Halloween Horrors 2013 : “The Sandman : Overture” #1


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So — you probably weren’t expecting me to finish up my contributions to TTSL’s Halloween horror round-up with a review of a horror comic, as opposed to a horror movie — or, hell, maybe you were — but let’s be honest : the debut of Neil Gaiman and J.H. Williams III’s The Sandman : Overture (which, I suppose, might be more accurately categorized as “myth” or even “fairy tale” than actual “horror,” per se, but what the heck — The Sandman started out life being billed and marketed as a “horror” series, and it’s certainly always maintained a strong following among horror fans, so — that’s good enough for me) is an honest-to-goodness event in its own right, and something tells me that a lot of folks who haven’t set foot in a comic shop in a very long time will be back to pick this one up ( guess we’ll see how well those  former black-clad goth kids have aged), and, Sandman fans being by and large a pretty hard-core lot, I don’t think we’ll have a repeat of the type of precipitous sales declines between the first and second issues that we saw with, say, Before Watchmen, which was the last big “bring the old readers back” push that DC/Vertigo undertook.  It also helps that The Sandman : Overture is probably going to be a good  comic, of course, as well — at least if the first issue is any indication.

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Notice, however, that I didn’t quite go so far as to say that it’s going to be a great comic. Frankly, it’s just too early to tell. I’m certainly hoping it will be, and have no real reason to doubt Gaiman or Williams, but — for the time being, I think it might be smart to leave myself just a little bit of wiggle room by not pronouncing its greatness too early. There’s no doubt that I absolutely enjoyed each and every word and panel in this book, and that it made me smile from ear to ear and cover to cover all three times (so far) that I’ve read it, but it’s also not without its (small, I grant you, but still — ) flaws.

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I’ll tell ya what, though — the art’s not one of them. This is probably the first Sandman comic where the illustrations have outshone the script. Which is no knock on the script, by any means — it’s just to say that Williams, who employs literally dozens of different styles here, really knocks it out of the park. Whether he’s doing lush dreamscapes, black-and-white etchings, watercolor historical pastiches, or magnificent cosmic two-,three-, and even four-page spreads, he’s entirely and majestically at the top of his game. Honestly, his work on this first issue puts even his best efforts on Promethea to shame. This is  a consummate and visionary professional at the height of his creative powers. Feel free to “ooh” and “aah” profusely — I sure did.

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The variant covers (by, as pictured, Williams, original Sandman cover artist Dave McKean, Williams again, McKean again, and DC head honcho Jim Lee — yes, even his looks cool) are all quite a sight to behold, as well, even if McKean’s “two” amount to different iterations of the same painting. There’s no doubt that these lavish works do much more than just celebrate the 25th anniversary of this series (shit, I suddenly feel really old), or herald the arrival of a major new story, or even reintroduce a fan favorite with the proverbial “bang” — they all complement the issue itself about as perfectly as one could hope — dare I say dream — for. Each says “welcome back, old friend — you’re in good hands, this was crafted with love and we’re pleased that you’ve joined us.”

Not to be too overly- effusive with my praise, mind you — just calling it like it is.

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So what’s holding me back from saying that this is the best thing to come down the mainstream comics pipeline in a decade or more, at least? Well, to be honest, the book does have a few minor problems. Gaiman seems to have hung the framework for this introductory chapter over a couple of really neat ideas that, for whatever reason, he never really delved into much in The Sandman‘s original 76-issue run — namely, what dreams are like for alien life forms and what a gigantic conclave of all the various iterations of Morpheus/Dream’s anthropomorphic “selves” would play out like. Between all that we have brief but welcome appearances of beloved characters like Destiny, Death, Lucien, Merv Punkinhead, and The Corinthian, but so far all we really know is that this six-issue “prequel” is going to end where The Sandman #1 began and finally tell us exactly how the Lord of Dreams was able to be captured by mere human dabblers in necromancy in the first place.

It promises to be an intriguing and dare I say wild ride, to be sure, but — we also knew that’s what this book was going to be about going into it. I mean, the Overture part of the title pretty much gives things away, doesn’t it?

In all fairness, there’s nothing here in the first issue that will dissuade anyone from sticking with the series to its conclusion (although Gaiman’s intuitive knack for sequential pacing appears to have slipped a bit in the first few pages, he quickly regains his old form and is firing on all cylinders by about the fifth or sixth page)  — quite the reverse — but it’s also neither particularly accessible to new readers nor of much value, story-wise, as a “stand-alone” piece. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but it strikes me that the very best issues of the original Sandman series were either stand-alone works like the magnificent “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” or “August,” or  individual segments of sweeping, multi-part epics like “The Dolls’ House” and “A Game Of You” that also could be read and enjoyed (although, admittedly, not enjoyed, or even understood, as completely) when read on their own. The Sandman : Overture #1 really only works when considered within its context : as the opening salvo of a story that readers have been waiting a quarter-century to be told.

