This is indeed where it all starts, where the circle comes to completion, where Neil Gaiman tells us at last how Dream of the Endless came"It begins."
This is indeed where it all starts, where the circle comes to completion, where Neil Gaiman tells us at last how Dream of the Endless came to be imprisoned for so many years by a mortal madman.
It's no stretch to say that Sandman is one of the most finely-crafted comic-book series in the history of the medium. It's a story with a clear beginning and a satisfying end, and a fascinating progression from one to the other, still leaving room to explore further nooks and crannies. "Overture" is one of those unexplored spaces in the story of the Sandman, and it runs deep.
"Overture" takes place before the events of the original series, and Gaiman wastes no time getting into world-spanning epic territory. The dreams of flowers and cats, the insanity of stars, the book of Destiny, a multiplicity of Dream, and a girl named Hope are all quickly brought to our attention. There are stories within stories and new characters to meet, both mortal and eternal. All familiar territory to those who have read Sandman before, and Gaiman has lost none of his flair for the fantastic worlds of the Endless. Those who know these stories will find that "Overture" fits in delightfully well.
The art of "Overture" is, in a word, beautiful. JH Williams III does more than illustrate the words Gaiman writes - he embellishes them, illuminates them, like the bookmakers of old used to do. Williams crafts our experience of the story through intricate panel designs, warping the medium to suit the story's needs, and lavish illustrations filled with rich detail on every page. From intricate, lifelike portraits of the many aspects of Dream, to the sketchlike embodiment of Delirium, Williams does things with the medium that defy its conventions - the perfect approach for a story like this one.
For those new to the world of the Sandman, this is probably not the best place to start. "Overture" is filled with deep references to the events of the whole series, and features many familiar faces (both human and Endless) without much in the way of introduction or preamble. New readers will be presented with a rich world, fully formed and fascinating - and may find themselves lost, not quite understanding what is going on. Even though it takes place after "Overture," readers new to the Sandman would likely be better off beginning where it truly began, with "Preludes and Nocturnes."
An overture in music is an introduction, but in the case of the Sandman, "Overture" feels like a crescendo. It's a return to a place we've known intimately, but not felt in a long time. It's a friend we've missed, suddenly there again like no time has passed at all.
"Overture" is an ending, and like most endings, it carries within it the seed of the beginning. It all ends, and begins again, here....more
Before The Long Halloween, the brilliant writer/artist team of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale collaborated on three one-shot issues about Gotham City's chosenBefore The Long Halloween, the brilliant writer/artist team of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale collaborated on three one-shot issues about Gotham City's chosen protector. I had never heard of either of them before, but I quickly came to appreciate their unique talents, their sharp and observant perspective on Batman, and their ability to craft cracking good stories.
Haunted Kinght collects all three of these stories, each with a different take on a Halloween theme, into a single volume.
The first story is "Fears," featuring perhaps the most natural villain of any of these tales, the Scarecrow. "Madness," the second story in the volume, features the Mad Hatter and a unique spin on Alice in Wonderland. The final story, "Ghosts," turns Bruce Wayne into a modern-day Scrooge in the All Hallows' Eve version of A Christmas Carol.
Through each story, Jeph Loeb shows a deft understanding of the subtleties of the Batman character, of the nuances of Bruce Wayne's relationship with his dark half, and with the themes that are central to the mythos of the Dark Knight overall. Tim Sale showcases an equally strong grasp of the source material in his artwork - crisp, dark, moody, drawn in simple lines and high-contrast darks and lights and broad swaths of monochrome. The overarching theme of Halloween - of ghosts and monsters and things that go bump in the night - is the perfect foil for these tales.
Taken together, the three stories in Haunted Knight represent a high-water mark in the long history of Batman. Rarely has a writer and artist team gotten it this right. In Haunted Knight, Loeb and Sale express the Batman we all knew existed, but never dared to imagine this fully: the hero who lives in darkness, the man haunted by his own history....more
A new Batman, a new villain, an old city, and lots of familiar faces. The Black Mirror is a potent formula, and for the most part very effective.
