When I first started writing for Lady Geek Girl and Friends, I never thought I would join the ranks of our other lovely comic book reviewers. You see, I had never really gotten into American comics before; I prefer the aesthetic of manga. Well, that all changed on Free Comic Book Day this year, when my local comic shop lured me in with the promise of free comics, but convinced me to actually spend money too (which I suppose is the whole point of the day). I had heard that Sandman was a really great comic series written by Neil Gaiman, a writer I respect, so when I saw the first two issues of a Sandman prequel series there, I thought it would be a great place to dive into the saga.
The Sandman: Overture is a planned six-issue prequel series that tells the tale of the “triumph of a sort” that weakened our main character Dream so much that he was able to be imprisoned by mere mortals at the beginning of the first Sandman volume. Gaiman as writer is ingenious as always, and J.H. Williams III’s artwork is gorgeous, but let me warn you now: it turns out this is not one of those prequels that you can read before the original work. It’s not just that you’ll have trouble understanding what’s going on; the prequel actually contains spoilers for the end of the original series. But if you’ve read the original series and want answers to some questions (and don’t mind the raising of some new questions!), then Overture should be super intriguing to you. Find out more in my spoilerific review of Issues 1–3 below!
The very first page of Issue 1 brings us something new: we’re on a planet that isn’t Earth. The original Sandman series takes place entirely on Earth, or on planes like Faerie or Hell that are associated with Earth. It was never clear if there was sentient life on other planets in the Sandman universe—until now. Overture is all about life on planets other than Earth—and the Endless (i.e., Dream and his siblings) are there too. Thus we get to meet the Dream of Sentient Carnivorous Plants (don’t ask me) on this distant planet, and then abruptly bid him goodbye as he burns to death.
This sets off a chain reaction that pulls the Dream of Earth halfway across the universe, wrenching him away from a confrontation with the Corinthian. He was about to uncreate the Corinthian all the way back in 1915! Just think how many eyeballs could have been saved if not for this inexorable summons.
In a spiral of black cloak and fire, the Dream of Earth arrives in a magnificent fold-out spread of a landscape full of… Dreams. Lots and lots of Dreams. Some humanoid, some animal-like, some robotic, a few even vaguely feminine-looking! And with that end to Issue 1, we are all left saying, “What?” just as Dream does.
Issue 2 tells us more about this giant Dream conference. Apparently they are all from different planets and are all aspects of the same Dream; they all share Morpheus’s black and red aesthetic rather than the green and white preferred by Daniel-Dream (whom we’ll discuss more in a minute). But they seem semi-independent; they do not remember being each other until they are together, and only then do they realize that one of their number has been killed without a successor set up to take his place.
This semi-independence is confusing. Back in Issue 1, Death told Destiny that she took the Carnivorous Plant aspect of Dream, but the Dream of Earth wasn’t aware of it yet. So why was Death aware? Does she, unlike Dream, have only one omnipresent aspect for the entire universe?
Also, interestingly, the oldest aspect of Dream is a creepy, hooded, tentacled figure, so we can add “Lovecraftian Elder Gods” to the list of pantheons that Gaiman has referenced in Sandman.
In this issue, we also get to find something out about the First Circle! We’ve been wondering about it ever since Dream made Desire swear by it back in Brief Lives! It turns out the First Circle established the laws of the universe, so Dream calls upon Glory of the First Circle to find out why an aspect of him died and why he was dragged across the universe.
Glory turns out to be an old white guy with muttonchops. I think we’ve actually seen him before in the “Dream” chapter of Endless Nights. But basically he likens what’s happening in the universe to an organism with cancer, in which a single cell misfires, leading to the destruction of the entire organism. In this case, the “cell” leading to the “cancer” is a star that went mad. Dream doesn’t understand why he should care, but Glory says this is all Dream’s fault because he allowed a Dream Vortex to live.
So who’s the Dream Vortex who Dream allowed to live? Nada. Remember her? Kind of hard to forget her when pretty much all of Season of Mists revolves around her. Now, it’s not certain that this is the vortex that Dream and Glory are referring to. But it had better be, because Nada is the first important character of color that Gaiman included in Sandman, and she ended up condemned to Hell for ten thousand years because she refused to stay with Dream—which, may I remind you, was in fact the right decision because their tryst had already destroyed her kingdom and driven her sun mad. Sure, in Season of Mists, Dream eventually sets her free and tries to make it up to her by letting her reincarnate into a new life. But this was never really satisfying for me, because, from a critical perspective, what this said about people of color was that they just had to endure thousands of years of oppression until the white people (and Dream is almost always very pale) come along and save them. She was never able to free herself. She had next to no agency.
