Seventeen years after Neil Gaiman closed the final chapter in his epic comic saga Sandman, a new chapter is finally being written... and it's fantastic.
Gaiman's comic often tops the list of best comics ever along with books like Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, and James Robison and Tony Harris's Starman. The ten trade paperbacks are considered essential reading as they explore the adventures of the anthropomorphic personification of dreams as he struggles to exist in a world that demands changes he may not be able to make and battles gods and demons who threaten the Dreaming.
When Gaiman penned the final story arc, "The Wake," in March of 1996, it was with the specific instruction that the Dream King's regular series would not continue. Since then, other peripheral characters have occasionally shown up, most recently Dream's sister Death as she had a talk with Lex Luthor in the afterlife, but aside from a few special happenings, the stories in Destiny's book were ended.
Now an 11th book, "Overture," starts a monthly run featuring art by J.H. Williams III, and thus far it is absolutely phenomenal. Gaiman hasn't lost a step, and reading the first issue feels exactly the same as when I picked up a dog-eared copy of "Preludes and Nocturnes' a decade ago.
"Overture" is a prequel, featuring the story of Morpheus before he is imprisoned by the magician Roderick Burgess in 1916, rather than continuing the tale of his successor, Daniel, after the events of "The Week." The purpose of the story is to explain exactly why an almost omnipotent being of Dream's caliber was able to be bound by a petty English warlock, a story only hinted at in a few short stories.
We open on Dream's death, ironically, as a version of himself visiting a world of sentient carnivorous plants watches him burn painfully. This sets in motion the actions of Death and Destiny, who sense something wrong with their brother but are unable to come up with a solution.
Meanwhile, Dream's most famous nightmare, The Corinthian, has begun what is soon to be his terrible walk upon the Earth. The dream with the toothed eyes believes that dreams have the ability to control the mortal waking world, a belief he uses to his advantage as he invents the modern idea of serial murder.
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All the old notes ring true. The aloofness and honor of Morpheus are ever-present... as is the fact that he's kind of an idiot. The Corinthian eats up every inch of scenery as he has always done, if I may be allowed a small pun. It is a slight disappointment, though. I grew to like the brutal but loyal second incarnation of the nightmare who aided his master faithfully in "The Kindly Ones," and was a little saddened to return to the likable but ultimately less interesting killer of "A Doll's House."
A strange power is at work in the Dreaming, and Morpheus is quickly being drawn into a confrontation with many of his own aspects. By the final page, I wondered if maybe Gaiman was just a little sad he hadn't gotten to pen the Doctor Who 50th anniversary and so decided to explore the idea of a protagonist with different incarnations himself in comic form.
It's simply astounding to hold a new monthly Sandman in your hands. The first issue sets up much of the story, but leaves so many more questions unanswered. We have months to look forward to having those answers revealed, and thanks the many gods that a new chapter to one of the comic industry's finest works is coming to life.