Years ago, my husband made a ceremony of giving me each of the oversize, deluxe editions of the Sandman comics for Christmas, one year after another. I’d spend Christmas afternoon lost in them, absorbed, with an incongruous background of choristers singing Noel. This year, for my birthday, I got another piece of the puzzle: the Overture to the whole story, the part that fits right before the Preludes and Nocturnes of the first volume.
In this story, Morpheus (Dream) learns two catastrophic pieces of information: an essential part of him has died, and the end of all things is near. After investigation, he discovers that all this is due to a mistake he made long ago: he failed to kill a star that had gone insane, and now that star’s insanity has spread to the rest of the universe like a kind of virus, putting everything in peril. Morpheus must try to fix his mistake, and along the way we encounter many familiar figures from the Sandman comics: the Corinthian, Pumpkinhead, the Endless (Dream’s siblings), and many more. And there are unfamiliar faces, too, such as Dream’s parents — who are not exactly what you might think.
Sandman: Overture is absolutely gorgeous, as you might expect if you’ve read any of these comics before. These were the books that taught me how to read a graphic novel — how to slow down and look at the art, how to recognize how the visual part of it interacts with the words. In this book, the art is hallucinatory and often surreal, and even the fonts are carefully chosen to tell us about the characters. There’s a spread with dozens of avatars of Morpheus that took me ten minutes to absorb. There are several layouts that unfold so the artist could have a bigger canvas. It’s an astonishing book. I adored it.
Still, I wouldn’t recommend this for someone who hasn’t read the other Sandman books. It’s assumed you know the characters; there are a lot of sly references and in-jokes for people who’ve known Sandman for 25 years. Start with Preludes and Nocturnes, and luxuriate in it all before going back to the Overture. But don’t miss this if you already know Sandman. It’s a gem.