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Comic Book / The Sandman: Overture

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"Something is hurting. Something is waking up. Something is damaged."
— Chapter One

The Sandman: Overture is a six-issue prequel to The Sandman (1989), written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by J.H. Williams III, which came out from 2013-2015.

It is 1915 and Dream of the Endless has found the errant nightmare called the Corinthian. But something pulls him away at the last moment. Something momentous is happening in the universe, a darkness is forming, and Dream is called to an important meeting...of himselves.

Spoilers beyond this point.

This series provides examples of:

  • Absolute Xenophobe: The participants in the end of the universe include the Monks of Klaa, who seek to end all life because they believe the universe is merely a distracting thought in the mind of God and that the sooner it goes away the sooner he'll be able to get on with his real work.
  • Abusive Parents: Night, who clearly doesn't give much of a damn for any of her children, and who sticks Morpheus inside a black hole when he refuses her.
  • All According to Plan: The attitude Desire holds when all is said and done, setting up Dream to have a history of killing Dream Vortexes.
  • Always Save the Girl: Morpheus reveals that he did this with the first Vortex, unwilling to take an innocent life to save thousands. This almost led to The End of the World as We Know It and having to kill the Vortex when its powers drove it half-mad.
  • Anthropomorphic Personification: As in the main series, the protagonist and his siblings are the personifications of Dream, Death, Destiny, etc. Overture introduces their parents, Night and Time, and Night's companion, Dusk.
  • Apocalypse How: The threat appears to be Class X-5, complete multiversal destruction. As Glory of the First Circle explains:
    From across the vastness of the cosmos, impelled by whatever senses drive them, singular creatures are gathering to feast on the coming massacre and the madness. And the madness will spread. The galaxies themselves will shake and vanish. The other realms in their turn will fade and be destroyed. Soon enough, the mind that is the universe will cease to think, and all things will cease to be.
  • Batman Gambit: Pulled off spectacularly throughout the entire story by Desire, whose plan spans multiple iterations of reality, not only counting on Dream's actions, but on theirself's own future actions after the memories of making the plan in the first place are erased when the universe rewrites itself.
  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: The Corinthian takes credit for inspiring Gilles de Rais.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: The Endless, as usual. The scenes where Dream speaks with his parents throw some light on where they get it from.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: Dream outright says that the end of the universe is no concern of his; his only responsibility is to the Dreaming. He's only compelled to action by learning that the crisis came about because of his dereliction of duty.
  • Briar Patching: Dream is imprisoned inside a black hole by a group of insane stars. Not coincidentally, the total darkness of his prison winds up transporting him to the realm of his mother Night, whose servant interrupts his complaints by snarking that he will next "be asking us not to throw you in the briar patch". Subverted in that Night refuses to help, and Dream has to be rescued by Destiny, which neither of them planned out.
  • Call-Back: In one of the splash panels of the Thousand in the final issue, one of them is the same kind of plant alien as Quorian in the first issue.
  • Call-Forward:
    • In the first issue, Morpheus is about to catch the Corinthian... but we know that he won't, because the Corinthian will still be loose when Dream is let out in again in 75 years.
    • Before Morpheus sets out on the quest that takes up the rest of the miniseries, Lucien asks if he intends to return, and Morpheus says that of course he will because he has responsibilities to attend to. Readers of the original series know that it will be a very long time before he returns to the Dreaming and that by that time, Lucien will be one of the very few who still believes he will be back.
    • Hope asks that Dream remembers her name after she and the other dreamers help him perform the Cosmic Retcon needed to save reality. Glory notes that he may forget her completely, but her name may help him when he needs it - it does, when he travels to Hell to reclaim his helm. Another call-forward to the same event is Fomalhaut's dismissive statement that nobody is ever going to achieve anything just by saying "I am Hope."
    • The solution to the crisis the universe faces is based on A Dream of a Thousand Cats, in which it is said that the reality that exists now was because a thousand humans dreamed of one where humans, not cats, were the ultimate rulers. It's also the first appearance of Dream of Cats.
    • Desire gets the idea of a Vortex that is also of family blood. Cue The Doll's House.
  • The Cameo: Destiny and Death make a cameo in the first issue, while Daniel-Dream and Mad Hattie make a cameo in the second. Desire and Delight, in the process of becoming Delirium, show up briefly in the third issue. Destruction and Death appear in the fourth issue in a flashback when Dream first needed to kill a Vortex. In the final issue, Death appears in an alien and a human form as the Vortex destroys reality, while Despair appears in the epilogue.
  • Cats Are Snarkers: The only other Dream that accompanies Morpheus is the Dream of Cats, who snarks that they are actually walking alone and talking to themselves. The fact that this behavior is very un-Dreamlike is a clue that the Dream of Cats is not really an aspect of Dream.
