On August 5, one of the most beloved comic series was brought to the screen after decades on the backburner. The Sandman introduces us to the world of The Dreaming and its king, Morpheus. Another brilliant brainchild of one of the most iconic writers of our time, Neil Gaiman.
Gaiman’s The Sandman comic series definitely helped him reach the critical acclaim he has now, granting him a spot amongst the best of the best (along with his other work too, of course). The Sandman comics are an essential Neil Gaiman read for fans and newcomers alike to dive deep into the dark and mystical corners of Gaiman’s mind.
It’s been a long time coming for this groundbreaking comic series to reach the screen. Plans have been formed and scrapped in a span of over 30 years. The original comics gained great fame, and with that comes a lot of pressure. Not only to appease fans but also to perfectly craft a dynamic adaptation that encapsulates the large and complex world of The Sandman.
After literal decades of waiting, the comic has made it to the screen. Netflix’s The Sandman garnered 127.5 million hours of watch time within its first full week alone, taking up the number 1 position for the top 10 new releases. Neil Gaiman and the other showrunners even treated fans with a bonus two-part episode. Netflix’s The Sandman adaptation leaves one in awe and wonder, new and old fans alike.
Filled to the brim with the dark, mystical, and very real dreams and nightmares we have, crafted by Gaiman’s masterful hands, The Sandman series has earned its initial spot at the top.
Netflix’s The Sandman brought us a dream who may be the cutest (though definitely one of the most emo ones) that we’ve ever seen. Tom Sturridge’s take on the ethereal role of Morpheus was just what the doctor ordered. Sometimes the front runner of an episode, sometimes a mere observer, Sturridge was definitely in some good company with his fellow cast members.
Before the release of The Sandman, the show and Gaiman received some backlash when they started announcing the cast. Some characters’ genders were bended and ethnicities were changed. Some people argued that Gaiman was trying to be “too woke” by casting a racially and sexually diverse set of actors. To this, Neil Gaiman says, “have you ever read the fucking comic?” For example, when it was announced that Mason Alexander Park would play mischievous Desire, “people have criticized me for casting a gender-fluid, non-binary actor,” Gaiman said “but they were in in the original. Desire was always non-binary; that was the point of the character.”
One of the things that makes The Sandman so unique is how subversive and progressive some of the plots and characters are. The series was so open in terms of sexuality and diversity at a time when these things weren’t often talked about. This allowed Sandman to age particularly well.
It should then be no surprise that some characters wouldn’t be played by someone that looks exactly like the drawing in the comics. And thank the gods (and Neil Gaiman) for that! Every casting choice was superb regardless of what the actor looked like or identified as. Every actor was completely devoted to their characters.
Tom Sturridge sounded like the Morpheus comic text bubble put to sound. His dreamy and deep voice commanded authority and power gained from eons of ruling The Dreaming.
Kirby Howell-Baptiste gave us the most endearing version of Death that any of us would want to be greeted by at the end. While Gwendolyn Christie gave us the Lucifer Morningstar that we hope to never see.
There was absolutely no weak link in this stellar cast. They were able to bring their characters to life with style. Some lines may have been a bit heftier coming from the comic and cosmic characters who said them – but they each made it seem like they were born to play their roles. It doesn’t seem like it would be easy to say “anthropomorphic personification” quick and angrily at the same time, but Kirby Howell-Baptiste did it!
More than just the performances of the actors, thanks to the richness of the source material and the playful adaptation from page to screen, the worldbuilding and storytelling was dark but deliciously alluring.
It was more of what Neil Gaiman does best. Gaiman takes huge concepts, otherworldly beings, and magical situations, only to show us all the humanity and hope hidden under each and every one of them— showing us both the beautiful and ugly sides.
At the core of The Sandman is Morpheus rediscovering humanity after a century of literally being imprisoned by them. More than just getting reacquainted with humanity, Morpheus is also forced into his own journey of renewed self-discovery, with the help of other characters (mortal and immortals alike).
The show is filled to the brim with Morpheus, King of Dreams, as an all-powerful being with hints of vulnerability seeping through the cracks of his (brooding) divinity. In one episode he’s bravely battling the Lucifer, when in another he’s talking to his big sister about the purpose of their existence. Look at that duality of an anthropomorphic personification!
Each character is dynamic with a motivation at their core dictating each of their actions. Gaiman puts the characters to the test by exposing their hopes and fears to show just how far they would go for what they believe in. Sometimes executed beautifully and sometimes brutally done like in episode 5’s 24/7 diner. We may see ourselves reflected in the characters no matter how mythical (or horrible) they might seem.
The fantasy element of the series is incredibly fantastic. Gaiman merges huge worlds to fit into one of his own design. But it was the more emotional and subdued scenes that may have struck a chord in viewer’s hearts and remained in their minds for hours after viewing. For example, Jenna Coleman’s demon slaying Johanna Constantine was a strong and snarky character. But how can we ever forget the devastating romance she led and the heartbreaking fate of her past lover.
Moving on from the story, it may be worth noting how it was told. Throughout the series, there was a constant jumping between storylines. Now, this may be considered as both a blessing and curse. It was a blessing in the sense that it made the world of The Sandman feel so alive. The numerous plotlines and characters were so well-written that you felt like you were just scratching the surface in getting to know the world of The Sandman and everyone in it.
The jumps also kept things upbeat and lively, keeping audiences on their toes. While the series was quite faithful to the original comics, some changes were made to make the story more appropriate and convincing as a show. Stories were picked up then carefully laid back down in a blend that kept things moving but never lost track of where we were meant to go.
What worked about this was that it was never too much. Despite meeting numerous new characters and storylines, it was never overwhelming or hard to follow. We were taken across different timelines, meeting new friends and foes, and it only added more wonderment and no confusion.
Although, this is where the format’s curse may begin to set in. Because of the jumps, there may have been more characters you wanted to follow instead. It makes the story’s pacing feel either extra slow or fast depending on who you want to see more of on screen. It felt like some characters and/or plotlines could have had more screentime, maybe even their own episodes instead of just half of one.
Then again, this “curse” might have been intentionally leaving us wanting more. As mentioned earlier, it feels like we are just scratching the surface of The Sandman and all the characters inhabiting its story. Maybe they are setting us up for the long run and will flesh out our favorite side characters from the first season in future episodes?
For fans of the original work of Neil Gaiman this new The Sandman series may have been worth the wait, but for newcomers they may see themselves standing at an exciting new threshold.
It may be hard for those who read the comics to let go of them, but it is important to remember that some stories, and ways of telling them, work best in certain mediums. This isn’t to say that one is superior to the other, adaptation is a whole art in itself.
From the comic to the show, we get beautiful scene compositions, eloquently put discussions, and fierce battles. We wouldn’t even have the show in the first place if the comic didn’t exist. The show in turn breathes new life into the iconic comic. While it was faithful to the comic for things that matter, showrunners weren’t afraid to change some things up possibly for the better.
Some things might not work in the adaptation for hardcore fans of the comic but at the end of the day we (og fans and newbies alike) all get what we came for: a great show. Whether you think it was faithful to the comic or not (and if this is even a top priority for you) it is still quintessential Neil Gaiman. The show is a collection of the mystical and magical dipped into the reality of humanity.
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