Why Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman is so special

Ever since it was first published in the late 1980s, The Sandman has captivated comic readers around the world. Written by Neil Gaiman — the genius mind behind American Gods, Stardust, Coraline, and so many other beloved works — The Sandman is a comic book like no other; a story that transcends space and time; effortlessly weaves in myth and legend; telling about every genre of story imaginable.

The Sandman is long overdue for a TV adaptation, and it’s finally coming our way on August 5 on Netflix. If done correctly, it could become the next huge TV show.

So why should you be excited? Here’s our overview of exactly why The Sandman is so special.

Due to the immense scale of the story, The Sandman has never had an adaptation before. There have been numerous attempts over the years, but all of them have been nixed by Gaiman himself. If Sandman was to arrive on our screens, it needed to be perfect, with a big enough budget and a team capable of doing justice to the sprawling, epic, ethereal enchantment of the original work. And it wasn’t until 2019 that Netflix announced its plans to bring it to live-action. The Sandman will become the most expensive TV show that DC Entertainment has ever produced.

What is The Sandman about? 

Trying to explain The Sandman is difficult. Where do we start? It’s a story about stories. The comic bounces around different genres, continually taking the tale in new directions.

We follow Dream of the Endless, the literal anthropomorphic personification of dreams. His appearance, as well as his name, changes depending on who’s interacting with him. For instance, throughout the series, he’s known as Morpheus, Kai-ckul, Sandman, Oneiros, and so on. Dream is one of seven siblings, the children of Night and Time. These are, in order of age: Destiny, Death, Dream, Destruction, Desire, Despair, and Delirium.

We watch Dream as he goes about his duties as the ruler of The Dreaming, the place we go when we fall asleep. At the beginning of the saga, he is captured and imprisoned by Roderick Burgess, the leader of an occult organization known as the Order of Ancient Mysteries. He is trapped for 72 years, and when he finally escapes, he learns that his realm has fallen into decay. Not only that, but his three totems of power — his helm, his ruby, and his pouch of sand — have been stolen. As a result, he embarks on a quest to recover his lost artifacts, which kicks off the series.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Some of the early issues dive into the very heart of evil, notably when John Dee, aka Doctor Destiny, steals Dream’s ruby and uses it to torture a group of innocent people inside a diner. That issue, “24 Hours,” is regarded as one of the most terrifying comics of all time.

Just a few issues after, we flash back to when Dream had William Shakespeare create two plays about dreams; in exchange, Dream would make sure that Shakespeare’s plays were remembered forever. This story climaxes when Dream watches a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream alongside actual fairies. This issue would receive the prestigious World Fantasy Award for Short Fiction.

And don’t get me started on the Corinthian, a creature of nightmare created by Dream who literally has teeth in place of his eyes. Things get very strange, especially when he attends a “Cereal Convention,” which is really a convention for serial killers.

“It’s all about surprising you,” Gaiman previously told Empire Magazine of the genre-hopping tendencies of the story. “It’s all about reinventing itself. It’s all about taking you on a journey you’ve not been on before.”

You watch Episode 1 and think, ‘Oh, I get this thing: it’s like Downton Abbey, but with magic. Then you’ll be wondering, ‘What the hell is this?’ by Episode 2, when you’re meeting Gregory The Gargoyle in The Dreaming. Episode 5 is about as dark and traumatic as anything is ever gonna get, then you’ve got Episode 6, which is probably the most feel-good of all the episodes.

If you want to read The Sandman, where should you start?

If you want to get ahead of the curve before the show premieres, here’s the best Sandman reading order. The core series is told in 11 volumes and should be read as follows:

  1. Preludes and Nocturnes
  2. The Doll’s House
  3. Dream Country
  4. Season of Mists
  5. A Game of You
  6. Fables and Reflections
  7. Brief Lives
  8. The Worlds’ End
  9. The Kindly Ones
  10. The Wake
  11. Overture (a prequel graphic novel)

Of course, there are also numerous books in the wider “Sandman Universe,” but if you’re just starting out, this is the order you should be reading. For reference, the Netflix adaptation covers volumes one and two of the comic, as well as some of volume three. We’ll see if they make more seasons after that.

Netflix has built the “Dream team”

Perhaps the most important thing about bringing The Sandman to our screens is getting the casting right. We can have no complaints. The show is bursting with superstars. The core cast includes Tom Sturridge (Morpheus), Kirby Howell-Baptiste (Death), Stephen Fry (Gilbert), David Thewlis (John Dee), Mason Alexander Park (Desire), Patton Oswalt (Matthew the Raven), Vivienne Acheampong (Lucienne), Gwendoline Christie (Lucifer), Boyd Holbrook (The Corinthian), Kyo Ra (Rose Walker), Mark Hamill (Mervyn Pumpkinhead), and Jenna Coleman (Johanna Constantine).

The behind-the-scenes team is pretty stellar too. Allan Heinberg (Wonder Woman, Grey’s Anatomy) is serving as showrunner, while Neil Gaiman and David S. Goyer (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Krypton) are executive producers.

Not only has The Sandman been adapted for television, but in the last couple of years, Audible has been released the story as an audio dramatization. Directed by Dirk Maggs and featuring an entirely different all-star cast, the audio version has already hit the New York Times bestseller list. The third installment is set to release later this year.

The Sandman premieres on August 5 on Netflix. You don’t want to miss it. I’ve got a feeling that something very special is about to happen.

To stay up to date on everything fantasy, science fiction, and WiC, follow our all-encompassing Facebook page and sign up for our exclusive newsletter.

Get HBO, Starz, Showtime and MORE for FREE with a no-risk, 7-day free trial of Amazon Channels