Everything We Know

Everything We Know About Netflix's The Sandman Series

Neil Gaiman's celebrated comic books are finally coming to screens, and we've got the lowdown on which stories and characters you'll see, and when the show will launch.

by | January 28, 2021 | Comments

“I will show you terror in a handful of dust” was the tagline DC Comics used to introduce its readers to The Sandman in 1988. Like Swamp Thing before it,  it was a reinvention of a relatively obscure DC character by an up-and-coming British talent – in this case, writer Neil Gaiman. Also like Swamp Thing, it was pitched as a horror title, but grew into so much more. The series became a massive success with readers outside the comic book marketplace and proved arty comics could work right alongside the superheroes.

Its ideas, scope, and characters are also perfect for television adaptation, but it took a long time for the rights-holders to make that realization. As Gaiman recalls, he was first asked about adapting The Sandman into a film in 1991 and – barring a long extension of the worldwide pandemic – a Sandman television series will finally debut on Netflix 30 years later.

Why did it take so long? Let’s consider everything we know about The Sandman television series and unravel the story of its long gestation.

[Updated on 1/28/21]

The Story Basics: Meet Morpheus and the Gang 

The Sandman by Neil Gaiman (DC Comics)

(Photo by DC Comics)

The Sandman tells the tale of Morpheus – a.k.a. Dream of the Endless – an impossibly old being who is also the living personification of dreams. He lives in a realm called, appropriately enough, The Dreaming, where he tends to the REM state of being all over the universe; of course, this means he spends a lot of time near Earth, courting gods, inspiring fools to become authors, and occasionally arousing waking terrors. As the series begins, in 1916, an exhausted Morpheus is captured by an immortality-seeking magus. He eventually escapes in 1989 and sets out to put his broken kingdom back in order.

From there, the series expands into a group of novels detailing Morpheus’s long-term plan to make up for past misdeeds and escape from his other confinement – which we won’t spoil as it is a key element of the series. In each major story, we also meet characters like Rose Walker, the immortal Hob Gadling, the Dreaming’s wisecracking janitor Mervyn Pumpkinhead, Matthew the Raven, the crafty Thessaly, and Lucifer Morningstar – all of whom are as fascinating as Morpheus himself.

We also learn about the troubles within Morpheus’ family, the Endless. Each is the personification of some essential concept – Destiny, Death, Destruction, Desire, Despair, and Delirium (formerly Delight) – with personalities to match. Well, except for Death and maybe one other, but that is another of the series’ great surprises. Though designed as a horror title at launch, the series ends as a grand exploration of myths, storytelling, and being true to oneself, beautifully rendered by artists like Sam Keith, Jill Thompson, P. Craig Russell, Charles Vess, and Mike Allred.

Naturally, it has been almost impossible for Hollywood to adapt it.

False Starts: From Harry Potter–like Franchise to HBO Series

Neil Gaiman

(Photo by Mike Marsland/WireImage)

After Gaiman resisted the 1991 inquiry about a film, Warner Bros. would begin developing a Sandman feature four or five years later. The first attempt boasted director Roger Avary (The Rules of Attraction) and writers Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio (Pirates of the Caribbean). Reportedly, the script reworked elements from the first two major storylines, “Preludes & Nocturnes” and “The Doll’s House,” into one plot. In subsequent years, Gaiman was complimentary about the script, but Superman Returns producer Jon Peters fired Avary after the two could not find a common creative vision.

Peters continued to develop the project with other writers. A 1998 draft by William Farmer (who received story credit on Jonah Hex) was leaked to Ain’t It Cool News – one of the site’s earliest big scoops. As AICN reported, the script reworked Morpheus into a slasher movie villain, set up a new protagonist, and recast Lucifer as Morpheus’ brother. The action-heavy plot also involved the then-upcoming turn of the millennium, which would’ve immediately dated the project had it gone forward. To read about it now, it sounds oddly similar to the eventual Constantine feature starring Keanu Reeves and the liberties it took with its source material. (Which many of us didn’t mind at all.)

