Syng: Merry Christmas! Guess what present Neil Gaiman and Co. got for us? Overture #4! And even though its release was delayed by a couple months, we don’t mind one bit. This time, Neil Gaiman (with art by J.H. Williams III and coloring by Dave Stewart) takes us on a journey to the stars and beyond the bounds of time. Spoilers in our summary and review below!
The first few pages take place “between two microseconds,” as Dream visits his father to ask him for help. Turns out this happened when Dream disappeared briefly in Issue #3, just as Hope was telling him, “I thought maybe you was here to save everybody.”
The father of the Endless is a red-haired man whose age changes continuously. During the microsecond of Dream’s visit, we see an apple tree go through an entire life cycle in his father’s realm. Dream’s father coldly refuses to help Dream (I guess maybe we know now why Dream always treated his own son so coldly?) and reminds him that the last time he helped his son, Dream lost the “Saeculum” he had given him. So Dream returns empty-handed, and it is as if he never left.
Fast-forward to the situation at the end of Issue #3: Dream, Cat-Dream, and Hope have reached the City of Stars. It takes some cajoling, but they finally convince the stars (humanoid in this place) to let them into the city, and Dream goes to talk to the star, which had been driven mad by the Vortex so long ago. Everything about the mad star reminds us of Delirium: it’s full of colors, it speaks like her, even its speech bubbles are colorful like hers are, but in a different way. Dream tells it the story of the Dream Vortex, who was a young feline-headed woman on a distant world long ago, whom Dream could not bear to kill, because at that point, he had still never killed before. So he delayed, and in the next three days, she broke down the barriers between the dreams of all entities on her planet, reaching all the way to her sun. Dream was left with no choice but to destroy the planet, but he stopped short at killing the sun.
Now he implies to this sun that he must kill it to protect the Dreaming. And it turns against him. We discover that it was really never imprisoned; instead, it is the monarch of the stars, and all stars are united within it! And the stars want to destroy the universe in a blaze of glory rather than waiting billions of years for them all to burn out! They threaten to throw Cat-Dream into their zoo and “delete” Hope, when suddenly… Dream’s father calls him back again to thank him for returning the Saeculum. It turns out the Saeculum is that pocketwatch thing that Daniel-Dream fetched from Mad Hettie’s dream in Issue #2. Morpheus is confused, because from his perspective, this hasn’t happened yet, but such things don’t seem to matter to his father. Dream returns to the moment he left, just in time to watch a star vaporize Hope. The stars then imprison him in the event horizon of a black hole, from which nothing, not even light, can escape. …Merry Christmas, everybody! Enjoy your dead Hope and imprisoned Dream!
Well, sorry, folks. I was wrong about Nada. She wasn’t the Vortex, even though I feel like The Doll’s House strongly implied that she was. But it turns out the Vortex was from some other world, which Dream had to destroy completely. So you know what that means, right? It means the “African” folktale about Nada told by the grandfather to his grandson as an initiation ritual in the first chapter of The Doll’s House was in fact supposed to be African. And that makes Gaiman’s lack of research for it (which he readily admits in The Sandman Companion) inexcusable. When I first read the folktale, I thought it took place on some distant planet, so the apparent disconnect from any real cultural traditions was okay. But nope, Nada’s story happened 10,000 years ago on Earth. The grandfather and grandson are just supposed to be generic Africans, I guess, with no connection to an existing tribe or culture. Well, newsflash: there’s no such thing as a generic African. This whole thing is one big mess of cultural appropriation. This also means that Overture is not all about Nada like I initially thought it was. This isn’t the universe punishing Dream for his cruelty to Nada after all. It’s just punishing him for letting a girl he barely knew (thankfully, the Vortex did not turn out to be another one of his doomed lovers) live for three days too long. Somehow that really takes the impact away from the story.
