Tag Archives: Neil Gaiman

The Sandman: Overture

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Sandman: Overture [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Neil Gaiman, J H Williams III, and Dave Stewart, with Todd Klein and Dave McKean.

Gaiman Williams et al The Sandman Overture

The six-issue Sandman: Overture comics series was the last to be created for the title character. It was published more than fifteen years after the seventy-fifth and last number of the original Sandman title, which had in its day been fantasy writer Neil Gaiman’s largest and highest-profile comics work. As “Overture” suggests, this later sequence supplies a story set immediately prior to the main series, anticipating its themes and forms.

Although I was an active comics reader during the heyday of the lauded former serial, and it certainly fit my general tastes, for whatever reason, I haven’t read it–even though it has remained in print in trade paperback collections ever since. It has new currency now with the release of the big-money-small-screen version from Netflix. So when I considered reading some of the comics this summer, I decided to start with Overture. After reading the copious creators’ notes and interviews in this volume, I realize that the intended audience for Overture were really longtime fans and knowledgeable readers of Sandman. Oh, well. I didn’t find it difficult to follow, although I suppose it would have been a richer read if I had been familiar with the other work.

The art in this book is outstanding, with the lines and shades by J.H. Williams III (of Promethea fame) and amazing colors by Dave Stewart. Another key contributor, who doesn’t appear on the cover but still features among the creative personnel interviewed in the end matter, is letterer Todd Klein. Perennial Gaiman collaborator Dave McKean also provided cover art for the series.

Among comics, I was most reminded of the Eternity story arc from 1970s Doctor Strange, although Williams and Gaiman in their remarks refer to Jim Steranko rather than Gene Colan as a visual comics influence. In literature generally, Gaiman’s “Endless” characters reminded me most of Tanith Lee’s “Lords of Darkness” in her Tales from the Flat Earth books. They are not mere personifications of abstract concepts. It might be more accurate to call them hypostases of cosmic principles–but ones that somehow elicit the reader’s human sympathy.

It was a snake, cold of eye, its tongue flickering, its fangs dripping with poison. It hissed, and a drop of poison from its mouth dripped onto Loki’s face, making his eyes burn. Loki screamed and contorted, writhing and twisting in pain. He tried to get out of the way, to move his head from beneath the poison. The bonds that had once been the entrails of his own son held him tightly.

Neil Gaiman, Norse Mythology [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library]

Hermetic quote Gaiman Norse Mythology snake cold eye tongue fangs dripping poison Loki burn screamed contorted writing twisting pain bonds entrails son held tightly

The Problem of Susan and Other Stories

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Problem of Susan and Other Stories [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Neil Gaiman, P Craig Russell, & al.

Gaiman Russell The Problem of Susan and Other Stories

The Problem of Susan collects four graphic adaptations of Neil Gaiman fantasy stories. The first two are illustrated by P. Craig Russell, who also did the scripting and layouts for the third. The title story–a sequel/critique for the Narnia stories of C.S. Lewis–is the longest of the four, and it’s one I had read some years back. Russell’s adaptation is magnificent, with repeated visual motives and a really glorious concluding panel.

The second story “Locks” is a very short one built around Goldilocks and the Three Bears and again bringing adult reflection to bear on children’s literature. In the third tale “October in the Chair,” personified months of the year have assembled around a fire in the woods for what seems to be a recurring convocation in which they exchange stories. October’s contribution is the centerpiece, and it’s suitably autumnal and spooky. The final piece in the book is hardly a story at all, more of a short poem really, called “The Day the Saucers Came.” Paul Chadwick’s art for this one is entirely in full-page illustrations, just seven of them.

Eternals

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Eternals [Bookshop, Amazon, Publisher] by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by John Romita, Jr.

Gaiman Romita Eternals

So, here’s Neil Gaiman’s take on Jack Kirby’s Eternals, in which alien space gods have created humanoid super-custodians for terrestrial life, themselves understood as deities by traditional polytheistic cultures. Readers could be forgiven for assuming that American Gods author Gaiman would focus on the characters’ altar-egos (that’s a pun, not a misspelling) as the gods of Olympus, Valhalla, etc., but that’s exactly what he doesn’t do. Instead, he creates a “reboot” scenario in which the Eternals have been deceived into thinking that they are human, and have forgotten what they knew about the Celestials and the deep history of Earth; and then he uses their process of anamnesia to portray a spectrum of attitudes from the conflicted human to the puissant and impeccable Eternal.