Gaiman would remember it as “not only the worst Sandman script I’ve ever seen, but quite easily the worst script I’ve ever read,” and told fans at a San Diego Comic-Con 2007 event that he would “rather see no Sandman movie made than a bad Sandman movie.” Reality seemed to take Gaiman’s advice as Peters’ project came to naught.

Sandman Volume 7

Joel Meares

In 2014, a new version of the project emerged with producer David S. Goyer (The Dark Knight), actor-director-producer Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Gaiman, and writer Jack Thorne (His Dark Materials). Intended to be separate from the emerging universe of the DC films, The Sandman was to be released by New Line Cinema under the Vertigo label seen at the start of V for Vendetta. It was hoped the film would inspire several sequels and, perhaps, a Harry Potter–sized franchise. In March 2016, Eric Heisserer (Arrival) signed on to rewrite Thorne’s draft, but soon after, Gordon-Levitt left the project citing creative differences – granted, it was never clear if he was going to play the title role or just serve as a producer. Heisserer turned in his script in November of that year, but also left the production, suggesting The Sandman should be an HBO series.

As it happens, an attempt to do just that also occurred.

Logan’s James Mangold pitched a Sandman series to HBO sometime in 2010. It was not successful, obviously, but it led to Warner Bros. Television developing a Sandman TV show concurrently with the film. Supernatural’s Eric Kripke pitched a concept, but Gaiman later revealed it wasn’t quite right. And with the Goyer production looking like it was going to happen, WBTV backed off the show.

Which only goes to show how much timing matters. The Sandman could never be a film series, and television was simply not prepared for it until the streaming age, when things finally came together.

Netflix Steps In With an 11-Episode Commitment and Wonder Woman Talent

Allan Heinberg

(Photo by Priscilla Grant/Everett Collection)

In June 2019, Netflix announced it was developing The Sandman as a television series. Wonder Woman screenwriter Allan Heinberg (pictured above with The Catch actress Sonya Walger) will serve as the showrunner and Gaiman as a producer. When asked on Twitter about his level of involvement in the series, the whimsical author said, “Much more than American Gods. Less than Good Omens.”

The former is the troubled Starz adaptation of his 2001 novel – known more for drama behind the scenes than what’s going on onscreen – the latter is the Amazon series based on the novel he co-wrote with the late Terry Pratchett. Gaiman ultimately served as that program’s showrunner and is apparently in no hurry to take on that amount of responsibility again. Goyer is still on board as a producer and all three worked on the pilot script. Also, unlike previous attempts to bring The Sandman to the screen, the show has an 11-episode commitment.

The Story Will Be Set Today, And Could Include Familiar Faces

Sandman cast

Like most of the various would-be Sandman adaptations, the first season will adapt “Preludes & Nocturnes,” and, according to Gaiman, “a little bit more.” We assume this means at least one episode will directly adapt issue #8, “The Sound of Her Wings,” which introduced Morpheus’ sister, Death, into the story. But since the comic delighted in non-linear storytelling, it is possible other episodes in the season will feature (seemingly) standalone tales of people coming into contact with Morpheus or one of his subjects. An entirely animated episode based on issue #18, “A Dream of A Thousand Cats,” would be an amazing thing to watch. We also imagine Gaiman’s “little bit more” will include the introduction of The Corinthian; a wayward and murderous dream who becomes the series’ first major antagonist, but does not appear until the comic book’s second storyline.

In January 2021, Netflix announced the first of the cast and their roles:

• TOM STURRIDGE is DREAM, Lord of the Dreaming
• VIVIENNE ACHEAMPONG is LUCIENNE, chief librarian and trusted guardian of Dream’s realm
• BOYD HOLBROOK is THE CORINTHIAN, an escaped nightmare who wishes to taste all that the world has in store
• CHARLES DANCE is RODERICK BURGESS, Charlatan, blackmailer and magician
• ASIM CHAUDHRY is ABEL and SANJEEV BHASKAR is CAIN, the first victim and the first predator, residents and loyal subjects of the Dream Realm.

