Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman Explained: What to Expect from the Netflix Show

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This article comes from Den of Geek UK. 

A Netflix adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s breakout hit The Sandman is on the way to the delight of goths and geeks alike. But what is The Sandman, and why is this comic book series such a big deal? If you’re new to the DC Universe’s most miserable cosmic entity, we’ll try and get you up to speed below…

What is The Sandman?

We’ll start with the easy one. The Sandman was an ongoing comic series written by superstar author Neil Gaiman, when he was merely British comic book writer Neil Gaiman, and drawn by legendary artists such as Sam Keith, Kelley Jones, Dave McKean, Matt Wagner, Jill Thompson, Marc Hempel, Mike Allred, and many more.

This horror/fantasy epic stars Morpheus, the anthropomorphic embodiment of dreams. Coincidentally, he is also known as Dream, a member of the Endless, the dysfunctional family that also includes Death, Desire, Delirium, Destiny, Despair…and one other…  The series shows how all of these forces interact with humanity in a variety of ways throughout the life of the universe. And if that sounds grandiose, that’s because it is, in an “encompasses all of human (and often non-human) experience” way.

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From the immortal who meets with Dream once every hundred years to Death harvesting souls with an impeccable bedside manner, from a war for control of a Hell abandoned by Lucifer to a tragedy at a serial killer convention, there’s a lot going on in The Sandman‘s 75-issue original run. But don’t worry, the series is a mesmerizing ride through the world of dreams and every realm in between that you won’t be able to put down. Once you’re hooked, you’re absolutely hooked.

The Sandman wasn’t just a good story – it changed the medium. If you’re the sort of person who picks up comics and reads them in collections, well, that’s probably The Sandman’s influence too. As one of the formative comics of the Karen Berger-headed Vertigo line, this series pioneered the idea that ongoing comics series would live longer in the bookstores as six-eight issue collections than as monthlies on the newsstands.

In short, it’s kind of a big deal.

What is happening with the TV version?

After years of false starts and a number of unproduced TV shows and movies, The Sandman has finally landed at Netflix. Gaiman – who refers to himself as “a retired showrunner” following the completion of Good Omens – will be co-writing the pilot, but no scripts have been produced yet. We can only hope that his influence on the script does justice to what is arguably his finest contribution to literary culture.

Previous versions of Sandman that never happened – which may or may not inform the upcoming one – include a 1990s movie version by Roger Avary and Jon Peters, a 2010 TV version for HBO by James Mangold, a 2011 TV version by Supernatural creator Eric Kripke, and a long-stalled 2013 film project produced by David Goyer and Joseph Gordon-Levitt with a script originally by Jack Thorne.

Further Reading: Upcoming Neil Gaiman Adaptations

Like Dream himself, the list of canceled adaptations seems endless. Fortunately, the popularity of Gaiman’s other creations such as American Gods and Good Omens has clearly left Netflix hungry for a piece of the action. And if you’re going to pick anything to adapt, Sandman is undoubtedly the one with the most potential. Allan Heinberg (Wonder Woman) will be showrunning, so fingers crossed it gets more than a Netflix two-seasons-and-out.

What will we see?

As a story collected in 10 volumes, the first season of The Sandman won’t be able to adapt the whole thing in one go – which will probably be a relief to most fans of the comic series. One of the beautiful things about Sandman is that the concept works both as a long-running epic about Dream’s adventures and the consequences of his actions, and as simple, one-off stories about the members of the Endless touching the lives of humans and other DC characters. Gaiman confirmed that the initial season arc will adapt the first volume of the comics – Preludes and Nocturnes – plus “a little bit more.”

Expect to see the main story of Dream escaping mystical imprisonment after a century or so and going on a quest to recover his totems of power – a pouch of sand, a helm, and a ruby – as well as visiting a former lover he damned to hell, engaging in a battle of wits with Lucifer, and visiting his sister, Death.

Further Reading: Neil Gaiman Wants to Write a New Doctor Who Episode

But on a smaller scale, we might also see adaptations of “Thermidor,” in which Morpheus influences the French Revolution; or “A Dream of a Thousand Cats,” in which we learn what our feline friends imagine when they sleep (spoilers: it’s not very nice for us); and perhaps even “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” the story in which Dream (first) encounters Shakespeare that won Gaiman & Co. a World Fantasy Award. If any single issue is guaranteed to get an adaptation in season 1, it’ll be The Sandman #8, a story titled The Sound of Her Wings, in which Dream’s sister, Death, is first introduced.

Is this a DC Universe thing?

The answer here is: sort of. Technically, yes, the characters and events of Sandman take place in the DC Universe, although you don’t need to know any DC continuity to follow Gaiman’s comic. It’s unlikely you’ll see many recognizable DC characters on the show, though it could result in some fun cameos if the rights line up. John Constantine was a recurring figure in Sandman’s mythos, and a newly-announced Constantine comic series is even branded as a Sandman spin-off, so maybe that’s a possibility.

Further Reading: How Stardust Became a Modern Fantasy Classic

Perhaps more interestingly, Lucifer – a TV show currently owned by Netflix – is based on the comic version of Lucifer that originally spun out of The Sandman and into his own comic series, having abandoned Hell. It’s hard to do Sandman without including Lucifer in some capacity, so one question hangs in the air: will Tom Ellis reprise his role on Sandman? It’s far, far too early to say. But if you’re a fan of Lucifer, cross your fingers…

How can I read Sandman?

If you’re interested in reading Sandman – and you absolutely should be because it’s one of those series that absolutely lives up to the hyperbole – there are a number of ways to do so. The main series is collected in ten trade paperbacks, numbered Volumes 1 to 10. Frustratingly, Volume 1 is the ropiest of them all, but once you get halfway through, it gets really good. It’s worth persevering.

A “Volume 0”, Sandman: Overture, forms a prequel to these ten volumes, while the original graphic novel Sandman: Endless Nights presents stand-alone tales of The Endless, best read after the main series. Sandman: Dream Hunters is a stand-alone prose story which has been adapted into a comic, while Death got two series of her own, now available as collections: The High Cost of Living and The Time of Your Life.

If you’re only going to read ONE book, Fables and Reflections (Vol. 6) is the one to try – it’s a collection of several standalone stories that don’t rely on the ongoing story to make sense.

So, fingers crossed the TV show does this justice. And even if it doesn’t, well, let’s not worry too much. The comic still exists, after all, and that’s more than good enough.

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