For fans and non-fans, Netflix’s ‘The Sandman’ is a dream come true

First of all, to the many nervous fans of The Sandman between you:

Relax. They nailed it.

Yes, it took forever, and a myriad of failed attempts, but Netflix’s adaptation of the landmark comic book series just… plays.

It succeeds as a faithful presentation of the look, feel, and story of the Lord of Dreams as presented in the comics, which was written by Neil Gaiman, with art by Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, and many other pencillers and inkers to over the years.

However, what is much more important is that it is successful as an adaptation work.

Where recent audiobook versions strictly adhered to every infinitesimal detail of the 1989-1995 comic book’s execution (and ended up feeling dated and overwritten as a result), the Netflix series’ grip on the original text is pleasingly looser. breathe

Changes, big and small, have been made to the characters and storylines that simplify, update and focus the narrative, now honed to fit the specific propulsion demands of serial television.

Now, for everyone else who comes to these cool stories and characters: Well, I have absolutely no idea how are you going to take this The show, like the comic, throws a lot of things at you from the start. But I think there’s a better than average chance that you can finally start to understand why the rest of us have been bugging you to read the comic all these years.

It's a superior arrangement: Dream (Tom Sturridge) inspects his throne room.

It’s a superior arrangement: Dream (Tom Sturridge) inspects his throne room.

Like sands through the hourglass….

The Sandman is the story of Morpheus, also known as Dream. It is one of The Endless, a handful of abstract concepts (Dream, Death, Desire, Despair, etc.) that assume the anthropomorphic forms of bickering brothers. While they are immensely powerful and immortal, they are bound by rules and duties as they oversee aspects of human existence. Morpheus, for his part, controls The Dreaming, a vast realm of adventures, delights and horrors that we humans visit when we sleep.

The comic begins in 1916, when a self-styled British occultist traps Morpheus inside a magic circle and steals the tools of his charge. (The wizard was aiming to capture Morpheus’s sister Death, but he must have transposed a rune or two, poor sap.)

How Dream escapes after many years of captivity, and how she goes about repairing the damage done in her absence to both her realm and the waking world, is the first story arc of what became a 75-issue series. The second arc deals with his attempts to collect dreams and nightmares that have escaped from The Dreaming. The 10 episodes of the Netflix series cover these first two stories.

From horrible to mythical

Now, take a look: the comic is beloved and has racked up much-deserved awards and accolades. But it helps to keep in mind that everything the comic became over the course of its 75 issues, a sweeping, sprawling epic of myths and monsters that takes as its theme nothing less than the power of stories to change the world, is not it was what i expected. was at the beginning.

The Sandman it was imagined and promoted as a horror comic; marketing materials featured an image of Morpheus cradling a mound of sand in the palm of his hand along with a line from TS Eliot. waste land: “I’ll show you fear in a handful of dust.”

Sunday in the Park with... (L to R) Tom Sturridge as Dream, Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Death.

Sunday in the Park with… (L to R) Tom Sturridge as Dream, Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Death.

It was also created by a young writer who is still finding his voice, still coming out of the shadow of writers like Alan Moore and Stephen King. Take his sixth issue, set in a diner where a character uses one of Morpheus’ tools to cruelly torment staff and customers. It was widely praised at the time, as was a later story involving child abuse, sexual violence, and serial murder.

Reading these topics now, they are still heartbreaking, albeit in an easy and undeserved way. His lurid commotions read like a writer trying to see what he can get away with, favoring glib cunning over emotional truth. There is an essential emptiness that flattens the characters in so many writing exercises meant to provoke our reflexive disgust, rather than our empathic connection.

Those horror story elements remain in the Netflix series, but producers Gaiman, David S. Goyer and Allan Heinberg have made choices in adapting them for the screen that dig deeper and resonate more truly. Where the comic, like so many narratives before and since, used violence against children, women and marginalized communities to goad its white knight protagonist into action, the Netflix series is eager to give those characters more agency, more independence, more roundness, more life.

