Dovebuckets and Face-Crabs: The Sandman: Overture Issue 3

The Sandman: Overture Issue #3 has finally arrived! I’ll skip over the part where I snark about how long it’s taking, because the art is so amazing I’m cool with it taking three times this long. I’ll also say upfront that I think some of the writing is shaky in this issue, but that I’m still happy to be along for Morpheus’ journey to try to save the universe. Again.

I am faced with my usual conundrum of how much to say here… I want to talk about the issue, but I also want to stay as non-spoilery as possible. Let’s start off with the basic plot…

Morpheus, Dream in the form we know him, continues his journey to find out how he was killed in the first issue of Overture. He is accompanied by the Dream of Cats, who is obviously him, but also not him, and who occasionally dispenses excellent cat-advice including: “I think we should not kill the Star immediately. We should play with it, making it think we are letting it go. We will exhaust it. Finally, we will pounce, and shake it until it dies.” They meet the Kindly Ones, who seem much less scary here—which paradoxically makes them freak me out more. Morpheus and Cat pick up a hitchhiker, a small orphaned girl, and the last pages of the comic consist of a bedtime story Morpheus tells her.

So I’ve been noticing a trend with each of these issues. The first few pages usually annoy the crap out of me. The writing will be everything you love about Neil Gaiman and everything you hate about Neil Gaiman, all smushed together, in each panel. (And again, this is coming from someone who considers the main run of Sandman to be one her favorite works of art, in any medium, ever.) But, a few pages into each issue, I finally get pulled into the story enough that I forget I’m reading The Long-Awaited (And Somewhat Tardy) Return of the Greatest Comic Ever, and I’m just reading a story. In this issue, Gaiman suddenly brings in a pivotal character from the main run of the series, and I stopped reading for a second out of irritation. If Overture is just going to be an exercise in revisiting plot points from the 90s, what is the point? Why does this story have to be told? But then I kept reading, and after a few panels forgot that I was annoyed, because the story he told was interesting, and did actually feed into our understanding of Morpheus and his Realm. We get to see a younger Morpheus, one who isn’t quite up to his job. This is vitally important for a character who will later come to regard himself as little more than a collection of responsibilities.

So far, three issues in, the journey is still worth it. Gaiman is balancing mystery with explanation, and flashback with present action, in a way that’s deepening our understanding of the main arc, while still showing us something new. The choice to cast a missing piece of the Sandman Mythos as a story within a story works well. By removing us a bit, and giving Morpheus the opportunity to edit his past, Gaiman is able to answer one of the questions many long-time readers had, while still leaving room for there to be more to the story. My biggest concrn going into Overture is that it won’t be epic enough to act as the catalytic event for the rest of the series. (Yes, I’m one of those people who’s been disappointed by The Hobbit movies…) But so far it seems like Gaiman still has these voices in his head.

Now, where it goes a little astray for me, is in the character of Hope (who seriously should just be named Metaphor) who ends up tagging along for the quest. I get the sense that her home, one of the worlds Morpheus and Cat pass through, is fairly rural. Fine, but when she writes a letter to her dead pa, because of course she does, it sounds like Gaiman’s attempt at Kaylee Frye fanfiction. It does not help that Hope was orphaned when her pa was murdered by Reavers. I’m also not entirely sold on Morpheus helping her, or telling her a story. Perhaps part of the Overture arc is to strip his compassion away, but the Morpheus we meet in Preludes and Nocturnes isn’t exactly a paragon of kindness.

Sandman: Overture Issue #3

J.H. Williams' art via AV Club

I know I say this in every review, but J.H. Williams’ art is superb. When we see a younger Morpheus, he actually is younger, his features are softer, his speech more hesitant. The panels again are totally free-form, ranging all over the page in abstract shapes and configurations. Each issue makes me want an Absolute Edition more, simply because I want these pages in as large a format as possible. Wallpaper, maybe, throughout my entire house.

Scattered random thoughts!

  • Mother Fate calls Maiden Fate “DOVEBUCKET.” Just say that out loud a few times. Dovebucket. Bucket of Doves. Dovebucket.
  • Did we just get our first-ever male genitalia in Sandman? I mean, granted, the be-genitaled character was some sort of landmass, but it was a demonstrably male landmass.
  • Gaiman writes the best cats.
  • The Dream of Cats has ludicrously pretty fur, as is fitting for an Endless Kitty.
  • One of the Reavers is named Brundage. Is this a reference to Margaret Brundage, pulp cover queen? Or am I missing some deep DC reference here?
  • The story-within-a-story contains a battle, and that battle contains a face-crab, which is literally a cab thrown at an opponent’s face.
  • I know it’s just the cross-hatching, but I love how much Morpheus looks like Wolverine toward the end of the issue.
  • I feel like we’re definitely building to something important, here? But I’m also nervous that we’re spending so much time on the journey, the Morpheus’ confrontation with his Father and/or the Queen of the Night figure isn’t going to live up to what’s come before. But then again, Gaiman is always good at conclusions that pull the rug out from under reader expectations…

The Sandman: Overture Issue 3 is available now from Vertigo.

Leah Schnelbach thinks that Dream of Cats should visit all of us while we sleep. Find her on Twitter!


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