So if the Vortex who drove the star mad was in fact Nada, that ultimately allows her revenge to stretch across the entire universe. It says that mistreating even one mere mortal—yes, even one with dark skin—as badly as Dream did actually has universally negative consequences. Dream has a notorious track record with mortals, especially female ones, so this is a lesson he badly needs to learn. It would add a lot of nuance if it turns out he started learning this lesson even before the original Sandman series began.
So, yeah. This had better be all about Nada.
A couple more interesting things in this issue: it ends with the Dream of Earth and the Dream of cats going in search of their father (!), and we get two pages of this lady:
She doesn’t seem too concerned about the impending war that will end the universe. Could she be the mother of the Endless?
Finally… Daniel-Dream. (For the sake of clarity, I will continue to refer to him as “Daniel-Dream” even though he would hate that.) He goes to visit Mad Hettie (the 272-year-old London vagrant) in her dreams where he finds a pocketwatch that he then sends… away. Where? Back in time, perhaps?
This scene with Daniel-Dream in Issue 2 clearly takes place sometime after The Wake. In that sense, it is a sequel scene, and that makes Overture not really a prequel anymore. Since I read this issue before I read the original series, I am still kind of fuming about it. Issue 2 should totally have come with a big ol’ SPOILER ALERT warning across the cover.
Issue 3 is chock-full of revelations too. And it also has its fair share of foreshadowing (we run into the Ladies; that should tell you all you need to know about how much foreshadowing is in here). Dream and Cat-Dream walk across a desert that’s a bridge to the City of Stars, where stars meet to conduct starry business with each other. By the end of the issue we’ve realized that the Dreams in fact have two goals: talk to their father and confront the mad star that killed their Carnivorous Plant aspect.
Along the way, the Dreams find an alien girl named Hope who watched her father die at the hands of reavers. Dream is uncharacteristically kind to her. The Crone warned us about her—out of Dream’s earshot, of course. So I have to wonder; we’re getting close to the City of Stars. Could she be a star, without knowing it? Is she perhaps the mad star, and will Dream eventually have to kill her to save the universe? That sounds like exactly the kind of tragedy Gaiman is known for putting in his Sandman stories. Also, this is what Hope looks like:
Blue, like the starry lady in Issue 2, and with cornrows, perhaps putting us in mind of Nada (though this may be a stretch). And with a name like Hope in a Sandman story, things can’t possibly end any better for her than they did for Delight.
When Hope asks Dream to tell her his best story, he gives her a doozie that fills in tons of holes in Dream’s past that we’ve been wondering about. We find out that those two gods from whom Dream fashioned the gates to the Dreaming and his helm actually managed to imprison him in his own palace and take over the Dreaming. We find out that Desire was the only one who could help Dream escape… by sending him a lover. We find out this lover was Alianora, who broke Dream’s bonds and helped him defeat the rogue gods. And Dream doesn’t tell this part to Hope, but we also find out that Dream was eventually an asshole to Alianora too (what is his problem?), and that’s why he let her go away to the skerry that became the Land, the central point of conflict in A Game of You. All of Dream’s past injustices are coming back to haunt him in this series, it seems. Good. I’ve always wondered why Gaiman put so many “Dream abuses his girlfriend” plots into his stories. But the more we find out about the women in Dream’s past, the more we see that he was never really allowed to get away with this behavior. What goes around always ends up coming back around… even if it takes ten thousand years. This punishment of the abuser is what we need more of in stories that involve abuse. The entire universe will remind you of what you’ve done; the entire universe will take its revenge.
So far, Overture is a more-than-worthy addition to the Sandman canon. It answers all the things you were wondering about (well, okay, not all of them), and brings up enough new questions that it’ll keep you waiting anxiously for the next installment. Thanks to J.H. Williams III’s extraordinary artwork, these are the first American comics I’ve liked enough to buy. A lot of the art seems like watercolors, and most of the pages deviate from traditional panel structure, which is great, because restricting your comics to panels is boring! I don’t think I ever would have bought these if they weren’t so darn pretty. But thank God I did, because Sandman has literally changed my life, and I’m not done writing about it.
Keep a lookout for more on Sandman from me soon, and I’ll also be back to review Issue 4 when it comes out in October! In the meantime, go and check out for yourself this most beautiful of all Sandman stories to come out so far, and join me in this torturous sense of divided loyalties in which we both root for our hero Dream and also just wish somebody would give him a good swift kick off his pedestal. Sweet dreams!
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Whoops – I meant to reply to you on Tumblr but for some reason I can’t send you an ask? Whatever.
