The Sandman, a renowned graphic novel by beloved author Neil Gaiman, is a deep and fascinating world of darkness, dreams, and unfulfilled ambitions. With what Neil offers readers in the first 75 issues of the series, the label “graphic novel” appears to fit nicely. The Sandman is brutal, no doubt about it, with themes of adultery, rape, abuse, and addiction layered throughout. But because of how fanciful and remote the universe is, it seems difficult to adapt those pages into any kind of picture.
The fact that The Sandman has taken more than 30 years to develop is understandable. Those of us who have listened to or read Gaiman’s work in book or audio form had merely daydreamed (pun intended) about this occasion. But thank God, Netflix took over so that we may now witness the grace of Gaiman’s words in live-action. For the uninitiated, all you need to know is that this is a fanciful world made by an author who is well-known around the world and is appreciated by readers of all ages. The Sandman, also known as Lord Morpheus, the King of Dreams, who managed to free himself from his captors in the waking world after a century, is the subject of the narrative.
David Goyer and Allan Heinberg have expertly replicated the graphics and sketches by Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, Jill Thompson, Shawn McManus, Marc Hempel, Bryan Talbot, and Michael Zulli. The fact that Neil is heavily involved in the process, from scripting to selecting talent to play the roles he so carefully constructed, also immensely helps. Some of the images in the series are exact copies of those in The Sandman Volume I, such as the scenes in which Morpheus is abducted by a novice magus or in which The Sandman, after being imprisoned for a century, eventually breaks free into the light. The team of Sam Heasman, George Steel, and Will Baldy created stunning cinematography. You exhale and awe at the wonders on the screen, having a similar feeling to reading a book with all of your senses.
Even those who are not familiar with Gaiman’s body of work as a whole will be compelled to sit up and take notice of what is unravelling in front of them thanks to the efforts of the creators. Strong storytelling, brilliant performers, excellent visual effects, and excellent production design work together to solve that problem magnetically. The attention to detail, from the clothes to the way the realms of hell and dream are created, is breathtaking. Actor Gwendolen Christie of Game of Thrones portrays Lucifer Morningstar, the ruler of hell, and he is subtly menacing as the chaos-maker. Despite her grin, you still dread her. Then there are others, such as Sanjeev Bhaskar as Cain and Asim Chaudhary as Abel, Jenna Coleman as Johanna Constantine, Stephen Fry as Gilbert, and David Thewlis as the insane John Dee, and Patton Oswalt as the raven Matthew. They truly hit the jackpot when they chose Boyd Holbrook to play the evil Corinthian, who had a pair of fangs for eyes. Boyd Holbrook is one of two performers that steal the show in this pilot season. Because Tom Sturridge, a British actor who is not well known outside of the UK, is fantastic as The Sandman.
Underneath all of the blood, violence, grief, and hope that is always boiling and attempting to rise to the surface, there is gore. That is Sandman the graphic novel, and the makers of The Sandman Season 1 of the Netflix adaptation have maintained that spirit.