The first issue of Sandman: Overture came out a few weeks ago and it is awesome. If I was only allowed to give you one advice (like, say, if this was Twitter and I had only 140 characters to talk to you), it would be this one: go to the nearest comic store (or on an e-store) and buy Sandman: Overture #1. However, I can already hear your cries of protest and despair: “But”, you would say, “Is it really worth it? The Sandman ended a billion years ago. How do I know it’s not just a cheap commercial spin-off?” “I wasn’t even born when The Sandman came out!” the youngest of you would add. “I have never even read The Sandman, ever!” others would complain.
Two things. First, know that I don’t intend on judging people that have not read The Sandman yet. I will simply tell them this: you know that hole in your heart? That feeling of emptiness and loneliness that keeps you up at night? It’s because Morpheus (not the black dude, the very pale one with black starry pits where his eyes should be) is not yet a part of your life. Trust me. The second thing is that, fortunately, I am here to tell you why that empty shelf above your desk should welcome the first issue of Sandman: Overture.
Now watch out for -eventual- spoilers!
The first reason is probably one that will get you to relax right away about not knowing enough about The Sandman and its universe. Of course, I can’t guarantee that you will understand everything (see the “character” part right after this), but as Neil Gaiman said when he announced the release of Sandman: Overture, this particular story is a prequel, a telling of the events that occurred right before Dream was captured at the very beginning of The Sandman. This means that not only will you get to learn about the universe and the characters, but one day, when Sandman: Overture is over, it will be pretty interesting to read the two stories back to back.
Second, the characters. This is the tricky part. “Then why is it so high on your list?” you may ask. Well, for very simple reasons. It is true that, reading Sandman: Overture, I did not think that a newcomer would understand who was who from the get-go. Don’t get me wrong: it is not hard to figure out. Every main character’s name is pretty self-explanatory (like Destiny or Death), and in case you still don’t figure out some of their identities right away, a quick detour by the wikipedia page of The Sandman should help you, when it is not just their singular looks that will explain everything to you. For example, even not knowing who The Corinthian is supposed to be, just seeing what’s behind his sunglasses should tell you that he is bad news. I must also admit that as a reader, I don’t like being explained everything. I am happy to be kept in the dark, at least for a little while, and pick up clues of who the characters are and what they do in simple words thrown in a line of dialogue or in a subtle illustration. Plus, the characters of The Sandman (and Sandman: Overture) are the biggest strength of the series. I can guarantee that their complexity and depth will make you forget that you don’t know much about them in the first place, and make you fall in love with them.
Third, the plot. This is a pretty short point, but I must admit that as the first issue of a series, Sandman: Overture #1 was well-paced and well written. The same problem that you’ll encounter with the characters also applies here, as in yes, there might be some subtleties you won’t get right away if you have not read The Sandman. However, the events occurring in that first issue are still simple enough to understand what is going on and the way the story is wrapped in mystery will keep you turning the pages, until you realize you’re already at the end and it’s really not fair that you can’t have the whole thing right away. At least, that’s what it did to me.
Fourth reason to buy and read Sandman: Overture right away: the words. It may seem like an odd point, but remember who wrote those words. Neil Gaiman. The same Neil Gaiman who wrote Coraline, Stardust, Good Omens and, well, The Sandman. He also was the man who adapted the dialogue of my favourite movie of all times, Princess Mononoke, for its English version. This man is a wizard of the words, a master of language. If somebody knows and understand the beauty of English, it is him. Sandman: Overture is not an exception in his very long list of written work. Each sentence is perfectly worked with the other to form what seems to be a very melancholic, very touching melody who will transport you to another world.
Fifth, the art. It may seem weird that the art is the last point of this little list. This is for a simple reason: even if I love visual arts, they tend to come after the story. If I’m reading a comic book and I start talking about the art before I even touch the characters or the plot, well, there is usually a problem. It does not, however, mean that I neglect the visual part of comics. I am the first person to throw shit at bad drawing. No such thing will be necessary here, though. The visuals of Sandman: Overture are gorgeous. The layout is surprising and interesting and the contemporary approach of the drawing will probably seduce those who have never read the Sandman. For people who have read them, well, I don’t mean to be talking for them, but I do miss the style from The Sandman. It was not perfect, but it had character and I liked it a lot. Plus, I don’t know why, but Dream with a “normal” face seems a bit creepy.
Anyway, after reading this, I hope you will rush online or to the nearest comic store and buy Sandman: Overture #1. That and the complete collection of The Absolute Sandman. And Blacksad, which has nothing to do with Neil Gaiman but is still awesome. European comics are cool. We’ll talk more about them another time.