In fact, every choice made in the adaptation process tilts the narrative toward a more honest, more human, and more emotionally expansive narrative. Writing that was originally tied to self-satisfied cunning here feels deeply engaged and thoughtful.

Which means the series is effectively setting itself up for the long haul. Should The Sandman get all the subsequent seasons it deserves, its central narrative will become an intimate and deeply emotional one, about a man whose sense of duty and unyielding, preconceived sense of self prevent him from relating to others and experiencing the kind of emotional growth necessary . to adapt to a changing world. In comics, the writing eventually grew beyond its familiar, reductive trappings of horror to meaningfully embrace and engage with deeper truths. The Netflix series is already doing that job.

The Devil You Know: (L to R) Gwendoline Christie as Lucifer Morningstar, Tom Sturridge as Dream.

The Devil You Know: (L to R) Gwendoline Christie as Lucifer Morningstar, Tom Sturridge as Dream.

The series rests on the bony shoulders of its hero.

What’s more, all that good, chewy, satisfying work is greatly helped by the casting of Tom Sturridge as Morpheus. Sure, he looks good, with his alabaster skin, sculpted cheekbones, slim body, and Robert Smith hair.

And yes, he delivers most of his lines in a guttural whisper reminiscent of both an ASMR Youtuber and Eddie Redmayne in ascent to jupiter (only fragments that are not screams). But how else can you imagine giving a voice to the Morpheus from the comics, whose garish word balloons (cleverly designed by the great Todd Klein) were rendered in solid black with white lettering?

What’s important is that Sturridge captures the competitive aspects of Morpheus that always churn beneath his impassive surface: his haughtiness, his wounded vulnerability; his rigidity, his longing for connection. Also, his brittle anger, his ability to—almost, not quite, but almost—laugh at himself.

The series cleverly reinforces the role of Dream’s librarian, played here by Vivienne Acheampong; we learn that, unlike the comic, her loyalty isn’t solely due to blind duty: she’s informed by her own deeply personal sense of purpose.

Boyd Holbrook’s take on the roguish, eyeball-biting nightmare The Corinthian, whose role also expands heavily from the comic, to good effect, exudes a wicked southern charm. As two of Dream’s immortal brothers, Kirby Howell-Baptiste and Mason Alexander Park evoke iconic elements of their characters, while making the roles distinctly their own. And David Thewliss, who plays an aspiring supervillain, seamlessly transitions between pitiful wretch and malicious manipulator, and is equipped with a motivation that clarifies his character’s goals, which are a bit more confused in the comic.

Shall we go to the library?: (L to R) Vivienne Acheampong as Lucienne, Stephen Fry as Gilbert.

Shall we go to the library?: (L to R) Vivienne Acheampong as Lucienne, Stephen Fry as Gilbert.

The comic distilled

The main thing that will surprise readers familiar with the comic as they watch these 10 episodes unfold is this: The story emerges much more cleanly and clearly, now that it has been freed from the editorial mandates of DC Comics, Gaiman and his collaborators had to sail backwards. on day. Without, for example, having to find a way to include a cameo by members of the Justice League, or pay homage to a shake-up of Hell’s ruling hierarchy taking place in another writer’s comic, or unravel the stories of background of several pre-existing DC characters that had been reduced to dust by a company-wide series of reboots, retcons, and relaunches, the Netflix series simply reveals the trials and triumphs of Dream, confidently merging characters and stories so that everything keep running.

For comic book fans, the changes introduced in the adaptation offer intriguing new variations on now-familiar themes without erasing what we love. In fact, they make those moments when comic book characters leap onto the screen even more satisfying. (Every time I reread the comic, I’m thrilled to see the Fates appear in corporeal form; they’re some of Gaiman’s most compelling, creepy, inscrutable, and darkly funny creations, and the Netflix versions of him don’t disappoint.)

The comic only got richer, bolder, and more immersive as it went on, issue after issue, until it reached its deeply satisfying conclusion.

The Netflix series deserves the opportunity to do the same. Here is the hope that it arrives.

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