In 1989, DC Comics published the first issue of Neil Gaiman’s groundbreaking series, “The Sandman,” under the publisher’s darker and more mature Vertigo imprint. To say that this series, as part of this Vertigo movement, forever changed the landscape of comics would be an understatement. Earlier this month, Netflix released the first season of an adaptation of this comic series, consisting of 11 episodes. This first season adapts the first two and a half storylines of the comic series. But what exactly is the story about, and is the adaptation any good compared to the source material? Read on for some information about Gaiman’s beloved story for those who have yet to enter the Dreaming. And for those purists thinking this show is some sort of nightmare, have a look at the review at the end to see how it stacks up.
Things you should know about the Sandman:
Who is the Sandman?
The protagonist of the Sandman is Lord Morpheus, Dream of the Endless. Morpheus has gone by many names and appearances attributed to him by many different periods, cultures, species and worlds — but in all of them, he is known as the Lord of Dreams. Morpheus rules over the Dreaming, the world where all living creatures drift off to when they close their eyes and fall asleep — and then forgetting when they wake up in the morning. Morpheus is the creator and ruler of all dreams and nightmares as well as being a keeper of stories — as the library of the Dreaming in Morpheus’ castle contains every story there ever was, was not and will be. Morpheus focuses his nearly limitless power through his pouch of sand, his ruby — a powerful dreamstone capable of making dreams reality — and his helm crafted from the skull of an unnamed god. Morpheus is the third oldest of the seven Endless — more on them later — and thus has incredible power. Morpheus was created when the first living being in the universe slept and journeyed to his realm, and he will remain until the last wake-up — and in this endless life, he will do whatever it takes to maintain his power and protect his realm.
What is “The Sandman” about?
In the first issue of “The Sandman,” a human occultist attempts to use an ancient book of spells to summon and imprison Death. After completing the spell and summoning a being of incredible power, he realizes that he has mistakenly imprisoned Death’s younger brother, Dream. Morpheus is stuck in the occultist’s basement for 70 years — over a century in the Netflix series — before he is finally able to free himself. But in his absence, things had changed. Dream is without his items of power, nightmares have been let loose upon humanity, and the Dreaming is in ruins. Morpheus must restore his home to its former glory and get back those who had escaped. “The Sandman” uses dreams to tell a wide array of stories in many different genres, ranging from horror to romance and drama, and expands with the many characters and worlds Gaiman creates. Each storyline is different, many even featuring Morpheus very little, but it all is linked by the powers that dreams hold.
Dream of the what?
As previously mentioned, Morpheus is only one name attributed to Dream of the Endless, one of the seven Endless. The Endless are anthropomorphic personifications of various forces and aspects of the universe. In order of age, they are Death, Destiny, Dream, Destruction, Desire, Despair and Delirium. The endless are not gods. They are more than that. Gods need mortals to believe in them to exist. The Endless exist regardless of whether anyone believes. Of the seven Endless, the three that play the biggest roles in the first season of the Netflix series are Dream, Desire and Death — with Despair making a brief appearance as well.
The first five episodes of the Netflix series adapt the “Preludes and Nocturnes” storyline of the comics. The main villain of this story is John Dee, otherwise known as the supervillain Doctor Destiny. This character first appeared as a Justice League of America villain in the 1960s, before Gaiman adapted him and worked him into the story of “The Sandman.” John Dee in the comics wielded a powerful ruby that allowed him to manipulate the dreams of others. Gaiman retconned that this ruby was Morpheus’ dreamstone, which came into Dee’s possession after being separated from Dream during his capture. The dreamstone twists John’s mind, turning him insane and power-hungry. In the comics, John Dee was imprisoned in Arkham Asylum and separated from his ruby. When he breaks out, he journeys to his precious dreamstone and leaves death and havoc in his wake. Speaking of which…
The 24 Hour Diner
Episode five of the Netflix series adapts issue six of the comic, “24 Hours,” which takes place entirely in one setting — a friendly diner in the small and sleepy town of Mayhew. In this diner, the regulars all have their seats and their usual orders as the smiling waitress Bette Munroe — who dreams of being a writer and works her interactions with her customers into her stories — goes around to top off their cups of coffee. Then, Dee walks in with the dreamstone and the clock begins. 24 hours later, Dream of the Endless walks through the door. Between those two points exists one of the darkest and most horrific comic book issues ever published, especially by a company like DC. This small-scale horror story serves as a microcosm of humanity and human nature and, although it may be shocking and graphic, Gaiman writes it beautifully. The Netflix series’ adaptation is every bit as brilliant and terrifying.
While John Dee serves as the antagonist of the first half of the season, the character that will truly make your skin crawl is one of the villains of the second half, the Corinthian. As explained in Distractify, The Corinthian is a nightmare that Morpheus describes as, “Created to be the darkness, and the fear of darkness in every human heart. A black mirror, made to reflect everything about itself that humanity will not confront.” In the comic series, if nothing else, Gaiman explores human nature in many aspects — whether through Dream or Death or instances like the diner. But then there’s the Corinthian, who fled to the waking world, our world, when his creator was captured and slaughtered humans for generations. He inspired followers — collectors who also appreciated the “art” of murder and death. The Corinthian will stop at nothing to stay in the waking world and continue to prey upon humanity, working to keep Morpheus weak and unable to stop him.
The Nature of Dreams
“The Sandman” is a vast story spanning many different worlds, mythologies and genres that uses dreams at the core to ground it all. Dreams are changing and chaotic. They are where your traumas, fears and regrets can grab hold of you. Dreams aren’t any one thing, just like how Morpheus isn’t any one being. But the important thing about Dreams, even if they are at times more terrifying and darker than even Death, is they balance out the desires and the despair and the delirium. The Dreaming can bring fantasies or nightmares, darkness or light — all fueled by the mind of the dreamer. That is what makes Morpheus such a unique character. He taps into all of that and has all of that power under his control. And that changing and emotional nature of dreams will show as Morpheus’ story is told in this new series.
“The Sandman” on Netflix is almost a perfect comic adaptation, in a way that even in a time that is full of comic book movies and shows, we have not gotten yet. It is incredibly faithful to the source material and even when it changes elements of the story, it is done well and in a way that makes sense for the switch in the medium. The acting is incredible with not one actor in the cast giving a less-than-incredible performance, and the writing is brilliant, blending modern television writing with Gaiman’s original lines from the comic. This series will make you want to keep going from episode to episode until suddenly you have finished, and you realize you are going to be waiting at least a year for the next season. The only issue that the show has is the portrayal of Dream of the Endless. Although Tom Sturridge plays the Lord of Dreams brilliantly, he does seem a little too human at times, and you miss the ethereal element you should be feeling when looking at a scene with Morpheus. But to go full Morpheus and black out the eyes and make the skin paper white would have looked off and been too unbelievable, so it’s understandable why they made the change.
Rating: 4.7 out of 5