fdon’t ask why. Don’t even ask how exactly. Some comics are like fairy tales. You can kiss the frog, make three wishes, be super fast after hitting heavy water, or need three “insignia” to rule the dream realm: a bag of sand, a sparkling red ruby, a helmet that looks like you have an oversized one Gas mask screwed to a trunk made of dino bones. After decades of imprisonment – in a crystal ball, in the basement of an English mansion – all three “Regalia” are gone and their owner, Lord Morpheus, also known as the Lord of the Nightmare, the Sandman or Dream, must fight for them.
This is how “Sandman” begins, a comic experiment that the Superman and Batman publisher DC dared to do in the epoch year 1989. A young journalist named Neil Gaiman, who had previously written a Duran-Duran biography and a book about Douglas Adams, wrote the text at the time, and over the course of a fairytale seven years, 75 issues and around 2000 pages came into being, which, for lack of more comprehensible words, can be summarized “Cult comic” calls: too crazy and extravagant for everyone, but unforgettable for a stubborn community. Gaiman moved on to write fantasy bestsellers like “Coraline” or “American Gods”, “Sandman” got an “omnibus” in a slipcase instead of a crystal ball in the basement and waited a few decades for its film adaptation.
And now the time has finally come. For a reported $15 million per episode (10 total for now), Netflix and Warner have made the dream come true, with Gaiman as executive producer. What the young man wrote, the old man filmed – and (we’ll come back to) he remained faithful to himself. Although the staff has become more diverse and female, Harry Potter’s law of adaptation applies: changing would be a sin. “Sandman” fans will recognize individual panels from the comics, “Sandman” literalists will magnanimously ignore the fact that Dream alias Lord Morpheus no longer wakes up in 1989, but in our digitized present and no longer looks as if he is about to leave one Goth booth dancing.
Kissed the frog, forgot the prince
In “Sandman”, the series, actor Tom Sturridge is simply a pale young man in a long black coat, who can also say banalities with some gravitas and otherwise, because of the same gravitas, stands around a lot: in the hallowed halls of his slowly restored dream realm, with his talking raven Matthew on a dark London night, or in Lucifer’s throne room in Hell where (see above) Morpheus’ whimsical helmet has ended up. He recaptures it by transforming into a waking dream product called Hope, only to rarely wear it afterward. The helm, the ruby, his thief, her son, who comes and goes as if the princess kissed the frog and then forgot the prince.
Part of the folklore of the “Sandman” comic is that it’s difficult to get started. “In the first editions,” wrote Gaiman, “things ran sluggishly,” the author, draftsman, and ink artist initially pulled in different directions. Sandman had to be Sandman first, but Gaiman filmed his rookie mistakes from back then with unshakable confidence for Netflix. And so, for six episodes, the streamer “Sandman” comes across more like an anthology series, often with no more than a few pointers attached.
The comic duo Cain and Abel, for example, who look after a gargoyle (vulgo dragon) named Goldie and reenact the biblical murder every day, but never before twelve, remain plot passers-by, as do “the Eternals”, i.e. Dream’s siblings, whose names unfortunately only alliteate so nicely in English. Fun-loving Death (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) is left with an episode whose story is left uncontinued in season one, twin sisters Desire (Mason Alexander Clark) and Despair (Donna Preston) are left with no more than a better cameo, occult detective Johanna ( in the comic still: John) Constantine (Jenna Coleman) is at least used twice in the historical Shakespeare episode, which then remains unconnected to everything else.
Waiting for the dollhouse
“Preludes & Notturni” is the name of the “Sandman” anthology on which the first half of the season is based, and the title speaks – how could it be otherwise? – volumes. “Sandman” runs and runs and warms up. It’s almost a bit of a shame for the great effects (which include Matthew the Raven) and the large green-screen theater that produces glorious midnight blue, foggy gray, and bright red panoramas. Ultimately, the pound that the streamers are exploiting is what is known as Arch-TV, the storytelling in long, novel-like curved arcs that has replaced the old, purely episodic storytelling. In “The Sandman”, however, the arcs remain short at first, the series remains attached to the magazine structure of that time.
And yet: you are not reading a scathing review here. On the one hand, the fabric has retained its whimsical charm – the mix of absurdity and kitsch, splatter and eclecticism has been preserved. And on the other hand: episode six follows episode seven, the anthology “Preludes & Notturni” comes to an end, the anthology “Das Puppenhaus” begins, and suddenly “The Sandman” spans four episodes, with plot points that you better not reveals.
Suddenly the escaped nightmare named Corinthians (Boyd Holbrook, who plays a real DC super villain) not only gets guest appearances, but also his rights. Suddenly, what happened before really matters. For example, that young Rose Walker (Kyo Ra) is a dangerous “dream whirl” (no, please don’t ask questions now), misses her little brother and finds him at a serial killer convention in Georgia of all places. Miraculously investigating here is the inimitable Stephen Fry, who plays the inimitable Gilbert (K. Chesterton) in “Sandman.”
So don’t ask why or how, and don’t get impatient ahead of time. Sometimes it takes a while to fall asleep, and sometimes it takes even longer to start dreaming. “Sandman” then enters the REM phase with the second season.
The Sandman premieres on Netflix August 5th.