As for the main plot, Dream will likely spend the season reclaiming three essential items containing much of his power – a ruby, a bag of dust, and a gas-mask-like helmet – while learning the ways his captivity changed the Dreaming and the waking world. In the comics, this story featured appearances from DC characters like Dr. Destiny, Martian Manhunter, and John Constantine, but it is unclear if the TV series will maintain these comic book ties. That said, Constantine TV series star Matt Ryan has previously volunteered to play John wherever and whenever the character appears in other shows, movies, or animated material.

Additionally, issue #4, “A Hope in Hell,” introduced the version of Lucifer Morningstar featured in Netflix’s Lucifer. While we initially theorized Lucifer star Tom Ellis might do another cross-show cameo (he appeared briefly in the Arrowverse’s “Crisis on Infinite Earths” crossover event), the part will be played by Game of Thrones’ Christie. Considering Lucifer is far more androgynous in The Sandman – and quite like David Bowie in his first appearance – the choice of Christie is inspired. Although, it should be noted that the Prince of Darkness only makes a handful of appearances in the series, so it remains to be seen how often we will actually see Christie on screen.

Though Sturridge and Christie’s involvement was rumored for some time, Netflix confirmed their participation in January 2021. Other actors confirmed at the time include Acheampong as Morpheus’s trusted librarian Lucienne; Bhaskar and Chaudhry as Cain and Abel – yes, that Cain and Abel; Holbrook as the Corinthian, the murderous dream who becomes more of a threat in the comic book’s second storyline; and Dance’s Roderick Burgess, a key figure in Dream’s 20th century captivity.

The program will also update the story, with Dream escaping his captivity in the 2020s instead of the 1980s. As Gaiman told CBC Radio in November of 2019, “Instead of him being a captive for about 80 years, he’s going to be a captive for about 110 years and that will change things.” But, as he learned adapting Good Omens to the medium, changing things is part of the fun; though, fans surely wonder how much of the comic’s undeniably goth aesthetic will survive the update. Will Morpheus’ sister look passé with her Cleopatra eye make-up and ankh pendant? Or will it have retro charm by the time we first hear the sound of her wings?

Gaiman is already willing to change Dream’s look, originally inspired by Bauhaus frontman Peter Murphy. Nevertheless, he promises a more or less faithful telling of the story is on its way.

When Will It Premiere?

The series will likely appear sometime in 2021; of course, that could change in the current climate. And though it is a while to wait, there is good news: Gaiman, Goyer, and Heinberg have already plotted season 2.

On an Apple device? Follow Rotten Tomatoes on Apple News.

