The Sandman - Season One

★★★★★

The Sandman has been brought to life. And it’s amazing.

Visuals like the captured Dream in the summoning circle and the glass globe. The Gates of Horn and Ivory. The castle at the center of the Dreaming. Goldie. Martin Tenbones. The Threshold. So many fantastic images pulled directly from the page.

Seeing the story unfold – yes, with changes. Some to separate it from the DC Comics elements (like Arkham, the Justice League and the 1970s Sandman). Some to raise the stakes or give it more emotional punch. (What Morpheus asks of Cain and Abel to recharge his powers is a lot more impactful.) Some to connect the different parts of the season more solidly. (Bringing in the Corinthian early on. Bringing Ethel forward to the present day to make Dee’s link to Burgess both clearer and more immediate.) And some to set things up since this time through, they know where the story’s going. Ultimately it’s all about how stories change, and how Dream has to change, and what happens when he reaches a wall and can’t change any further.

’Cause at this point in his existence, Morpheus is more than a bit of a jerk.

I picked up the first volume of the comics again a few episodes in, and had to stop myself before I got too far ahead. But I was surprised at how much of the original dialogue made it through!

The horror is toned down a little, which fits more with the tone the comics settled into later on. Except of course for the diner and the cereal convention. And anytime the Corinthian is “working.” And Dee is creepy as hell (more about that later). He and the Corinthian make an interesting contrast, one sad, one charming, both dangerous.

Bringing the present-day story into the actual present day, rather than making it a 1990s period piece, is a better choice overall. It messes with characters’ ages a bit, especially for Unity and Dee, but hey, they tracked Mad Hettie’s age: 247 in 1989, 280 in 2022. And Dream missing his 1989 appointment with Hob Gadling actually added to the way that story resolved.

Speaking of Hob Gadling, I’m so glad they managed to include some of my favorite one-shots between the longer arcs!

Stand-Outs: Death

Death is perfectly cast. Does Kirby Howell-Baptiste look different than on the page? Sure. Does she sound different than the character’s voice in my head? Yeah. Is she a perfect representation of the kind, caring, personification of Death who appears in the comics? Absolutely! I’m really looking forward to seeing more of her in upcoming seasons.

Stand-Outs: John Dee

John Dee in the TV series actually is a more interesting character than the wasted-away Dr. Destiny from the comics. He isn’t just a one-note megalomaniac supervillain who wants to take over the world just because. He has reasons for what he’s doing. A horrible, messed-up, one-track obsession of a reason, but a reason nonetheless. He’s sort of a less deliberately malicious TV Killgrave. Or Gollum.

And putting more focus on Ethel forward to the present day helps tie Dee more clearly to Burgess with a more solid through-line for the ruby.

But holy crap, David Thewlis can be seriously creepy when he wants to be. Two people in a car was more tense than Dream literally walking into hell and engaging in a battle of wits with Lucifer. And that’s not even getting into the diner, which was just as disturbingly f’ed up as it was supposed to be.

Diverse Cast and Characters

I’m pretty sure that anyone who considers this TV adaptation to be “too woke” either wouldn’t have liked the original comics to begin with, or is hung up on characters being played by Black actors, which makes you wonder why they’d choose that hill to die on…

I mean, Death is perfect. Rose is perfect. Unity’s great. Hector is frankly a better version of the character anyway. Lucienne looks the most different, but her performance is spot-on as Lucien.

The rest of the socio-political aspects, though? The LGBTQ characters being both present and fully human? The writer who claims to be feminist while assaulting a woman he keeps locked up in his house? The Corinthian inspiring a century of the worst of humanity and tying it to the dark side of the American Dream?

It’s all there in the source material. It just would’ve been harder to put it on TV back in 1989.