Man, I wish I knew more people talking about Sandman as good as this is.
I’m really intrigued by your analysis of Dream and women. It’s a distinctly problematic thread through the whole original series, and I like that it’s being taken head on. It’s smoothed by the fact that Dream is never a hero, and always, on his own terms, an occasionally malevolent figure. And he dies at the hands of women – many of them, really. Hippolyta Hall, Thessaly, the Kindly Ones, and ultimately, Death herself.
Even so, I don’t really know what to make of Dream’s very present white-masculinity. I like that this is going to be about that.
Thank you, glad you liked my post! I like lots of media, but only for a select few that I really love am I willing to think this hard about it, lol.
I’m also glad that Overture seems to be addressing Dream’s persistent misogyny head-on. The original series’ approach to the issue was never satisfying to me, despite all those vengeful women you mentioned. Maybe it’s because most of Dream’s internal conflict was cast as being all about Orpheus. I think we can infer there was more, but we don’t get quite as much textual evidence for anything else.
But it looks like, in Overture, not even the universe is going to let the matter lie. We’ll see. 🙂
That’s a good point – the Kindly Ones get involved because of Orpheus. Hipplolyta Hall is there for her husband and for Daniel. These are not necessarily women’s stories, even if they’re doing the vengeance. Lucifer, Loki, and perhaps even Desire lurk in the background, too.
And especially with Nada: it’s not important to me, not really, that Dream face justice from some third party his treatment of her; rather, I want him to seek mercy FROM her. I want his confession and plea for absolution.
I went back and re-read that story. We first see her in Hell, when Dream is going to recover his helm. He says he loves her, but he has not forgiven her, and does not free her. Unsettling.
Then we have the story of Nada and the Dreamlord, told via a coming-of-age ceremony in the desert. It catches me, at the end, that there is an unreliable narrator here – we know that this is the men’s story; the women tell something different, that’s not shared with us. I want to know what that story is.
Finally, there’s a brief moment in the next chapter where Desire reports that Nada was a mistake, and possibly his/her/its doing in some way. A trap by another one of the Endless doesn’t really amp up Nada’s agency, but I want to think about that more.
You are so right, these really aren’t women’s stories! And the funny thing is, Gaiman acknowledged that “these are all boys’ stories” when Charlene Mooney had her outburst in Worlds’ End. But Charlene never did tell her own story, so that pretty much amounted to, “I know this is a problem with this series, but I’m not going to fix it.” (of course, there are exceptions: Rose Walker, Barbie and her friends, and even Charlene saw an exception, “Jim” in Worlds’ End–I don’t want to invalidate “Jim’s” identity as a woman even if she has to hide it, and I don’t want to claim, like Charlene, that only certain kinds of stories can be for certain genders–but there’s no doubt most of the plots revolve around males)
And you’re also right that, of course, it would be ideal if somehow Nada herself could take charge over seeking out her own justice, whatever that may mean to her. She seemed oddly forgiving at the end of Season of Mists, but like I said in the post, it was never really enough for me. I mean, come on. One little slap is not enough to make up for ten thousand years of suffering… (it’s not like I’ve been composing fix fics in my head for this, not at alllllll XD) Nada’s story in A Doll’s House struck me hard the first time I read it. By then, even after only one volume, I had already decided Dream was my favorite character, but then to have him treat a woman that way… it was like, a stab in the heart or something. 😦
And as for Desire’s role, I want to be careful about blaming Desire too much. Desire can make people want things, but there’s a difference between having a desire and acting on it.
I do really like Rose Walker. Kid’s got spunk.
I may cut Gaiman more slack than he deserves, but I think he’s up to telling men’s stories and boy’s stories that examine masculinity in an interesting way. There’s an important place in the world for boys’ stories, and growing up as a boy, who was comfortable with his gender identity but uncomfortable with traditional masculinity, I appreciated it when I could have stories that really interrogated that, written by men or women.
Sandman is so deeply baked in myth and archetype, NG had to let masculine archetypes infiltrate that world, especially negative ones. Dream needs to fail to live up to our values, because he is of the world of our collective mythos. Hades is not kind to Persephone. Apollo is not kind to Daphne. The stories of gods and women almost always end with the gods’ unspeakable cruelty. I think Nada’s story lays that bare, and demands that we cross-examine that masculine power that persists in myth. It works because Dream is not a villain, he’s a seductive, enchanting figure. If abusers were all orcs and trolls, we’d easily avoid them.