  • Celestial Body: The personification of Night appears to have dark blue skin with stars and other cosmic objects shining through it. The story also includes personifications of individual stars, but they are each just one solid glowing color.
  • Comic-Book Fantasy Casting: Dream looks an awful lot like Benedict Cumberbatch.
  • Do Androids Dream?: A literal example, as one of the Dreams appears to be a robot (which means there must be a place where robots dream).
  • Eldritch Abomination:
    • The first Dream was the Dream of the "first created things: those that sleep in the space beneath space."
    • The being that killed one of the Dreams and is causing the universe to destroy itself, a star that has gone mad and become a cancer.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Dream's punishment of the people who killed Hope's father:
    Hope: Did you do that? Make them sleep?
    Dream: Yes.
    Hope: I don't understand. Why didn't you kill them?
    Dream: This is worse.
    Hope: Oh. Good.
  • Father Time: Time is depicted as father to the Endless (seven embodiments of natural forces) through marriage to Night. His apparent age changes unpredictably from panel to panel, including one panel where he's the traditional white-bearded old man.
  • Flat "What":
    • It's probably hard to elicit this from Dream, but that's exactly what he says at the end of the first issue when he is confronted with all of his other selves.
    • Destiny, of all people, has this reaction when he finds a ship in his garden. A ship that is not mentioned anywhere in his book.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Because it's a prequel, we know that there will still be a universe at the end and that certain of the characters will survive. The question is what it's going to cost them.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • There are subtle hints that the Dream of Cats is actually Desire, most notably when Hope notes that she's unsure whether or not the Cat is a boy or a girl in issue 3. At one point the Dream of Cats suggests to Dream that he should visit Time in his own realm, unaware that Dream had already done so during their travels; luckily, Dream seems to miss the faux pas. Later on in the final issue when she gives her speech to the dreamers, Hope emphasizes the need for the dreamers to want the change, which the Cat approves. There's also the V-shaped marking on the Cat's forehead, which comes to more obviously resemble a love-heart as the story progresses.
    • The eldest of the Fates remarks to her sisters that if she'd wanted to be kind to Dream, she'd have warned him not to look under the bed. When Dream subsequently does look under a bed, there's nothing there but a frightened child — who decides to come along on the quest and gets killed, giving Dream one more thing to feel guilty about.
  • God in Human Form: Glory of the First Circle talks to Dream wearing the form of a regular old man. However Dream also called him "Shekinah", which is a reference to the Abrahamic God of The Bible. "Shekinah Glory" is a Hebrew-based phrase referring to the presence of God, such as the pillar of fire in the Book of Exodus.
  • God of Darkness: Night is the Anthropomorphic Personification of the emptiness that predates Creation. She is the estranged lover of Time and mother of the seven Endless. While not evil, she is known for being rather narcissistic and while affectionate, tends to pick favorites while neglecting others when it comes to her children.
  • Historical Domain Character: In the first issue, Merv mentions having recently met a dreaming Sigmund Freud, who attempted to ascribe a metaphorical significance to Merv's cigar.
  • Humanoid Abomination: Glory of the First Circle looks like a regular man, but he is probably more powerful than Dream himself. He certainly knows more.
  • Kill It with Fire: How Dream of Quorian's planet seems to die. Since he's Dream, he probably didn't actually die like that, but it seems like it within Quorian's dream.
  • Me's a Crowd: The meeting at the end of the first issue is made up of all of Dream's selves. In the next issue, they explain that they are all the same Dream, just through different facets. Except for the Dream of Cats, who is revealed to be Desire in disguise.
  • Mouth Cam: In a disturbing variant, the Corinthian's first scene opens in dual mouth-cam, from the POV of the little mouths he has instead of eyes. The Corinthian being who he is, it's still an example of showing the POV of a predator approaching his prey.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Night notes that Dream and Desire are too similar, which resulted in their disagreements, while Dream insists that they're nothing alike by insisting that Desire is selfish, manipulative and single-minded, three qualities that DO apply to Dream. Moreover, Desire actively works with Dream to save all of reality, proving that Desire also takes their responsibilities seriously.
  • The Older Immortal: The Endless have been around as long as there have been living things, but Overture introduces two beings even older — their parents, Time (who has existed since the beginning of you-know-what) and Night (who existed before there was anything at all).
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Destiny, of all beings, gets this. He snaps at Dream in issue five when faced with something he hadn't foreseen, but knows to be Dream's doing.
  • Other Me Annoys Me: The many different "aspects" of Dream are gathered together and immediately start arguing about whether they count as one person or many people. Two Dreams have this side conversation:
    Dream 1: Am I always like this?
    Dream 2: Like what?
    Dream 1: Self-satisfied. Irritating. Self-possessed, and unwilling to concede center stage to anyone but myself.
