If you’ve been to your local library or comic book shop lately (and if you haven’t, you should), you might have noticed a book called Sandman: Overture lying around. If you did, good! I’m here to tell you to drop whatever you’re doing and go read it, right now.
Seriously, stop reading this, and go read that. I’ll wait.
For those of you who might not be familiar with the series, Sandman was a ten-and-some-change-volume series that started in the eighties, by Neil-basically-a-real-life-Doctor-Who-character-Gaiman. It’s about a family of anthropomorphic personifications of abstract concepts called the Endless. It centers around the third oldest sibling, called Dream, who is essentially the personification of fiction and possibility.
It’s a bit of a trip. In fact, it’s arguably the Lord of the Rings of graphic novels—it showed everyone what the genre was capable of and codified what certain kinds of stories are going to look like from now on.
But right now I’m imagining you saying, “Hey, Guy Who Wrote This, I’m only in my late teens! I’m too busy with my Bluetooth Devices and Loud Music and Slim Fit Jeans and Hula Hoops to remember beloved books from 30 or so years ago! I mean, I can’t very well have been reading comics as a fetus.”
Well that’s because those lazy researches STILL haven’t given the world the in-utero bookshelves I keep demanding. But never fear. You’re lucky enough to have me to explain why Sandman deserves a re-introduction and why Sandman: Overture is both a perfect prequel and a perfect last volume.
It might be counterintuitive to call something that contains no Supermen, no Batmen, no Captains America, no Archies and no Jugheads the epic of comics. First, I’d reply, it does contain some of those: Batman, Superman, Martian Manhunter, Darkseid… they have blink-and-you’ll-miss-them cameos, just enough to keep Sandman snugly continuity-adjacent. Secondly, and more important, if you want a real epic in comics you have to use a character other than the big familiar names, because a real epic doesn’t work if it doesn’t have an End (yes, with the capital E).
And Sandman definitely does end—ironic, I know, for a story about beings called ‘the Endless.’
“Things only really mean anything once they end” might arguably be the moral of the whole story. Which is why when you go back to write another Sandman story, you really can’t put it after the rest. The only place where there’s any room to tell any more of the story is beforehand.
Sandman: Overture invested a lot into tying up all the loose ends, completing all the arcs, and leaving us with a tidily metatextual ‘yes, it is over, now go home.’
And it’s only in reading Overture that I realized how many loose ends there were before the story began. Overture expounds on backstory that I didn’t even know I didn’t know. That mysterious sad lady in the Victorian dress and the scar, from volume five? Overture explains why she was sad. Who was the voice that some have heard, deep in the unmapped catacombs of the Necropolis? Overture introduces them. What was that world that died because he hesitated, that Dream mentioned in volume two? Oh, does Overture ever explain. Why was it important to tell that story with the cats and the theory of retcons? Why indeed.
In all honesty, I can only think of two questions from the original ten volumes that Overture doesn’t answer. And I wouldn’t be surprised to find someone coming along one of these days and explaining, “No, Overture totally answered those, here look!” Because this book is dense, in the good way. Each page is tightly packed with content; baroque, speculative, high concept content, the kind that requires multiple readings to get all of. And yet as if by a miracle, you can just read the surface and still come away with a wonderfully rewarding story.
Read Sandman: Overture—that’s my main point. And if you haven’t already, just plain read Sandman. In fact, do those in the reverse order that I just said. And if up there where I said drop everything and go read Overture, you did? Then now go back and unread that, read the rest of this article so you can get told to read Sandman first, read Sandman first, and then read Overture.
Good thing I fixed that before anyone read things in the wrong order.
-The Guy That Wrote This