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Spoiler for Sandman Overture issue #1

It is established in the Sandman canon that the personification of Dream takes on different aspects depending on which culture or species he is addressing. In Sandman - Overture issues #1-2, the "human" dream lord Morpheus meets a multitude of his own aspects. Are these generic alien characters or are the pictures chock full of DC comics references? Only a couple seem familar to me.

enter image description here enter image description here

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    I can't answer though I can add to the discussion. The two characters Kane and Abel who turn up in the stories are actually, in canon, the hosts of the 60s and 70s comic anthologies "House of Mystery" and "House Of Secrets" respectively. Questions arise in story about whether they are the Biblical ones or not, to which affable and slightly paranoid Abel gives a somewhat evasive "yes" until Kane replies "Even that story is misrepresented - It may not even have happened in this world!" Gaiman's reasons for this are speculative, but he certainly enjoys using cultural icons in his work. Jun 29, 2015 at 5:36
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    Thaddeus and Praxis both back up their claims well, I should give the community more time to vote and chime in before I mark one as accepted. BTW, it's someone else than me that has started the bounty :-)
    – Abulafia
    Jul 6, 2015 at 8:25

2 Answers 2

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Reference #1: Babylon 5

Here is a direct link to a higher-resolution version of the first panel in your question:

http://images.sequart.org/images/Dream-13.jpg

As @Covertwalrus mentioned in comments, Gaiman does appear to enjoy inserting cultural references into his work. If you look at the extreme left of the image, you will see "Robot Dream", the one saying,

YOU: DREAM OF THE ENDLESS ARE AS / ALSO WE.

enter image description here

While "Robot Dream" seems to be the term thrown around amongst fans on the web, the lower section of Robot Dream seems organic, with a number of tentacles.

Robot Dream looks like a sleeker version of a typical Vorlon from Bablyon 5. Vorlons are tentacled aliens who wear encounter suits with a similar helmet:

enter image description here

The connection here has a real basis:

  • The Vorlons are not only telepaths, but can also communicate with others through dreams (see "Kosh" article).
  • The Vorlons, liked other "First Ones", are believed to be immortal (hence, "endless") and play a crucial role in the so-called "War Without End" with the Shadows in Bablyon 5.
  • J. Michael Straczynski — the creator of Bablyon 5 — and Neil Gaiman are very good friends.
  • Neil Gaiman himself has written for Babylon 5, namely the 5th season episode "Day of the Dead", in which Vorlon ambassador Kosh delivers an important message to President Sheridan (despite having "died" in an earlier season, which ties in further to the "endless" motif). The message was:

When the long night comes, return to the end of the beginning.

  • There have been significant Sandman references in Bablyon 5 — for example, the Bablyon 5 episode "Interludes and Examinations" features an alien race called the "Gaim", who look like this (hint hint):

enter image description here

It seems very likely that the image of "Robot Dream" is an homage to Bablyon 5.

Reference #2: Guardians of the Galaxy

Near to "Robot Dream", we also have this charming spectator:

enter image description here

This looks awfully like Groot from Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy:

enter image description here

Coincidence? Probably not, considering Neil Gaiman is the creative consultant for the current Guardians of the Galaxy comic.

By the way, in searching for further evidence for these references, I actually found a Bleeding Cool article titled "Is Sandman Overture a Babylon 5 / Guardians of the Galaxy crossover?"

In General

I don't think that the references in Overture (if there are any) are DC-specific. I have been a long-time DC fan and I'm struggling to see much that I recognize (although I do gravitate to certain series more than to others). But if there are a slew of references hidden in the panels, I suspect that they refer to things that are personally interesting or important to Neil Gaiman, and these could very well lie outside of DC Comics, such as his friendship with Straczynski.

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As much as we would like there to be information regarding these varying Sandmen from across the cosmos, the artist who paints them says they are not meant to be illustrative of anything or anyone in a conscious fashion. He painted each with no particular reference, only varying the palette of techniques used to render them. If they resemble something from the existing DC Universe, it is completely coincidental.

enter image description here

In a 2013 Comics Alliance interview with the artist J.H. Williams we learn:

CA: That manifests in a major way in this issue with the big four-page spread of all the Sandmen from across the universe. Some are illustrated in different styles while some — and maybe this is just an illusion? — seem to be illustrated in different mediums and tools altogether.