Which is why I’m excited to see more of the story of Alianora. She shows up with an entirely different set of archetypal stories – the brave princess rescuing the beautiful prince and saving the Queendom. But she’s trapped because those are not really the stories we tell about men and women, not in Dream’s world. There is no queendom among Cain and Abel and Merv and Lucien and Morpheus. That’s a tension that needs to be resolved, and while Dream can’t do it on his own, we know that he’s humiliated that he failed. He can’t tell Hope the real story.
Morpheus is dead before 1990. He was trapped from 1916-1988(ish?). It means that he missed 20th century feminism, and was ultimately unable to adapt to it and died because of it, because he failed to treat Lyta Hall as anything other than a foolish girl. It does kind of make me wish his replacement was female, but maybe Daniel’s gender constructions will surprise us. Maybe there are important masculine elements in Dream that need to evolve, rather than be replaced.
And yeah, I don’t mean to blame Desire – Dream is, of course, completely responsible for his own actions. But Desire’s urge to destroy him is interesting. I’m not sure what it is.
Ooh, Morpheus as a representative of mythical masculine norms is an intriguing idea I hadn’t thought of before. But there’s a problem. The mythos Gaiman draws on in Sandman seems to be mostly Western, with a little Middle Eastern and Asian representation sprinkled throughout. All these just so happen to be patriarchal cultures. But Dream of the Endless has existed since almost the beginning of time, and has experienced every cultural mythos that has existed in the entire universe. There’s archaeological evidence that, even in the West on our own planet, some ancient cultures that preceded the ones that most directly influence us today were, in fact, matriarchal (e.g., most Cycladic figurines were feminine). Some modern cultures are matriarchal. The Triple Goddess is a powerful feminine myth from our own world that Dream even interacts with (though I guess he didn’t take her/them seriously enough?) And what about the rest of the universe? There have got to be tons of civilizations with gender norms different from our own (though this is complicated by Dream’s apparent unawareness of aspects of himself on other worlds). Supposedly, Dream is aware of all of this. Alianora’s “brave princess rescuing the beautiful prince and saving the queendom” (which I’m glad you brought up because I didn’t have room to mention it in the post! :D) shouldn’t be a surprise to him. Twentieth-century feminism can’t possibly be his first encounter with more egalitarian gender roles. So why is he still an asshole? My best guess is it’s for our benefit as readers, to interrogate Western mythic norms of masculinity as you say.
I also need to think about the enmity between Desire and Dream a bit more. Are the concepts of desires and dreams fundamentally opposed in some way? I can’t think of how. If anything, they’re closely related. Sometimes what we want, even if we aren’t aware that we want it, ends up in our dreams. Desires help make up our dreams. And Desire even says in Endless Nights that Dream’s stories only work because the people in them want things. Maybe they hate each other because they’re too similar and don’t want to admit it…?
(FYI: I adore this conversation! Critical examination ftw! :D)
The one thing we’ve been seeing lately is the multiple aspects of Dream of the Endless – the gathering of many, often alien aspects at the start of Overture. What’s still ambiguous is how much of Dream’s existence Morpheus really represents/represented (Aside: I’m going to call our ghost-white, dark-haired protagonist Morpheus, to distinguish him from other aspects). While he was succeeded by Daniel after his death, did that impact the Dream of Cats at all? There’s some seed at the center of all aspects, but I don’t think it’s Morpheus. It remains pretty ambiguous, I think, which is kind of a cheat because it let’s us expand and limit him as much as we want. At the wake, Abel says that they mourn Morpheus’s death as the loss of a point of view. I think it’s possible that Dream is not only a sequence of points of view, but a simultaneous mix of points them. And is time strictly linear for him/them? They share memories and experiences, to varying degrees, but it’s flexible. Definitely cheating, but there’s a reason I’m reading this and not Updike (there are many, actually).
So Morpheus is a point of view, by definition, not the only one. But he is a patriarchal point of view, and his prominence is related, I think, to the rise of that point of view in Western civilization. Even if his roots are in Africa (as are Western civ’s), his universe is Greek gods, Norse myths, Judeo-Christian angels, British literature, and, since this is DC after all, the Justice League of *America*. Asian and Arabic ideas permeate in at the fringes, but do not predominate, which lines up. Still, all broadly patriarchal. Morpheus is smart enough and old enough to know that this is not all there is, but it doesn’t change his point of view. He’s not shocked by powerful women, but he’s not good at them, either. Maybe there are/were other aspects of Dream who splinter off.
His isolation, 1916-1988, missed more than just feminism, I think. Modernism and post-modernism, not to mention science, did a lot of work knocking down all of his touchstones. He did a remarkable job missing out on Carl Jung, who might have done more to put Dream in a box than old Magi Burgess. He missed mass media. We went to the Moon without him.