Next, I’m almost certain that the father of the endless is Father Time. We could see time working on his person and on that tree while in his realm. He can control the duration of Dream’s visits so that, though they seem to be minutes long, they actually only last a microsecond. His dialogue strongly implies that he’s Time as well. There are even T symbols all over his realm. Also, “saeculum” is a real word, referring to the period of time (see? Time again) “from the moment that something happened… until the point in time that all people who had lived at the first moment had died.” I’m also now even more convinced that the star-spangled woman we saw in Issue #2 is the mother of the Endless—Mother Space. This is never confirmed anywhere, but it would just make so much sense considering what she looks like and that her husband is Time.
Finally, ugh, Hope got fridged. I should have known that something like this would happen from the moment the Crone told us that Dream never should have taken Hope with him. But I expected her death to be… more meaningful and less sudden. Dream had grown fond of her—she had noticed he was lonely, and had the audacity to take his hand in this issue. He’s going to be all broody about her death. It was totally a fridging, and I don’t appreciate it. This was definitely a middle installment, with little resolution of anything. And the plot was slightly confusing; it took me two reads to figure out what was going on. But despite all my griping, I actually enjoyed this comic like I always enjoy Sandman. The artwork was mind-boggling as usual. I liked getting to know Father Time and finding out about the first Vortex (even though she wasn’t Nada). A lot of plot details about the danger the universe is in also coalesced in this issue. I can’t wait to find out what happens next (probably Cat-Dream will break Morpheus out of the event horizon prison), and I highly recommend you check this out in order to continue the Overture journey!
Mikely: I’m not ready to give up Hope yet. (I rethought that sentence five times trying to find a way for it to work without a pun. I give up.) I agree that it feels like a fridging, but the stars don’t kill her, they attempt to delete her, which she adamantly refuses. We see her disintegrate, which I admit, looks very bad, but we do not see Death come to take her. That’s not how it ends for Hope Beautiful Lost Nebula. When there is a Very Locked Box that Should Never be Opened, like the one Dream’s in, I’m counting on Hope. Especially with an apocalypse looming. Speaking of that lock on Dream, I think we’ve taken a sudden change of genre here. After a series that’s been firmly in fantasy/mythpunk, Overture is playing a science fiction game. Yes, there’s a city of the humanoid consciousness of stars, but their weapon is a black hole, which runs on gravity, not magic. With Space and Time looming as the progenitors of the Endless, it’s getting a little Einsteinian around here. I always forget that this is the past—specifically 1915, before Dream was imprisoned at the start of the series. This is almost exactly when Einstein was formulating the theory of general relativity, which carries the remarkable implication that not only are space and time aspects of the same concept, but that they both have some kind of interactive material existence.
People before me believed that if all the matter in the universe were removed, only space and time would exist. My theory proves that space and time would disappear along with matter. —Albert Einstein, 1915.
Spacetime itself warps and distorts in the presence of matter, and in turn, matter can only move along these contours. Coming back to the series here, there has always been a statement that the Endless—created of Space and Time—do not rule the mortals at all. Instead, each influences the other, and that the Endless would be without form in a world without mortals. It’s echoing Einstein’s conclusion, with mortals as matter and the Endless as spacetime. Given the focus on unbreakable laws in this world, it all starts to feel more like the laws of physics than commandments. Coming back to Hope, it’s why I’m fixated on the assertion that she was deleted, not killed. Because that’s breaking a law that cannot be broken: matter cannot be destroyed. Physical death is one thing, but deletion is impossible, and they only went for the latter. But we’ve got only only four issues so far! Gaiman has more to throw at us.
Syng: As always, Mikely finds connections that I never would have thought about! Hope + Unopenable Box of Horrors = Pandora’s Box? Time + Space + early 1900s = Einsteinian relativity? And yet it all fits! Gaiman knows exactly what he’s doing, as usual. Let’s hope Mikely is more right about Hope than I was about Nada! Check this issue out, and get in on these starry spacetime shenanigans! Enjoy your holidays!