Tag Cloud

spy thriller TV One Legendary Paramount boxing psycho AMC Mary Poppins Returns Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt sag awards laika Marvel Television 2015 BBC 99% slashers critics teaser spider-man documentaries classics prank cancelled ID indie halloween tv jurassic park Trivia Apple TV Plus game of thrones satire Lifetime Pet Sematary fast and furious 2016 MTV TNT black 21st Century Fox crossover Warner Bros. Disney ABC Biopics HBO Max YouTube Premium BBC America vampires Schedule Reality Competition docuseries cartoon crime drama TruTV Hear Us Out E3 CW Seed worst talk show USA Network Drama VICE Britbox Fox Searchlight a nightmare on elm street Superheroe romantic comedy Fall TV Toys Comedy Central crime Trophy Talk The Walking Dead VH1 Calendar series joker anime green book golden globe awards cooking Academy Awards TV renewals Cosplay venice 4/20 Avengers television SDCC TIFF The Walt Disney Company stoner President nfl worst movies ViacomCBS VOD james bond SundanceTV Classic Film Amazon Prime Amazon NYCC Election comic Song of Ice and Fire scary movies what to watch hist heist movie Film Festival Awards Tour aliens zero dark thirty Red Carpet sequels dceu Star Wars El Rey rt archives Podcast Food Network 2021 NBC razzies Vudu monster movies Star Trek Anna Paquin CMT travel politics Holiday natural history 2017 casting festival comic books kong Captain marvel Marvel Studios TCA 2017 comiccon robots Fox News Mystery Music video Crunchyroll Interview mockumentary medical drama Shudder historical drama anthology San Diego Comic-Con Summer Fantasy blaxploitation chucky comics YouTube Red Mindy Kaling BET Awards foreign Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Set visit new star wars movies archives Animation batman police drama TV Rock Country DC Comics HBO Go tv talk TLC Brie Larson Adult Swim Pop TV ghosts kids australia cars 24 frames TBS composers superman Mudbound Winter TV Super Bowl The Academy TCA CNN Acorn TV Walt Disney Pictures sitcom Writers Guild of America Spike technology animated LGBT CBS Ellie Kemper Film news strong female leads superhero Hallmark Rocketman Columbia Pictures Starz cops Spring TV ABC Signature parents Year in Review Grammys Disney streaming service Mary poppins Turner BET zombie cancelled television Discovery Channel Crackle Sneak Peek south america Certified Fresh Mary Tyler Moore telelvision godzilla PlayStation DGA 93rd Oscars quibi thriller reboot spanish language Sci-Fi versus Endgame spinoff Horror cults Watching Series facebook science fiction Video Games See It Skip It Showtime Syfy Oscars deadpool book adaptation revenge films Lifetime Christmas movies elevated horror Hulu justice league docudrama period drama Ghostbusters BAFTA DirecTV E! mission: impossible cinemax Tarantino blockbusters BBC One Countdown Comedy psychological thriller Black Mirror pirates of the caribbean Television Academy 20th Century Fox political drama Pop saw Hallmark Christmas movies 2018 OWN serial killer Esquire adventure trailers PBS award winner Bravo women free movies hollywood hidden camera spanish First Reviews Rom-Com mutant YouTube theme song MSNBC Logo FX Holidays WarnerMedia Black History Month french game show boxoffice GoT italian golden globes Pride Month japanese Apple Thanksgiving First Look Musical Awards ITV X-Men Box Office Sundance blockbuster documentary Arrowverse doctor who high school Pixar comedies social media movies popular Polls and Games Nat Geo Disney+ Disney Plus Shondaland Apple TV+ christmas movies cancelled TV series USA Action Turner Classic Movies sequel IFC toy story rotten movies we love latino HBO space criterion true crime Photos emmy awards Elton John Paramount Plus Chernobyl hispanic Emmys Valentine's Day rom-coms Reality FX on Hulu festivals sports football diversity Peacock Marvel Extras Comics on TV 007 GLAAD asian-american Pirates 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards crime thriller 2019 children's TV National Geographic Women's History Month 2020 video on demand 71st Emmy Awards A&E Exclusive Video ratings Creative Arts Emmys reviews nbcuniversal scorecard TCM indiana jones RT21 concert DC Universe Teen stop motion CBS All Access YA die hard zombies screenings romance harry potter Nominations Emmy Nominations Netflix streaming rotten OneApp child's play Funimation Baby Yoda spain Family Epix canceled TV shows jamie lee curtis dramedy book The CW Trailer Western miniseries Tumblr Superheroes TV Land nature Marathons movie Binge Guide Rocky Netflix Christmas movies adaptation war Broadway TCA Awards Ovation WGN Tubi The Arrangement witnail king kong Christmas FXX Stephen King Premiere Dates Spectrum Originals fresh Quiz Best and Worst transformers franchise stand-up comedy dragons The Witch binge singing competition Paramount Network richard e. Grant best twilight Nickelodeon cats Sony Pictures Sundance TV Television Critics Association 45 American Society of Cinematographers Opinion DC streaming service biography ESPN dc disaster Cartoon Network directors New York Comic Con The Purge Masterpiece Disney Plus discovery RT History kaiju SXSW Sundance Now independent History remakes Alien Dark Horse Comics Heroines Comic Book universal monsters screen actors guild IFC Films finale Universal Lionsgate TCA Winter 2020 all-time dogs unscripted Kids & Family cancelled TV shows Amazon Studios supernatural FOX Character Guide Infographic toronto Amazon Prime Video name the review MCU obituary ABC Family PaleyFest renewed TV shows 72 Emmy Awards dark breaking bad Winners Disney Channel Martial Arts GIFs based on movie halloween Cannes Lucasfilm Musicals Travel Channel A24 werewolf LGBTQ Freeform canceled APB Tomatazos