In all honesty, though, it’s probably well-nigh impossible for me to separate this book out from my own personal context as a reader either. I picked up The Sandman #1 back when it first came out and stayed with it right up to the end. The years of its publication coincided with my heaviest period of comics collecting, and though my tastes changed radically over the course of its run — I was subsisting on a steady diet of then-current Marvel and DC pablum when the series started and had all but given up on the mainstream in favor of titles like HateEightballYummy Fur, and Palookaville by the time it was done — my love for Gaiman’s characters, concepts, imagination, and sheer storytelling prowess never dimmed in all that time. Reading The Sandman : Overture #1 is like catching up with a long-lost friend or family member that, if pressed, you’d have to confess you probably thought you’d never see again. I can’t even accurately describe how fucking good it felt to see a new Sandman comic on the shelves at the shop today, nor how great it felt to immerse myself in its pages after buying it.

The book itself may not be perfect, but life sure felt perfect while I was reading it. That.  my friends, is as good a  textbook definition of “magic” as you’re likely to find  right there. Pinch me, please, because I must be dreaming.

Which Way Forward For The “Batman” Movie Franchise? Take Nine : The Story Takes Shape


 

The above image, in case you hadn’t figured it out, is an updating of the classic Batman “quick-version” origin story, “The Legend Of The Batman – Who He Is And How He Came To Be” by Bill Finger and Bob Kane that I included with the last post. This modernized version was done for the Jeph Loeb/Jim Lee Batman storyline “Hush,” which is considered something of a modern “classic” even though, for my money, it pretty much sucks. I’ve never been a fan of Lee’s art, and the story here is essentially another drawn-out murder mystery by Loeb a la his “Long Halloween” storyline, and in point of fact he even employs the exact same plot conceit to disguise the identity of the true killer that he used in that previous series! All of which has precisely zero to do, specifically, with the hypothetical storyline of our hypothetical Bat-trilogy, save for one thing — folks who have read the “Hush” story should know that the Batman/Catwoman relationship depicted therein will have a big influence on how I see their relationship developing in this series. In an ideal world, I suppose, we’d just be able with this new series to come right out and admit a couple less-than-well-kept secrets about the Batman — namely that he’s gay and that he has a taste for a bit of, as the British would so politely put it, “rough trade,” but I think the world is, sadly, about 20 years years away from being ready and able to accept an openly gay Batman, so in this trilogy we’re going to keep up the pretense, paper-thin as it’s getting to be at this point, that the Caped Crusader is, indeed, heterosexual.

But we’re a good few posts away from really getting into the “meat” of how I see the whole Batman/Catwoman relationship evolving, being that we just wrapped up our pre-credit “teaser” sequence, the credits themselves have just rolled, and the there’s already a bit of a conundrum brewing in the audience’s mind as to whether or not this really is the Batman we’ve always known — as in, Bruce Wayne — at all.

Our first scene after the credits roll would be to see Bruce Wayne examining a large computer screen in the nearly-completed Batcave, and as the ever-reliable Alfred Pennyworth enters, they’ll exchange some dialogue about how two years of intense legwork are nearly complete — the cave itself, where Wayne has essentially been living and training, is all set, the “Bat vigilante” is firmly fixed in the public mind as a force that seems to be on their side, and their super-computer has been able to pin all the crime lords in town barring Vincent Lucchesi with plenty of criminal charges. Now is the time for the next phase in Bruce Wayne’s master plan to begin — he’ll “return” to Gotham officially, stake his claim to Wayne Enterprises through a surrogate, take the reins of the Thomas And Martha Wayne Foundation himself as his “day job,” and at night he’ll concentrate on nailing Lucchesi in his “Bat-vigilante” persona.

For that, though, he’ll need some help — and he’s zeroed in on two people on the “inside” that he’s made a calculated determination he can trust — new police commissioner Jim Gordon and new DA Harvey Dent. His period of working alone is over, and now that he’s delivered every other big crime lord in town to them, he’s earned a level of trust and respect from both these men. Lucchesi’s going to be a tougher nut to crack, though, because unlike the other guys, who could all be tied to the drug trade eventually through various phony business set-ups, bank accounts, etc., Gotham’s last “crime lord” doesn’t actually seem to be involved in the drug trade at all — the strangest thing Bruce Wayne/Batman has been able to come across in regards to Lucchesi is his well-concealed , even more well-concealed than the other guys were in regards to their involvement with the drug trade, orchestration of the shipment of large amounts of a perfectly legal, albeit quite dangerous, form of liquefied fertilizer into town, which naturally has Batman thinking that he’s working on a massive bomb of some sort.

Now, hopefully a competent screenwriter quite weave all this into a naturally-enough-sounding conversation that wasn’t too heavy on the info-dump and that would end with Alfred saying something along the lines of “well, all these questions will have to wait, sir, because Bruce Wayne is due in on a flight from San Francisco at noon on Friday.”

“And so I do, Alfred, and so I do.”

“And how, pray tell, do you intend to get to San Francisco undetected, sir?”

“You know, Alfred, I’m feeling a bit nostalgic — I thought I’d hop the rails for old times’ sake.”

I think I’ll leave it at that for now, since the next scene, with a clearly disguised-to-give-him-a-disheveled appearance Bruce Wayne playing hobo and riding in the back of a boxcar is the next crucial stage in the overall setup of the film’s first act and probably deserves a post of its own, so we’ll focus in on that tomorrow.

What say you to our little setup so far, then? Thumbs up? Thumbs down? Still too early to tell? As always, any and all comments are welcome, whether positive, negative, or aggressively neutral!