JHW3: I definitely wanted to make it feel that each of these Sandmen steps out from their own other world or dimension. It was important to sell the idea of their uniqueness by changing their art styles because we’re not going to get much exposure to them. The way something is drawn immediately impacts the way a reader feels about it.

JHW3: I took that approach to each of these characters. It gives the reader an immediate impression of what that character is like but in a very abstract way, which is kind of cool. As far as the different mediums, some of that is definitely true. There’s some stuff that’s hand-painted, some stuff done in washes, some stuff that’s only pencil that’s been colored [by Dave Stewart].

enter image description here

Sandman Overture (four-page spread): Williams designed each Sandman on-the-fly as he drew the page, employing different styles and illustration techniques such as paint, ink wash and pencil as needed. Color by Dave Stewart.

CA: You must have lots of Sandmen design sketches lying around the house.

JHW3: There aren’t any. All those decisions, I made them at the time, doing the artwork on the spread. Whenever I do that kind of thing where I approach a character with a certain style in mind, the decision is often made on the fly; what my gut tells me is right with that particular character. That’s pretty much how I treated this spread. I knew there were certain styles I wanted to try to bring into play, but where they were going to apply wasn’t overly thought out. I just kind of… did it.

CA: That’s very surprising. Who are your favorites on the page? I want to hear more about a lot of them. Like the Robot Sandman!

JHW3: I like the robot one! Neil had a couple suggestions in the script of possible Sandmen. A couple of those didn’t get to appear in this spread but they’ll get to appear when we return to the scene. The robot one was intriguing because when people think of different versions of Morpheus, the lord of dreams, people always think in organic terms. What’s Morpheus like for machine life?

CA: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

JHW3: Exactly! I thought that was interesting. So I really like that one.

CA: Who else is a favorite?

JHW3: I love the giant cat, I thought that was a lot of fun. The two others that stand out to me are the green-skinned Sandman with the four arms — the way he’s dressed reminds me of an old pulpy space adventure hero — and the character next to him, who looks like he has a crescent shaped head. He reminds me of something you might find in an illustrative fantasy book of some kind.

enter image description here

The Sandman Overture JH Williams Crescent Moon Guy Dave McKean - A subconscious homage to longtime ‘Sandman’ cover artist Dave McKean appears in Williams’ super Sandman splash.

CA: The crescent moon guy also reminds me of a Sandman cover by Dave McKean [it was 1992's issue #39]. I seem to remember a guy with a crescent head sitting with his head resting in his hands Do you remember that one? JHW3: Yes, I do!

CA: Is this that guy!?

JHW3: Who knows, it could be! It’s one of those subconscious things. The imagery from the original series is so powerful and strong, different things can live inside the back of your mind and you never realize something is coming out. Like that character reminding you of that particular cover — he reminded me of it, too. Once I saw that character as I was drawing him I thought, “Oh, this reminds me of that same cover!” which I thought was kind of funny. It’s cool.

CA: And the painted Sandmen?

JHW3: Of course I really liked toying with the painted ones, too. I think the Picasso Sandman is really fascinating. That came out really, really interesting to me. One of the things that occurred to me was, if we’re going to be showing what Morpheus is like on all these different worlds, and their views of him, that could be taken to the furthest extreme in terms of how they look, stylistically. Like going towards painted stuff such as abstract things or modern art perspectives like Picasso — what would that look like on the page?

REF: Artist JH Williams III Talks 'Sandman: Overture' [Interview]

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  • Any explanation for the downvote? This is technically "Word of God" information. Jul 4, 2015 at 18:03
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    On the Stack, people don't necessarily need a reason. There are plenty of answers that get upvotes but aren't right, and plenty of right answers that don't get votes. All we can do is hope overall, these balance out giving good information to the people who come here looking for it. Jul 4, 2015 at 18:16
  • That's a good way of looking at it, and you're certainly right that the whole point is about distributing good information. (And, if I may say so, I hope your answer gets the bounty on this one! It's an excellent answer and is a pleasure to read.)
    – Praxis
    Jul 4, 2015 at 20:36
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    The artist says: "what my gut tells me is right with that particular character". The way I read this, it was the choice of style that was done on the fly, but that he did not invent the characters themselves on a whim.
    – Abulafia
    Jul 6, 2015 at 8:27

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