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J.H. Williams’ Art Defies Imagination in ‘The Sandman Overture’ #6

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The Sandman Overture #6
Written by Neil Gaiman
Art by J.H. Williams
Colors by Dave Stewart
Letters by Todd Klein
Published by Vertigo

After being plagued by delays and almost two years after the first issue came out, Sandman Overture comes to a close with a reset button, a twist, and just a dash of primal energy as Morpheus needs the help of both the anthropomorphic embodiments of Desire (disguised as Dream in cat form) and Hope to remake a universe, which he almost caused to be destroyed when he decided to intervene in the natural death of a star. Neil Gaiman strings together ideas about pride, hope, and the nature of the reality in the florid language of his script, which he gets to take a break from in a cluttered two page spread featuring Delirium of the Endless. Most of his plot reads like the third act of a Steven Moffat Doctor Who season finale with the end of the universe, rewriting reality, and other timey wimey bits and bobs.

However, Gaiman does accomplish the purpose of The Sandman Overture that he announced back at the 2013 San Diego Comic Con in that he shows how Morpheus was weakened enough to be caught by “hedge magicians” in The Sandman #1 with both style and grace thanks to artist J.H. Williams, colorist Dave Stewart, and letterer Todd Klein, who has been on Sandman since Day One and deserves every Eisner he’s won for giving personality to the Endless and other characters through colored word balloons and font changes.

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Each of J.H. Williams’ pages in The Sandman Overture #6 is an intricate jewel in and of itself. His layouts perfectly set the mood for each sequence and plot point from the jumbled feel of Delirium’s conversation with Morpheus to the sweeping series of panels as Morpheus blows his dream dust on the sleepers on his (basically) ark so he can use their dreams to remake the universe as it was. This page is split in the middle with the denizens of the ship all yawning to show how contagious yawning is and shows that Gaiman and Williams have a knack for making basic, commonplace things universe defining. Like a little, irridescent blue dead girl ending up being the most important thing in the world: hope. These vignettes and moments are sometimes swallowed up by Morpheus’ strained relationship with his parents Time and Night (Yes, seriously.) and the fantastic physics of his plan to save everything, but they are the ones that will linger with readers in the future.

One thing that sets apart Williams’ work on The Sandman Overture #6 from much of his ouevre is its minimalism in a few places. Usually, Williams uses sumptous layouts and varying line weights to create a visual feast out of everything from Batwoman teaming up with Wonder Woman, a girl being the vessel for the powerful Promethea avatar, or an anthropomorphic being meeting with other versions of himself. In the case of the universe dying (except for Morpheus) and being brought back to life, Williams goes simple (by his standards) with a naked Morpheus doubling and shrinking in pain and then cutting to black with the universe’s “pulse” flat line. Dave Stewart’s colors go pitch black, and Gaiman shuts up for a second to give the dead universe a moment of silence.

And then the page blooms again with bright colors and a painful expression for Morpheus, who is superimposed against the struggling universe without a body to call his own. There is a triptych of panels in the middle with a black and white Morpheus that simply represent life and death, or the center of the dream that becomes the world. Sandman Overture #6 is just dripping in symbolism that rewards a second or third read much like the original series. Letterer Todd Klein plays a big role in the transition from universe rebirth to Morpheus getting captured as the page becomes littered with words from magic spells that build suspense with concentric circle panel layouts until the king of dreams is a prisoner, and Sandman #1 begins.

With a powerful epilogue done in a light painter style by J.H. Williams, Gaiman sheds some new insights on Desire of the Endless, who is a rival and foe to Morpheus in the main Sandman series, and lot of fans’ least favorite Endless even if they have a certain sexy charm. Desire has been disguised as the cat version of Dream the whole time and played to Dream’s pride to give him the motivation to save the universe even if he doesn’t really care about it. This surprising reveal puts the growth of Morpheus’ humanity and his inability to change in Sandman in new light as Desire is either a better person than we thought, or is playing the longest game of all.

Even if its plot has many incomprehensible parts, The Sandman Overture #6 captures some of the humanity of the original series while adding new wrinkles to Morpheus as a character. Colorist Dave Stewart creates surrealist vistas of color as the universe springs into life and helps Williams’ art linger on the eye. Finally, The Sandman Overture #6 is a true tour de force of J.H. Williams’ artistic talents as he manipulates the comics page in ways that will likely never be seen again and truly shows the unlimited potential of dreams, stories, and hope.

Rating: 8.1/10

 


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