There are a handful of comics that people often recommend to new readers as their first comic. Among them, since the early 90’s, has been Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman. Only recently did I actually take the dive into the kingdom of the dream lord and come out the other side. Alongside reading it for the first time, I was watching the show for this. To review an adaptation of one of the biggest stories in comics. While other adaptations either go straight from page to screen or change the source material entirely, The Sandman show on Netflix improves upon some of the source material but delivers an entirely different experience. With an incredible cast, writing, score, and more… The Sandman show will not lull you into sleep but instead invite you to a world much like our own where everyone is just looking for their own identity.
In 1916, Morpheus, the king of dreams and one of the seven Endless, is captured in an occult ritual. After being held captive for 106 years, Morpheus escapes and sets out to restore order to his kingdom of the Dreaming. Things have changed in the worlds around him but for 106 years, Morpheus has stayed just as he is. What tensions can arise from a world that has been free of you for so long?
The first season adapts the first book of The Sandman which features some of the most iconic stories like “The Doll’s House” and “Dream Country”. It doesn’t follow the same path that the comics did but rather blends storylines and plots together in a more cohesive way for the screen. Fan-favorite characters like The Corinthian (Boyd Holbrook) and Matthew the Raven (Patton Oswalt) play a bigger role through the season rather than being confined to their own issues. The series allows these characters to spread their wings to really draw you into them. I would go so far as to call The Corinthian the villain of the season which works very well in this narrative. I am not sure if it would have worked in the comic which could often be different stories all fitting under one umbrella while the show is more a straight shot.
With those changes mentioned, please don’t grab your comic book fan pitch forks and torches just yet. Things change, it’s a big theme of the series itself even! So don’t clutch your pearls when you find out a lot of the DC Comic connections have been removed because the ones that are in the show are so satisfying. Certain things wouldn’t translate to the screen but so many of them do. The “24-Hour Diner” story is almost fully intact other than a few minor changes that actually make the story even more horrific. While Doctor Destiny isn’t a former supervillain, John Dee (David Thewlis) will still send shivers up your spine as he controls a diner full of people to commit horrible acts driven by their own hidden desires.
Tom Sturridge as Dream/Morpheus and Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Death in The Sandman show have the same charisma on screen as the characters have on the page. Their dynamic in “The Sound of Her Wings” is an incredible testament to how well this show understands its source material. The episode itself includes my favorite story of the series, “Men of Good Fortune” where we get to see beneath the veil of Dream for the first time.
I do not want to get into spoilers but I think that one of the bigger themes of the series is Dream dealing with his own identity and what type of king he must become which works so well on screen. There is a lot of frustration from those around Morpheus for how he has conducted himself in the past. It leads to the underlying story to really bubble up in an authentic manner.
A major highlight for me personally was John Cameron Mitchell’s performance as Hal in The Doll’s House arc. Hal performs as a drag queen named “Dolly” who we see directly struggling with their identiy in their dreams. The questions of “who am I really?” is one that runs through the entire season which I think is perfectly captured by Mitchell. There is a scene where he is talking to Rose (Vanesu Samunyai) about chasing her dreams that is one of the most emotional moments in the season.
Gwendolyn Christie is perfect. She is Lucifer. No notes. 10/10
David Buckley’s score for the show captures the whimsy of dream’s and the darkness of the show’s concepts. It’s something that drives the mood of the scene perfectly with themes you will be relistening to whenever you need a moment of tranquility or something gloomy to stare out at the rain to.
But the most important part of The Sandman show is that they got Dave McKean to come out of retirement to do unique end credit sequences of each episode. McKean did the covers of The Sandman comics, Hellblazer, and more than that, defined an entire generation of the darker side of comics. Dave is a master of art that blends mediums to deliver images that tell entire stories themselves just at a glance. I beg you to not to skip a single one and drink them all in. If you don’t, I wish nothing but horrors upon you such as your shoelaces ALWAYS coming untied and flies landing in your wine.
The Sandman is one of the most iconic comics of all time. The Sandman show captures so much of what makes the series special while improving upon it with an emphasis on making the cast more diverse rather than nearly everyone being the same (Neil Gaiman discusses this directly in his interview with Marc Maron). It shows that things like stories can evolve and grow, learning from the mistakes the first time they were told.