Sunday, November 20, 2016


With its first issue published in 2013, Sandman: Overture arrived many years after Neil Gaiman's original Sandman run concluded in 1996. Overture is positioned as a prequel to the justly celebrated Sandman saga; it aims to flesh-out the previously hinted at conflict that left Morpheus weakened and vulnerable to capture by the occultist Roderick Burgess in the first issue of The Sandman series.

As a physical object, the deluxe edition of Overture is a fairly lavish affair. The hardcover is protected by a nice slipcover, there are multiple pull-out spreads, and eye-popping color-saturated psychedelic-inspired art--although sometimes the art crosses over into the realm of the garish.

Overture's story involves Morpheus attempting to undue a problem that he helped to create--a running theme of Sandman in general. In a galaxy other than our own, Morpheus let a dream vortex develop into a destructive state that claimed countless lives. This first dereliction of duties is followed swiftly by another; after Morpheus finally cleans up the mess create by his reticence to kill the vortex, he neglects to destroy a star that has become infected with the vortex's calamitous intent. The chaotic residue left over from Morpheus's failure to deal with the vortex in its entirety spreads like a cancer through multiple worlds connected by the Dreaming, threatening to destroy the universe as a whole.

And thus, a hero's journey is called for. In the company of a cat-ish aspect of himself (or so he thinks) and an orphaned girl named Hope, Morpheus must finish what he left unfinished, a feat compromised by other stars who bar the Sandman from his goal, and a host of other complications that encompass both external resistance and his own internal grappling with the responsibilities of his position and purpose. The connection to the previous Sandman comics is well-made; this Morpheus is one who again grapples with duty, the importance of storytelling, the nature of dreams, etc.

Where we have seen Gaiman pattern his own mythopoeia after Greek tragedy and Shakespeare drama, we now see him again return to Classical appropriation--but in Overture this takes a Freudian turn. His most direct route to resolving the dilemna of the mad star stymied, Morpheus must return to both Father and Mother for aid that hardly feels like aid. This, in itself, gestures to the most under-theorized aspect of the Oedipal complex--not the need to best the father and possess the mother, but rather the need to reveal both father and mother as intrinsic and inescapable elements of the self. When Morpheus deals with his father's stoic briskness and fetish for obligation and his mother's morbid consumption and blank satiety, he's really addressing those sides of his own personality and weighing his flaws against his own merits. The Oedipal call was coming from inside the house all along because Mom and Dad were never home to begin with.

Overture's unveiling of a new epic tangent that the Sandman series had yet to plumb is compelling, but also partially a misstep. Part of the power of myth is in the gaps--the spaces between the stars grant us telemetry by which to chart a course. By filling in some of the gaps of The Sandman--providing Morpheus with parents, especially parents as cliched as Time and Night--we lose a little mystery. Similarly, Overture is too apt to explain itself in ways that myths never do. For example, we are shown that the cat accompanying Morpheus was Desire all along, even though this was something that a mildly-astute reader would have surmised for themselves without the need of a reveal. Guessing at how a magic trick is performed is far more satisfying than getting confirmation. Overture is more successful when it lets the reader put the pieces together, as it does by not stating that his brief time with the orphaned Hope later inspired the finishing blow in Morpheus's battle in Hell.

Not everything can be Greco-Freudian, of course. In the end game, Morpheus must go biblical or go home. At Desire's prodding, he builds an ark and fills it with dreamers who can dream reality back into existence after the now-unavoidable catastrophic flood. And then we're back where we started, quivering within a summoning circle in the basement of an English manor house.

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Many thanks to Scott Martin, who bought me a copy of Overture purely because he wanted me to talk about it. That's both generosity defined and an uncommon willingness to hear me natter. This one's for you, Scott.