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I think it’s hard to overestimate the value of The Sandman, the 75-issue Neil Gaiman-written series that began its life as a revival of the late-’70s Joe Simon/Jack Kirby character, and ended up as 1,600-plus page epic that was one of the all-time best gateway comics — not to mention a powerful factor in the mainstreaming of adult comics content and a then still-emerging graphic novel market.
So Gaiman returning to Dream of the Endless (and the first Dream, rather than Daniel), for the first time since 2003’s The Sandman: Endless Nights? That should be a pretty big deal, right?
For The Sandman: Overture, which debuted this week, Gaiman is paired with Promethea artist J.H. Williams III (better known these days for his run on Batwoman), colorist Dave Stewart and letterer Todd Klein, who lettered all the previous Sandman comics.
As exciting as the project is, it also feels rather dangerous for writer, reader, character and publisher. You know what they say about going home again, after all, or catching lightning in a bottle.
It was therefore with more than the usual amount of trepidation that I read the first issue of the new miniseries, a prequel series set before 1989’s The Sandman #1. Here are some thoughts:
• $4.99 is pretty steep for a comic book, particularly one that features characters a lot of readers first experienced through trade paperback collections. Here your $5 gets you 28 pages of comics, with a four-page fold-out at the climax, and a heavy cover stock. I imagine a lot of the potential readership might already be inclined to trade-wait (especially when you factor in they’ve already waited a decade since the last Sandman comic, which of course came in the form of an original graphic novel).
• It was very strange seeing a Sandman comic that didn’t have a Dave McKean cover. I understand there was a McKean variant, but I have the Williams cover.
• DC sure went bananas with the ads in this thing. There are eight pages of ads (not counting those on the back and inside covers), and every single one of them is for Vertigo. For whatever reason, it was decided the best place to stick ‘em was throughout the story, sometimes in the middle of a scene. The ads were another element that seemed foreign in a Sandman comic (if you read it in trades), and given that they were merely ads for other books in the publisher’s stable, it’s not as if they couldn’t have been placed in the back.
Maybe I noticed this more because the other two comics I read right before Overture — the first issue of Archie Comics’ The Fox and the latest issue of Image Comics’ Saga — were virtually ad-free, the only ads appearing being relegated to the back, rather than interrupting the story like TV commercials.
• This seems like the most Neil Gaiman comic Neil Gaiman has written since … well, since the last time he wrote The Sandman. It’s rather surprising how comfortable he is with these characters, given the amount of time that’s passed since he wrote them regularly, but this struck me as a much better piece of writing in all respects than the last few Gaiman comics I’ve read (1602, The Eternals, “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?”, Wednesday Comics‘ Metamorpho).
• Williams is a perfect collaborator for Gaiman on The Sandman. One of the many admirable aspects of the original Sandman run is how many different and various artists Gaiman worked with, and the fact that almost all of them were good. There were artists who I liked better than others, but it almost always came down to a preference for a style over another—there were no scrubs drawing Sandman.
Williams is another worthy collaborator, and his baroque page layouts that can seem a little much on a comic like Batwoman, which, at the end of the day, is nothing more than a superhero beat-‘em-up, is perfectly suited for a book like this. Williams rises to the occasion, doing each and every scene in a completely different style.
Coincidentally, this week another big-ticket comic-book maker returns to a character he co-created as a new riff on a preexisting character. That would of course be Andy Kubert, Gaiman’s collaborator on 2003’s 1602 and 2009’s “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?”, whose Damian: Son of Batman #1 appeared on shelves Wednesday.
Kubert was the artist who first drew Damian, the son of Batman Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul, in a 2006 issue of Grant Morrison’s Batman run. While Kubert didn’t seem to be able to keep up with Morrison on the book, he did draw Batman #666, which was set in a possible near-future in which Damian had succeeded his father as Batman (a possible future that would be revisited a few years later in the pages of Batman Inc.).
