This article was originally published at DC Infinite on July 31, 2014.
The Sandman: Overture #3 is really good. Of course it is.
Neil Gaiman will be receiving a lot of well deserved acclaim for this issue, and the series as a whole. He expands upon an already extensive mythology, weaving together a wide variety of characters and concepts and creating an enthralling universe. But the truth is that the writing could be utterly vapid and it would still succeed on a massive scale. To provide Gaiman with the majority of the credit for this comic is to be ignorant of the contributions of his collaborators, each of them a master of their craft.
J.H. Williams III is already a star and this comic shows why. Page layouts are intricate, yet conducive to reading. Every page, except for the first and final ones, are crafted as horizontal spreads. It reads as comics in widescreen and is particularly remarkable on high resolution screens. The extra space also allows for Williams to experiment with form. In one spread, he transforms panels into the shape of an outspread hand, a universal gesture to stop. It highlights the warning of the kindly ones on this page, connecting to both the original Sandman series as well as the story at hand. Every spread incorporates some element like this, building stories across maps or blurring vertical panels to portray the false nature of a frame story.
Williams’ design work is also top notch. All of the work is distinctive and clearly belongs to his pens and brushes. However, the style alternates depending on the setting and who is present. There is a baseline, established on pages 4 and 5 where Dream is walking across the desert. Detailed linework represent it as the most ordinary setting of the story. When Dream uses his powers to defeat two thieves or tell a story, the line work takes on qualities more similar to a painting, smooth and fluid. When attacked by a swarm of beetles, the grid and drawings become more rigid.
Dave Stewart’s colors are what really bring Williams’ pencils and inks to life. Their lush blended quality of his colors reflect the dreamlike nature of the work perfectly. As the landscape and modes of storytelling shift almost every page, so do the colors in order to reflect the changes. Visual cues are formed by these shifts. The frame story is denoted by the dramatic change in light before any words or images explain what is occurring. When that story is broken and revealed to be a lie, distinct and dark colors seize the page away and inform the return to the central plot. Stewart’s work is certainly gorgeous, but it is also integral to the storytelling.
That same thought applies to Todd Klein’s lettering. Klein has been working on Sandman since its inception. From the first issue of the series to this one, his work has elevated the story by providing personality for characters and incorporating speech into the art. Every individual provides a speech bubble unique to them. They all feel natural and fit the established tone of the art and the personas to which they are attached. Even the tails of speech bubbles inform the characters. Dreams bubbles are always tailed with long flowing lines, while the rigidly structured beetle swarm uses a geometric line that turns only in right angles.
The only members of this team whose roles are not obviously visible in the work are Shelly Bond and Sara Miller, the editorial team. Without access to scripts and e-mails, it is almost impossible to see their hand in the work. However, the ultimate quality of the comic speaks volumes of their abilities to guide and coordinate this team.
The appearance of this issue is flawless. Its only struggles come from the story itself. Sandman Overture is enjoyable for fans seeking more of Gaiman’s expansive mythos and its flights of fancy will please fans of fantasy. However, its characters leave the page somewhat cold. There is no room here for readers to see reflections of themselves or take away aspects of their own lives. Its scale is so grand and characters so distant, that it lacks a human element. In the original series this element was slowly developed through family dynamics and Morpheus’ handling of past relationships. Here it is absent and that distance creates a gap between reader and story.
The Sandman: Overture is an obvious success. It is almost unassailable as an example of comics craftsmanship. This is the result of a team of extremely talented creators working in concert to tell a story together. A comic collaboration of this caliber cannot and should not be attributed to any one talent. It is the accomplishment of a team.