I think in the end, that’s why he’s an asshole. He’s a point of view that developed and flourished with patriarchy, and froze when it seized and shifted. For what it’s worth, all the masculine Endless are fading. Dream dies, Destruction hides away, Destiny is silent. Death, Desire, Delirium, and Despair soldier on. Daniel, really, is going to be the one who decides.
Mikely, it looks like our conversation has gotten too nested and I can no longer reply directly to your last comment! WordPress can’t even handle us anymore! XD
Your last comment made me wonder: If, as you say, Morpheus is a patriarchal, self-entitled point of view, then why did *I* mourn his death so much? And, well, I’ll readily admit I am far too fond of a whole bunch of male asshole characters XD. But I think that’s because there’s so much potential there, potential for change and improvement and redemption. Gaiman has continually emphasized that Morpheus’s choice was to change or die. I wanted to see him change rather than die. When he pretty much gave up on changing himself, that sort of implied he was irredeemable–and I don’t believe anyone is irredeemable. It’s sad to see a narrative reinforce irredeemability. It’s a pretty depressing, hopeless message, while here I thought the King of Dreams was supposed to be all about hope.
Of course, for the Endless, dying and changing amount to the same thing, because they’re replaced by a new, different aspect of themselves. But to me, this is a totally dissatisfying form of change, because humans can’t do it! There’s no new version of Syng who’s going to magically come along when I die. It’s hard to relate to a change like that. Morpheus was supposed to be this relatable, “human” character, so to see him do something so inhuman was quite jolting. And it also sort of implies that the norm can’t be changed gradually, but only suddenly, through voluntary abdication and immediate replacement (or through violent revolution?! Is Sandman secretly Communist propaganda?! XD). But when does that ever happen? Most change really is gradual. Or, if it does come about as a result of some sudden event, it eventually just settles back into more of the same. So, Morpheus’s death was poignant and meaningful and the logical result of his character arc, blah blah blah, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it!
(Accidentally posted in the wrong part of the thread. Can you delete above?)
I’m back! Sorry – I was away for a long weekend and couldn’t keep this up.
It’s a good question: Morpheus represents a long, mostly-terrible tradition, and is more often than not an asshole in very important ways. So why – or how – can we mourn him, much less like him?
I think you’re on to something with his inhumanity. Morpheus is not a person. He’s a personification. You can change YOUR point of view, but the point of view can’t change itself. Morpheus is beyond redemption simply because he is not human; but Dream goes on, the Dreaming goes on, and our dreams change. He argues with Desire at some point: humans are not the servants of the Endless, if anything, it’s the opposite, they work for us. In that sense, as we evolve, we get the Dream we, well, dream. We don’t know enough about Daniel to say that he’s the one we want (we as in you and me, and our many fellow readers, not necessarily the broader culture). But that’s the hope. We may not be there yet.
Ultimately, Morpheus is strained until he snaps, and then is replaced by Daniel. That’s more gradual that it seems, because we don’t go from Peak Morpheus to Peak Daniel, we go from an overextended Morpheus to a nascent Daniel. The old point of view held as much of the new world as it could until it could not be sustained, and it was replaced by a new point of view which hadn’t fully formed yet. Mortals – you, me, Cain, Abel, Lucien, Matthew, even Merv – can hop from one to the other, though.
And, I guess, ultimately, for all the flaws of the unquestioned patriarchy of the dominant cultures of the past 3,000 years, they weren’t only terrible. We can mourn their – his – passing even as we understand that it was just. (Plus sometimes I’m fascinated by fictional bad girls/chaotic women, too. I get being fond of male assholes. It’s enticing.)
Welcome back! 🙂
I have to say I disagree strongly that Morpheus is inhuman. In fact I believe he is the most “human” of the Endless. But… if you want to find out more about why i feel this way, I encourage you to check out the OMPCR I’m going to post this Sunday! 🙂 Your perspective makes sense as well, however, which means there might be a bit of inconsistency in presentation there. I got used to thinking of Morpheus as a person, which is what made his death and unrelateable replacement so jolting to me.
Looking forward to it!
It’s not that Morpheus is INhuman, it’s just that he’s NOT human. I guess? He shares a lot with us, but he’s still not one of us.
He can adapt but he can’t evolve – he’s still Morpheus. I think that’s why he likes Hob Gadling so much – someone else from the old days, who could dream his Dreams.
But none of this is to say that we can’t mourn him! He’s not an abstraction, he’s a personification. He’s a sentient, feeling entity at the same time as he’s stuck in time. Our empathy for him is important, even our love, even as we criticize him.
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