Damian Wayne would soon become Batman’s fourth or fifth Robin (fifth Pre-New 52, fourth Post-New 52), and after a few years, he would die terribly in the line of duty.
For Damian, Kubert is both writing and drawing, with Brad Anderson providing the colors.
This return isn’t nearly as big a deal as Gaiman coming back to Sandman, of course, given how relatively little time has elapsed since Kubert and his collaborators did a Damian story, and the character’s relatively tiny footprint in the world of comics when compared to that of The Sandman. Nevertheless, it’s safe to say there are a whole lot of people who don’t have any interest at all in a new Sandman comic who will be picking up the latest from Kubert.
I read this one, too. Here are some thoughts:
• This a $3.99 package, and for your extra dollar you get four more story pages (24, rather than DC’s now-standard 20), and a thicker, slicker cover stock. The interior pages seem to be of a higher-quality paper stock as well. More striking than the price tag on the cover, however, is the “The New 52!” tag.
Set “some years from now,” in a possible-but-will-never-happen future where Batman dies, this is basically the sort of book DC would have slapped an “Elseworlds” logo on a decade ago, but now they’re explicitly branding it as part of their current continuity.
• As Kubert demonstrated in his Batman #23.1 (The Joker issue of Villains Month), he’s a solid writer. I found a lot of questionable choices in this, and I was confused by the artwork and by things left unsaid in either the art or the script, but, mechanically, he writes perfectly fine.
• He opens with Batman’s death, which seems something of a mistake. As we get to see how Batman dies, it can’t help but seem like a little, mean, meaningless death, particularly given all the stuff Batman has survived in his career. The death of Batman seems like such a big story that it would overshadow anything that followed. Here he dies by Page 6, and its a pretty unspectacular death.
• Damian narrates the story himself, via entries in a “Graybook,” which is perhaps a reference to Batman’s Black Book from the Morrison run, a journal of sorts where Batman recorded his strangest cases, generally ones involving the supernatural. Rather than standard narration boxes, these show up in what look like the sort of little windows you’d find on your computer monitor, with a computer-y font and a gray frame with buttons allowing you to close, minimize or maximize the window. It’s garish and ugly, and clashes rather dramatically with the artwork, which is some of the finest of Kubert’s I’ve seen in a while.
• Kubert draws the scariest Joker fish.
• It’s unclear where the rest of the Batman family is, and that’s more than a little frustrating, given that immediately after the death of Batman, Damian goes on a killing spree of Bat-villains. At Batman’s funeral, there are five others present, one of whom is Barbara Gordon and another of whom is Alfred, but the others are unidentifiable.
Where are Dick Grayson, Jason Todd and Tim Drake? Are they dead, too?
• There’s a weird two-page sequence in which Damian kills anyone claiming credit for Batman’s death. These include Mr. Freeze, Killer Crock and Jackanapes. The first two seem to have their own blogs …? That’s odd.
And it was particularly strange to see Jackanapes killed off so unceremoniously, given that Kubert devoted Batman #23.1 to telling his origin (and that Jackanapes, dressed as a clown, plays small roles in Batman #666 and Batman Inc., after the point at which Damian becomes Batman; here he dresses like the Gorilla Boss of Gotham City, and has his head nearly lopped off while Damian’s still wearing his Robin costume.
• There’s a scene in which Damian visits a priest in a confessional booth that really confused me. The priest looks like Commissioner Gordon, but it’s never explicitly stated he is Gordon, so I couldn’t figure out if Kubert just drew a priest who looked like an older version of Gordon, or if Gordon had become a priest at some point in the future, or … what.
• The cliffhanger on the splash-page ending is an unexpected surprise; I really liked that the character who appears is in the company of an angry-looking black cat with a white tuxedo patch and “socks.” He’s not generally depicted as a cat person.
So what did you guys think about the first issues of Sandman: Overture and Damian: Son of Batman?