It's been far too long of a time, but welcome back to The Dreaming.
Neil Gaiman's 75-issue masterpiece The Sandman came to a close in 1996, leaving fans heartbroken but thoroughly satisified with the conclusion. The dark fantasy series had brought critical acclaim to the world of comics, with The Sandman #19, "A Midsummer Night's Dream," earning the World Fantasy Award in 1991 for Best Short Fiction. In 1993, the series became the flagship title for DC Comics' new VERTIGO imprint became a cult success that attracted a strong young female readership, many of whom never read comics before.
Gaiman returned to the world of The Sandman twice, once in 1999 with a novella called The Sandman: The Dream Hunters that was illustrated by Yoshitaka Amano and later adapted for comics by P. Craig Russell. In 2003, Gaiman wrote a graphic novel, The Sandman: Endless Nights, that was broken up into seven chapters, one for each of the Endless with a different artist per chapter. As great as these projects were, they weren't proper Sandman. Not really.
But now, at long last, we have a new six-issue Sandman story titled Overture, which essentially serves as the prequel Before Sandman. Some things are different, such as the cover price being two dollars more, with a glossy cover stock and a four-page foldout supposedly justifying the additional expense. The truly important things remain, however, with Dave McKean providing one choice of covers, Todd Klein lettering the characters as only he can, and even Karen Berger's name listed as co-editor.
Gaiman finally reveals the tale of what happened before Dream, the Lord of Dreams, was captured in an occult ritual and held prisoner for seventy years as shown in the pages of Sandman #1. In "Chapter One," longtime fans are reunited with old friends such as Dream's older siblings Destiny and Death, his support staff Lucien and Merv Pumpkinhead, and even his deadliest creation, The Corinthian. Oh, and if that isn't enough, one of the Endless dies on page five, setting off a rather troublesome mystery.
And per Sandman tradition, there's a different artist for this new story arc. J.H. Williams III, best known for his work on Batwoman and Promethea, feels like the perfect choice of a modern artist reintroducing The Sandman for a 2013 audience. Williams is at the top of his game right now, with swirling, stylish layouts and innovative panel design. One sequence has panel borders progressively catching fire, another has them arranged one panel per tooth within a mouth (or is that an eye?), and still another as pages within a book within the actual comic.
The true price for all this, of course, is that the limited series is bimonthly, meaning we have to endure two whole months before finding out what happens next. But compared to the past seventeen years, two months should feel like tomorrow.