“When the first living thing existed, I was there waiting. When the last living thing dies, my job will be finished. I’ll put the chairs on the tables, turn out the lights and lock the universe behind me when I leave.” says Death, the elder sister of Dream in regards to the grandest cycle of them all. The very nature of all existence as we can comprehend. But in regards to Gaiman’s highly acclaimed Sandman series, Death should’ve closed up properly long ago.
First of all, I love Sandman. It is a life changing comic for me and a seminal piece of modern literature. Hugely successful at the time and in the years since, it has achieved a state of immortality few other comics can boast.
Which is exactly why is needs to be left alone.
I remember finishing the final paperback The Wake and being absolutely blown away by the depth and scope of the story. But unlike most other things I finish, be they books, films, comics or TV shows where I immediately turn to Wikipedia to read up on everything related to it, I just left Sandman. It’s ending was so complete and perfect I didn’t feel the need to pursue more.
After a while I discovered the Endless Nights collection via my admiration of Frank Quitely; a series of one shot stories based on each of the seven Endless. I didn’t buy it. I knew I wouldn’t enjoy it. I don’t mean that in the snobbish way that in my eyes it wasn’t part of the original cannon but that, as I said, the original run of comics was so perfectly encapsulated I had no desire to return.
I had originally found an infinite amount of respect for Gaiman in his attitude to keeping the story in his hands and knowing when to end it. As he said himself of the last issue,
“Could I do another five issues of Sandman? Well, damn right. And would I be able to look at myself in the mirror happily? No. Is it time to stop because I’ve reached the end, yes, and I think I’d rather leave while I’m in love.”
Most likely Gaiman has since removed all of the mirrors in his house.
Since then, he has dipped back in the Sandman Universe twice; first with the half decent Endless Nights and then followed a decade later with Sandman Overture. Not to mention the also middling spin offs in the The Dreaming and Lucifer.
I cannot begin to express my excitement when I heard about Overture. Finally I would get to experience going into my local comic shop and getting a Sandman issue. In the end it was a half decent story that languished due to several delays on most of the six issues. Overall, it impressed in that cosmic sense that Gaiman excels at, playing with weighty concepts many of us mortal writers try to grasp to try and sound more profound, but usually (or always in my case) fail. But did it hold a candle to the original? Was it a worthwhile segue into the main canon? No and no.
I often wondered what Morpheus had been doing to find himself in such a weakened state and leave himself open to be captured, kicking off the first collection of issues known as Nocturnes and Preludes. It was a source of infinite inspiration and fascination for me and many others. I think that is why I disliked Overture so much, because it killed off that wonderful blank space for me to connect with Morpheus and the original comic series.
Generally I like pieces that do that, like Rogue One which embraced the romantic notion of the daring mission to secure the plans to destroy the death star. But in both cases, the gap that they try to fill doesn’t need filled. They were beautiful pieces of lore that enticed the imagination and stirred the soul. Presenting them in their full glory is dazzling for a moment, but then it passes. The joy remains in the mind like the afterglow of a blown light-bulb, and then its just darkness. A death of sorts. No longer is there a creative space there.
Maybe I’m just being petty on that front, but I genuinely feel that when there is so much scope for story, unless the one you finalise is by far the best, that its ascension cannot be challenged by any other narrative then fair play. But in terms of Rogue One and Overture especially, it was an impossible task. There was simply too much scope and breadth to justify strangling it down to just one narrative.
So now that Gaiman in forming a new team to tackle yet another foray into his universe (which includes the absolutely fantastic Bilquis Evely) I despair. At best, this new set of series will erode away another layer of veneer on the original series and at worse, narrow Gaiman’s once vast universe into a single narrative. I honestly don’t have high hopes for it achieving anything more than the usual fair. A large buzz upon its release, solid reviews and commercial success. Then it will slot nicely into the “Best of the rest” box I keep next to the original ten Sandman paperbacks. Directly next to the original, but separate at the same time.