Today, Shelby and Michael are discussing the The Sandman Overture 6, originally released September 30th, 2015.
Shelby: I’m a big fan of Rick and Morty, that cartoon on Adult Swim that’s basically Back to the Future on crack. Spoiler Alert: if you haven’t seen season one of Rick and Morty, you’re best off just skipping past the break to the rest of the post. Anyway, there’s an episode where Rick, the mad scientist grandpa, basically ruins the whole world, mutates everyone into a Cronenberg-esque monster. You think he’s going to have a clever idea to save everybody, but instead he finds a version of the world in a parallel dimension where he solved the mutation problem but he and Morty died. Rick and Morty merely take their places, and go on living in this new dimension. It’s a mind-blowing episode, one of those special moments when you realize a show is much more than a show. Now imagine that, but instead of having to find a new universe, Rick had to create a new multiverse completely from scratch, and you’ve got the end of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman Overture.
The end of the story begins with Hope. In the bowel’s of Dream cat’s ship, Dream tells her everything: how his moment of mercy billions of years ago drove a star mad, how that madness is now eating the universe, and how she can help him stop it. She has to convince all the other refugees to dream into creation the world as they knew it, but where that star had died all those years before. They would dream this world, and Dream would drag it into reality, and make the dream real. Think about that for a second: Morpheus is going to drag a dream of the universe into reality and force it to be real, force it to be the reality that has always been real. That’s the kind of thought that will break your brain a little bit if you think it about too hard.
Naturally, after such a busy afternoon, Morpheus is a little beat. He tries to head back to his castle so he can rest and rejuvenate, but a summoning chant proves too strong in Dream’s weakened state and he cannot resist. Before he knows it, he is captured in a crystal prison that we recognize from the beginning of another story told nearly thirty years ago. I love the circuitous nature of that, the end of this story is the beginning of the story that’s already been told. Even the Prince of Stories himself recognizes it; his last words in the issue are, simply, “It begins.”
Gaiman’s circular vision is repeated in J.H. Williams’ gorgeous art. My favorite pages are the four of Dream talking to Hope, trying to convince her to help him rebuild the universe.
Each spread features a circular panel of a version of Death, mourning the death of the universe behind her. Williams brilliantly pixelates the decaying world, evoking a corrupted photo file. The panels telling the actual story radiate outward from the circle of Death like rays from the sun; it has to be one of the most beautiful and elegant depictions of time and simultaneous storytelling I’ve seen in a comic book. There are concentric circles through the whole issue, reminding us over and over that the end of every story is the beginning of another one.
There’s a little epilogue as well, a conversation between Despair and Desire. Desire reveal that it had orchestrated the entire adventure, going so far as to use the saeculum to go back in time and try again not once, but twice. Desire couldn’t believe Dream wouldn’t understand that it, too, wanted to stop the universe from ending. It makes sense; desire is the force that holds the world together. It’s what drives living things to do anything: the desire to eat, the desire to love, the desire of goods, the desire to live. In a way, Desire is the true hero here. Delirium called it in her chat with Dream; he didn’t care the universe was ending, he only cared because he caused it. Desire’s motivation to save the universe is that same passion for life that lives in all of us; Dream is basically just looking to correct a clerical error.
Gaiman has closed the loophole of what happened to Morpheus before his story of Morpheus began in the most brilliant, expansive, completely unforeseen way. Dream was captured in Sandman #1: The Sleep of the Just because he had just created the universe that had always existed to capture him. He was so weakened by his selfish act of heroism, that he was able to be captured and imprisoned for years, that he was started on the path to his eventual death. As frustrated as I’ve been waiting for these six issues to come out, I have to say it was well worth it. Michael, I have to turn this over to you, as I feel a sudden need to reread all of Sandman again.
Michael: We’re obsessed with origins and prequels these days and it kind of makes me sick; and the fact that I find myself repeating this over and over again kind of makes me sick. Overall I feel like the prequel as a concept is doomed to fail: either our expectations or to link up with the original story that we know and love. And while I still believe this to be true for the majority of prequels and backstories we see, there are certain exceptions. Neil Gaiman and J.H. Williams’ The Sandman Overture is among them. Maybe it’s because the realm that Dream resides in is not the brick and mortar reality that many popular stories are based in. Maybe it’s because The Sandman Overture doesn’t seem to be hell-bent on spoon feeding us with a bunch of winks and nods to events down the road. Or maybe it’s because it’s been a few years since I read the original series of The Sandman.
For the record Shelby – I do watch Rick and Morty and your parallel to The Sandman Overture 6 is spot-on. While we wade through the many vast waters of mediocrity, I do think that we as an audience reward fascinating ideas and the brilliant storytellers behind them. I think in a lesser story, the deus ex machina of transplanting a universe (essentially rebooting) would be met with boos, hisses and eye rolls. The thought of “only Neil Gaiman (and probably Grant Morrison) could pull this off” kept ringing in my head as I was reading this issue. It’s an out-of-this-world idea that falls in line perfectly with the framework and structure already established within the world of The Sandman. Dream’s ship is a veritable Noah’s ark, as he shuttles them from the destruction of one universe to a mirror-verse where said destruction never happened. The inhabitants of the ship are the survivors of the “old verse” and the pilgrims of the “new verse” – but more importantly, they are the symbols of Dream’s second chance (technically third chance).
I find it so delightfully refreshing that Gaiman frames Dream’s universe shepherding as an act of selfishness instead of selflessness. Dream is not Superman, but he’s also not the “flawed hero” that we see too very often in the modern age. Shelby accurately noted Dream’s very heroic venture as correcting a clerical error; because of course that’s how he would see it. Dream is the Lord of the Dream realm – being the overseer of the collective unconscious imagination of creation is bound to give you some control issues. Any fan of The Sandman knows that the family relationships among “The Endless” are…endlessly entertaining (sorry. Kinda). I love the way that Desire got to save the universe by playing into his ego. I don’t think you could sum up the plot of many stories by saying “the anti-hero duped the hero into saving the universe by making them think it was their idea.” Meta hero-fiction aside, being able to play your brother like that speaks to the subtle ways we all tend to manipulate each other.
I must say that reading this book digitally (which I admittedly did) is a huge injustice to J.H. Williams; the man has a style that is 100% suited for the printed page. The non-traditional narrative needs a non-traditional set of visuals, after all. Williams is dealing with a high-concept, multi-layered piece of fiction; so most of his layouts are dedicated to crossing over into different dimensions and layers, panel by panel. We first see this when Hope points out to us that she is walking through a vessel full of things that could not hold the same literal space at the same time. This beautiful spread is loaded with overlapping ideas that could only exist in the same space in Dream’s realm; and the comic’s realm. So, like Shelby, I think that I’m going to need to do some serious revisiting of the previous chapters to have a more complete statement on this dense and amazing piece of work.
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?