But,A new Batman, a new villain, an old city, and lots of familiar faces. The Black Mirror is a potent formula, and for the most part very effective.
But, I have to say at the outset, it's difficult to read a Batman story without Bruce Wayne. Scott Snyder brings all his considerable skill to bear in writing this multifaceted tale of a Gotham City finding its way, Dick Grayson trying so hard to fill the cowl of Bruce Wayne with new partners, and a long-forgotten piece of Commissioner Jim Gordon's past come back to haunt him.
There's a lot to this story, and Snyder spins it with the same wit, the same grasp of history and literature, and the same subtleties of craft as he has evidenced with the excellent American Vampire. For all its newness, it's clear that Snyder "gets" the Batman, gets the importance of Gotham City as a place and as a character in its own right, gets the history of those who've come before him, and pumps all of this into the overall arc of 'The Black Mirror.'
And yet part of me can't let go - where's the Batman I know?
Similarly, artists Jock and Francesco Francavilla get the look and feel of Batman. Despite pretty dramatically different styles - Jock's harsh and jagged and nearly monochromatic, Francavilla's more colorful and less edgy - they both show well here, and the material they illustrate is well-suited to their talents. Jock expresses the drama and the darkness of the Batman, Francavilla expresses the more human side of both heroes and villains alike. For a story this complex - a story of drugs and madmen and broken families and long-held grudges - both have their piece to contribute, and they do it well.
And something still feels like it's missing.
It's a little like reading 'The Hound of the Baskervilles,' in the parts where Holmes is absent from the story. Watson is a fine investigator, and pushes the story forward in his own way, and it's still a good story. But it feels less driven, less exciting, less complete, until Holmes' return, with all his fire and fervor, to wrap the case up with his signature panache.
I kept waiting, in 'The Black Mirror,' for that moment. When Bruce Wayne returned and righted that world and brought it all back into sharp perspective. Though there were many satisfying moments to be experienced...that moment never came.
'The Black Mirror' is aptly named. It reflects aspects of Gotham City and its denizens, both those who fight for it and those who would bring it crashing down, in new and original ways. It makes us see things we haven't seen before. Scott Snyder and Jock and Francavilla represent well here, and have created a finely-crafted addition to the ongoing story of Batman.
But a reflection of a thing is not the thing itself, and that difference was felt here. A slight warping of the glass, or a flaw in its surface gave it away. Though his reflection was seen in the black mirror, the Batman was not to be found here. And that was hard to get past....more
In many ways, Batman is the artist's hero - independent, self-made, creative, relying on his image and reputation to do at least some of his work forIn many ways, Batman is the artist's hero - independent, self-made, creative, relying on his image and reputation to do at least some of his work for him. It makes a certain sense to tackle his story with a designer's eye...but in the case of Death by Design it just doesn't hold up.
It's a visually striking book, mostly black and white with subtle hints of color, faded green or pale blue. Finely-executed drawings on one page are augmented with rough charcoal renderings on the next, simple yet stylized panel layouts with an eye for the dramatic. The result is something that looks and feels like a classic superhero comic of the 1940's, but with a modern edge. I stopped every page or so to admire the artistry of it.
The story is an interesting idea, but ultimately tries to do too much with too little to go on. With the Wayne Central train station decaying and nearly falling apart, Bruce Wayne is overseeing the replacement of his father's legacy. Thick with architectural trivia, union contracts and political intrigue, a misplaced appearance from the Joker, a love interest for Bruce Wayne, new gadgetry for Batman, and a new pseudo-hero in Exacto, Death by Design feels like a story in search of a point. Ultimately, the story crumbles under the weight of its ambition. Removing some of the elements (the Joker's presence seems most obviously unnecessary) might have made it work better overall.
I can appreciate the ideas here - a love of classic building and classic storytelling, an appreciation for the art of the previous century. The art of this story makes a great showcase for those ideas, but when it comes to the story itself, Death by Design lived up to its own title - what killed it was inherent in its design....more