The Sandman seems like a distinct possibility, which would give Gaiman a more natural way to bring back his favorite characters and ideas.
Not that he needs any help. This issue manages to twist, tweak, and amplify some of the main series’ favorite concepts — particularly that Dream has many forms in many places. In that way, The Sandman has always been in part about creating art, and perhaps specifically about how Gaiman creates art. It makes sense, then, that this story would feature both the old Dream, living in the past, palling around with all other manifestations of himself as well as a new Dream, who lives in the present, and whose own destiny isn’t tied to what will happen in The Sandman. It seems Gaiman is wrestling with the idea of returning to the Dream well himself, right on the page, which is above and beyond the high expectations I already have for this series.
It’s almost too good. Brilliant writing, gorgeous, innovative art work, clever meta-commentaries about storytelling. I’d accuse Gaiman and Williams of creating this just for my own personal pleasure, but I’m pretty sure everybody likes stuff this well-made.
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?