    Dream 2: I believe so, yes. In my experience.
    Dream 1: Ah. Fascinating.
  • Plant Aliens: The first issue begins on a distant planet that has plant aliens on it. The Dream there actually looks like a tall white flower with black leaves.
  • Portal Network: While imprisoned by the beasts he would eventually make into the gates of horn and ivory and his helm, Dream is able to speak with his siblings via the network of their sigils, only these were drawn on the wall of his cell.
  • Primordial Chaos:
    Before the beginning was the night. And the night was without boundaries and the night was without end.
  • Retconjuration: What Dream eventually has to engineer to set things right, using the method from "A Dream of a Thousand Cats" to create a reality where he killed the star the Dream Vortex had sent mad, rather than allowing it to live and infect the universe. Certain personages, like Dream and Glory, remember what originally happened.
  • The Reveal: This series gives information about several things that were either hinted at or only briefly shown in the original series, such as the battle with the creatures that Dream's gates and helm are created from and Alianora, who showed up very briefly at the end of A Game of You. It also shows a one-panel glimpse of Delight, who tells Dream she can't help him because "[she's] changing" and is gone before Dream can get more from her.
    • It also reveals why Dream of the Endless has to kill Vortexes. If he doesn't, the Vortex's power to break down the walls between dreams will drive everyone in the world mad... including the suns of those worlds, which are sentient beings in the DCU. Dream mentions this incident once during the original Doll's House and doesn't elaborate then.
    • Issue five reveals the Endless are the children of Time and Night.
    • Issue six reveals the Dream of Cats is actually Desire. It also shows how and why Dream was in such a weakened state and easily imprisoned in the beginning of the original series.
  • Rewatch Bonus: When rereading, look for mentions of night and time, as well as clues that the Dream of Cats is not exactly who they say they are.
  • Screw Destiny: Both Destiny and the Fates are shown to be surprised by details of how events are unfolding: Destiny by the arrival in his realm of a ship that his Book (which contains everything that will ever happen) doesn't mention, and the Fates by the unexpected fact of Dream being accompanied by the Dream of Cats. Both of these turn out to be consequences of Desire screwing with recent history in a successful attempt to help Dream avert the destined destruction of the universe.
  • Shout-Out:
    • In issue one, a character wonders if he's a butterfly dreaming he's a man, a reference to the famous anecdote about Zhuangzi.
    • In issue three, the list of participants in the interstellar war includes "wave riders and planet eaters", accompanied by an illustration of two beings that resemble the Silver Surfer and Galactus.
    • In issue four, the Father of the Endless is drawn to resemble Alan Moore, who Gaiman has credited as one of his major influences in creating the Sandman series.
    • In issue five, a scene set in the war among the stars includes a tall person covered in brown fur and wearing only a toolbelt wrapped from shoulder to waist, who resembles Chewbacca.
    • In the two-page spread where Dream put the Thousand to sleep, there is a passed-out Ultraman in the lower left corner.
    • In the same spread, the beings in the upper right corner include an orange humanoid who looks a lot like The Thing and another being wearing a cloak resembling the one worn by Doctor Strange.
  • Splash Page: Many, but in particular there are two giant, four page splash pages: one at the end of the first issue showing a bunch of different Dreams greeting Morpheus, and one in the final issue showing the recreation of the Universe.
  • Teaser-Only Character: In the opening scene, an alien named Quorian witnesses the beginning of the end of the universe. The story never returns to Quorian's planet after that, nor do we see Quorian again (unless the alien of the same species who appears in a crowd scene in the final issue is also Quorian).
  • Timey-Wimey Ball:
    • The second issue begins in the present with Daniel's incarnation of Dream retrieving a watch from Mad Hettie that will somehow help his previous self.
    • The fourth issue has Dream talking with his father in two separate discussions, during which "Father" complains about something Dream stole and then later thanks Dream about returning it, even though Dream hadn't stolen it (yet) and hadn't returned it (which he won't do until after he becomes Daniel). The fifth issue reveals his father is Time, explaining something of the temporal weirdness.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy:
    • When Night asks Dream what Delirium wants of her, he tells her she wants what she's always wanted: her mother's attention, interest, and love. Night shows no response to Dream, moving on to ask about the other Endless.
    • Dream himself at the end:
      I imagine my parents' voices... "Son?" "We're proud of you."
      But I hear no voices.
  • Wham Line:
    • "So... Do you think father will be pleased to see us?"
    • "Anyway, the cat isn't even you."
  • Which Me?: At the meeting of all the aspects of Dream, they spend some time getting sidetracked into a discussion of whether they're an "us" or a "me" and then whether the discussion is a dialogue or a monologue, before finally getting down to business.
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside: In the third issue, Dream disappears for a panel and then reappears in the same place without either of his companions having apparently noticed his absence. The following issue reveals that in that brief moment, he was in Time's realm for a conversation lasting several pages.