What dreams may come

The Sandman: Overture marks the return of Neil Gaiman to the medium in which he made his name. Art by J.H. Williams III.

We celebrate the release of The Sandman: Overture, the first new Sandman material written by Neil Gaiman in over 15 years.

REJOICE, for your dream has come true: The Sandman is back.

The Sandman: Overture #1 was released last week, marking Neil Gaiman’s return to the series that made his name. Announced by the author via video during the Vertigo Comics panel at last year’s San Diego Comic-Con, it has been an agonisingly long wait for fans clamouring for more of the series that changed the world’s perception of comic books, but boy was it worth it (check out our review elsewhere on these pages).

First published by Vertigo Comics in October 1988, Gaiman’s reinvention of an obscure DC Comics character into the sombre, serious Morpheus, Lord of Dreams remains one of the most successful and influential comics of all time.

In a recent interview with The Guardian, Gaiman explained that the idea for a series featuring The Sandman, a 1970s’ DC character, came to him in 1988, after he had written a dream sequence for his first-ever contribution to DC Comics, Black Orchid.

“It occurred to me that it might be cool if the Sandman, who had appeared in comics by other writers, was in there. I started thinking about reworking the character and talked about it over dinner with (then DC president) Jenette Kahn and (editor) Karen Berger. Later, I got a call asking me to do a monthly comic,” he said in the interview.

Told to make the character his own (instead of simply using the existing DC character), Gaiman then started to expand his idea into something more mythical and vast. “I started thinking more mythic – let’s have someone who’s been around since the beginning of time, because that lets me play around with the whole of time and space,” he told the Guardian. “I inherited from mythology the idea that he was Morpheus, king of dreams: it’s a story about stories, and why we need them, all of them revolving in some way around Morpheus.”

The result was, ahem, a dream of a series – one that lasted 75 issues spanning seven years. It featured some of the most iconic and memorable comic characters ever created; spawned numerous spin-off titles and books; and was even credited with reinvigorating and reinventing the industry as a whole.

Featuring stunning cover art by the incomparable Dave McKean and with contributions by luminaries such as letterer Todd Klein, and artists Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, Jill Thompson, Shawn McManus, Marc Hempel, Michael Zulli – and now JH Williams III on Overture – The Sandman is one of the few graphic novels ever to grace the New York Times bestseller list, a list that includes Alan Moore’s Watchmen and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.

In conjunction with the release of The Sandman: Overture and also the 25th anniversary of the series, we recap some the most memorable moments of this seminal series.

The Sandman #01Writer: Neil GaimanArtists: Sam Keith, Mike DringenbergLetterer: Todd Klein
The Sandman #01

Dream debut

The Sandman #1: Sleep Of The Just

What an entrance for one of the most important comic characters of the modern age. Not with a bang, not with a big splash page, but curled up, weak and naked inside a magical circle. The Sandman: Overture explores how Morpheus gets to that stage, but re-reading Sandman #1 today, it’s remarkable how much more the character grew as the series went on.

DC dalliances

The Sandman #3: Dream A Little Dream Of Me

The early issues of the comic, most notably the first seven, were notable for the appearances of several DC characters, including Martian Manhunter, Dr Destiny (more on him later), Mister Miracle and most memorable of all, John Constantine, whom Dream calls upon to help him find his pouch of dream sand.

Constantine’s presence in The Sandman #3 was especially fun because Gaiman gives readers something familiar to pull them into the book, managing the contrasting elements of the banter between the sombre Dream and the coarse Scouse magician perfectly.

Another highlight of the early issues was Morpheus’s showdown with John Dee a.k.a. Dr Destiny, who was using his dream-power-infused ruby for some really evil stuff (check out The Sandman #6: 24 Hours for a horrifying example of his twisted mind at work). 

Dream’s final smackdown on Dee is such a triumphant moment for the character that you get the feeling it could only go downhill for him from then on.

Nice trenchcoat: Morpheus takes fashion tips for John Constantine.
Nice trenchcoat: Morpheus takes fashion tips for John Constantine.

Dances with demons

(The Sandman #4: A Hope In Hell)

Morpheus goes to Hell to get one of his tools, his helmet, back from a demon. After meeting yet another DC staple, Etrigan the Demon, he then meets the three Lords of Hell – Lucifer, Beelzebub and Azazel – and challenges a lesser demon for possession of the helmet (he wins, of course).

Domain of the damned

(The Sandman, Volume 4: Season Of Mists)

Morpheus goes back Hell, this time to release his former lover Nada, but when he gets there, Lucifer informs him that he is closing down Hell. After doing so, he gives Morpheus the key to Hell before hightailing out of there and into his own spin-off series (Lucifer).

Naturally, all the other gods want this prime piece of real estate, which leads to a mass slumber party – involving angels and demons; ambassadors for Order and Chaos; Norse, Egyptian, Japanese gods, and more – at Dream’s abode where each god attempts to convince him to give them the key.

It was a pleasure to see Dream holding court in his domain where his power is greatest, and this is the story where we get to see Dream at his most confident and powerful.

Dreamy drama

(The Sandman #19: A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

Morpheus commissions aspiring playwright William Shakespeare to write a play for him (the contract was two plays, actually, which turned out to be A Midsummer’s Night Dream and The Tempest), and then the scribe and his troupe perform the play for Dream and his faerie friends. This story remains the only comic book to ever win a World Fantasy Award for Best Short Fiction.

Delightful Delirium

(The Sandman, Volume 7: Brief Lives)

Delirium and Dream go on a road trip to look for their lost brother, and the youngest Elder takes over the wheel, a joyride that ends with a policeman pulling them over and suffering a gruesome fate at the hands of an extremely pissed off Delirium.

This was one of the most important stories in the series, as we find out what happened with Destruction, and Morpheus effectively seals his final fate by killing his son Orpheus.

Deadly dames

(The Sandman, Volume 9: The Kindly Ones)

Probably the most ambitious of Gaiman’s storylines, this is also the longest arc in the entire series (spanning 13 issues), in which the Erinyes go all out to make Dream pay for spilling family blood.

Many of the loose threads from the earlier stories (stretching all the way back to second arc The Doll’s House) are tied up here, and almost all the characters who have ever played a role in Morpheus’ life show up here, for better or for worse.

It ends, as everything does, with Death.

Don't mess with Dream: Morpheus definitely has John
Don't mess with Dream: Morpheus definitely has John.

Doleful departure

(The Sandman, Volume 10: The Wake)

Gaiman’s long, poignant farewell to the series that took up seven years of his life (and then some), in which everyone (and I mean, everyone, even Batman) shows up to say goodbye to Morpheus; and the new Dream, Daniel, prepares to meet the family for the first time.

>> Collected editions of The Sandman and its associated titles are available at Kinokuniya, Suria KLCC. Call 03-2164 8133 or e-mail ebd3 kbm@kinokuniya.co.jp or visit www.kinokuniya.com/my/. You can also order single issues of The Sandman: Overture from virtual comic store Earth 638 (e-mail: earth638@yahoo.com, tel: 012-663 1584, Facebook: facebook.com/earth638). 

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