For the sake of those who have not read The Sandman, a brief summation may be in order.
There are seven beings, god-like but not gods, called the Endless. They represent those forces that we believe someone must be in charge of, because it just makes sense for some intelligence to be overseeing things like Fate or Death. One of the Endless is Dream, also called Morpheus, the Prince of Stories and King of Nightmares.
Dream is the creative spirit who rules over all that is not and might be. He is also, as the story opens, about to learn the value of humanity and humility, as he undertakes a journey that will take him to Hell and back and leave him racing against time to prevent the destruction of all reality.
In the weeks building up to the release of Netflix’s adaptation of The Sandman, I recall surprisingly little discussion of the show itself and how the story might be changed from the comics. I think this was largely because, with Neil Gaiman himself co-writing the first episode and supervising the whole affair, hopes were high among fans that any changes that were made would be true to the spirit of the original books. Of course the usual suspects complained about the skin color and sexuality of various actors. These complaints were rightly ridiculed by Neil Gaiman himself, who pointed out that The Sandman was “woke” long before the term was coined, with a diverse cast and a non-binary, gender-fluid being as the epitome of Desire. Because naturally Desire can be anyone you want.
Fans of the original comics will be happy to know that what changes exist only serve to enhance the larger story. To give one example from the opening episode, the warlock Roderick Burgess is given a more personal reason for imprisoning Dream that seeking power. Likewise, his son Alex Burgess is made into a more villainous figure and Burgess’ mistress, Ethel Cripps, is given more motivation for robbing her sugar daddy than simple greed. Even John Dee, the chief villain of the first storyline, is made into a more complex villain with a method to his madness and a goal beyond world domination.
The casting for the series is pitch-perfect and it is hard to single out any particular actor out of the ensemble. Tom Sturridge is absolutely perfect as Dream. I must confess a personal fondness for Stephen Fry as Gilbert, but I also love Patton Oswalt’s understated performance as Matthew the Raven. Gwendoline Christie is a revelation as Lucifer and Boyd Holbrook manages the neat trick of making the Corinthian as charming as he is sinister, like the rogue he should be.
I don’t think anything can convey my fondness for The Sandman quite so well as this statement. Despite my being a purist regarding the character of John Constantine, I would love to see Jenna Coleman’s Johanna Constantine get a Hellblazer spin-off of her own. Her performance in the third episode, “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” perfectly captures the Constantine spirit and there’s many nods to his comics for the diehard fans to hunt for.
In short, The Sandman is everything an adaption should be. It captures the essence of the original story, while building upon what came before and finding ways to enhance it. Hopefully this will be the first of many seasons for the series and the story long considered unfilmable will be produced in its entirety.
The Sandman season 1 is now streaming on Netflix.