Gaiman cleverly works in a fair amount of Lovecraftian lore, in a hybrid with Kirby’s von Daniken plot-basis, and he gives the Deviants some self-respect as the “Changing People.” The plot integration with Marvel’s Civil War cross-title “event” was a little annoying to me, but part of Gaiman’s challenge was to integrate the outlier Eternals with the “Marvel Universe,” and he seems to have succeeded, at least as far as he took it.

The art by John Romita Jr. (JRJR) is often anatomically obtuse–a good example comes in a page-top panel toward the end of the book, in which Thena’s right foot looks like she’s wearing a clown shoe. But that’s actually in keeping with the Kirby spirit. As Gaiman observes of Kirby in an appended interview: “My little ten-year-old brain would go, ‘Fire doesn’t look like that!” and then you look at his women and go, ‘Women don’t look like that!'” So, like what Gaiman calls the “Kirbyverse,” JRJR manages to offer a coherent visual idiom with its own power. His panoramic images of prehistoric epic are especially fine.

The production values for this edition are positively splendid: a nearly folio-sized hardcover with a sturdy dustjacket, full-process color on glossy paper, and a set of appendices including the aforementioned interview, alternate cover illustrations, preliminary character sketches, Gaiman’s proposal for the series, and an essay about the original Eternals title.

Before the beginning there was nothing—no earth, no heavens, no stars, no sky: only the mist world, formless and shapeless, and the fire world, always burning.

Neil Gaiman, Norse Mythology

Hermetic quote Gaiman Norse nothing

Norse Mythology

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman is a retelling of a sequence of stories from the overall Norse corpus. There’s an arc, but it’s not a smoothly contiguous novelized story. But, the collection of stories are a good series, and well written. I also read this in conjunction with the Norse Mythology audiobook, read by Neil Gaiman himself. So, I had the author’s own voice to reinforce the rhythm and tone of the writing.

The brightest points were those where the alliteration and poetry arose in the writing and the reading. If this is your first approach to this material, I strongly recommend following up with the pure poetry of the poetic Edda and other source material. If you’re coming to this work already familiar with the source material, these bright points of alliteration and poetry will strongly strike you with memories of what you have already read. But, those moments feel a bit random in the whole, and not in places of the strongest action or in places that seem intentional for the story. They come and pass almost like a surprise for no reason other than, perhaps, they were inspired by such moments in the source material; though I didn’t try to go back and compare.

All in all, a good gift for someone new to the stories, and a welcome reminder for those already familiar with them. Also, having the whole read aloud by the author was a delight.

I made 70 highlights.

Originally posted on my personal blog at Norse Mythology

Marvel 1602

Marvel 1602 by Neil Gaiman, Andy Kubert, &al, is something I’ve wanted to read for a long time and finally got a round tuit.

This was originally an 8 issue series, now available as a collected graphic novel. Apparently there’s been others created in the 1602 universe, but this is the core story. This is an alternate universe story about the main Marvel superheroes out of time, for some reason, which is eventually revealed. On the main, the cool part is the period drama and how the heroes have turned out in another time, and an extended thought experiment about this alternate reality in which essential natures and essential stories still play out.

I think for me the real feature that drew me to this story was that it featured Doctor Strange, and moreover in the era of John Dee, but it turns out there’s a lot more I enjoyed. Lots of little things that tickled my interests, like Daredevil talking about mystery and audere, Fury and Peter Parker talking about secrets, powers and mysteries, & c.

I think I was really hoping that Doctor Strange would use Dee’s obsidian mirror, but if it was there, even in the background, I missed it. But there’s plenty I found interesting. Two moments that come to mind are the villainization of libertarian, individual as the myopic measure of right Doom opposed to the excellence in a collective of the various others coming together, and an almost Zen parable about tools and weapons that resolves into an oblique takedown of filthy lucre.

On the other hand, I don’t think it ever occurred to me that the Fantastic Four could be seen as the four classical elements. I still don’t enjoy FF much, but it’s a dimension to them I’d not thought about before, that’s kinda obvious now that I’ve read it.

The art is in that almost over-perfect style that is hand-drawn but finished on a computer, which tweaks that peculiar Alex Ross-like trigger of glossy detail while still being minimal. The writing is good, though not stunning, to be honest. The primary novelty is in the time-twist and what-if-ism, which does deliver a solid series. Overall, worth reading and a fun adventure that kept me interested and thinking beyond just what the story presented.

Originally posted on my personal blog at Marvel 1602