In its original 75-issue run from 1989-1996, the DC Comics series The Sandman weaved a massive story about the return and downfall of Morpheus the Dream Lord. Written by Neil Gaiman, with pencils by legends such as Charles Vess and Sam Keith, The Sandman often functioned like an anthology series, focusing on the various characters who interacted with Dream and his family, whether they be a house cat who remembers a world of rodent-sized humans or William Shakespeare himself.
The upcoming Netflix series — developed by Gaiman, Batman Begins screenwriter David S. Goyer, and Young Avengers creator Allan Heinberg — seems to follow the same approach. As confirmed at the SDCC Sandman panel, each of the 10 episodes in season one will tell a different story from the Sandman universe.
Attendees of the panel received a glimpse of those worlds, with clips from three episodes. The rest of us all received a look at the trailer, which gives more insight on the characters and tales from Gaiman’s run that are coming to our screens.
Sleep of the Just
While the series will largely operate as an anthology, the trailer does suggest an overall narrative. That narrative begins in the same place as the comics, with the story “Sleep of the Just” from The Sandman #1. The issue tells how an exhausted Dream allows himself to be captured by early 20th-century magician Roderick Burgess, who had intended to trap Death and live forever. The trailer gives us glimpses of Game of Thrones‘ Charles Dance as Burgess and the glass container where he held Death for decades. The trailer highlights Tom Sturridge’s pitch-perfect Morpheus, breaking free of Burgess’ control and brooding across the sleeping world.
Much of the first Sandman arc follows Dream after he escapes from Burgess and begins to set his kingdom back in place. This is where we meet many of the figures in the Dreaming, including Matthew the Raven (voiced by Patton Oswalt) and Vivienne Acheampong’s Lucienne, librarian of the Dreaming and Morpheus’s butler. Other figures shown during these sequences are brothers Cain and Abel (Sanjeev Bhaskar and Asim Chaudhry), locked forever in a cycle of violence, and Abel’s pet gargoyle Gregory. The final denizen of the Dreaming shown in the trailer is Mervyn Pumpkinhead, a scraggly old janitor who, yes, has a pumpkin for a head. During the SDCC panel, Gaiman confirmed that Merv would be voiced by the great Mark Hamill.
Dream a Little Dream of Me
Although the first issues of Sandman cover an arc about Morpheus reclaiming his kingdom and the sources of his power, they read like standalone stories in which Dream encounters strange individuals. For example, The Sandman #3 “Dream a Little Dream of Me” teams up Morpheus with jaded sorcerer John Constantine, to find an ex-girlfiend who took Dream’s sand. In place of John Constantine, we’ll get Johanna Constantine, played by Doctor Who alum Jenna Coleman. The trailer shows a bit of Constantine’s verbal barbs toward Dream and her using magic in a fight. According to a clip shown at the panel, the image of a demon crawling out of a man’s mouth during a wedding ceremony also comes from this episode, in which Constantine is the officiant.
A Hope in Hell
Perhaps the most striking images from the trailer involve Gwendoline Christie as Lucifer, Lord of Hell. To distinguish herself from the take Tom Ellis established on the series Lucifer (yes, they’re both playing the character from Sandman and the Mike Cary spin-off series Lucifer), Christie’s devil wears black armor and spreads massive dark wings. And yet, her line deliveries reveal that same resigned puckishness found in the comics.
Some of the more action-packed moments in the trailer, including a slashing knife and blood splattered across the window, come from “24 Hours,” the climactic story in the first arc. During Morpheus’ imprisonment, a small-time criminal called John Dee stole Dream’s pendant to become Dr. Destiny, a minor Silver Age Justice League villain. While the Netflix series likely won’t contain all the comic book references to Batman and Mister Miracle, Dee does appear in the trailer, played by David Thewlis. The series will certainly follow the main story of the issue, in which Dee uses the pendant to toy with a group of diners, forcing them to play out his darkest dreams.
The Sound of Her Wings
Perhaps the most anticipated story to be shown in the trailer is the last issue from the first arc, “The Sound of Her Wings.” After escaping and retreiving all of his items, Dream continues to mope around, earning a visit from his sister, Death. Played by Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Death in the Sandman world is not the traditional hooded skeleton but a delightful young woman with goth sensibilities who hits her brooding brother with bagels.
The Doll’s House
The second part of the overall narrative established by the trailer involves a sinister figure called the Corinthian, played by Logan‘s Boyd Holbrook. A grinning nightmare who escaped into the real world, the Corinthian seems poised for a showdown with Morpheus, which will likely be the series finale. The comics took six issues to tell the story, which also involved a young woman named Rose Walker, who stays in a house full of eccentrics while looking for her lost brother, Jed. The trailer gives us a look at Kyo Ra as Rose, but we don’t see much of the other figures from that story, including Stephen Fry as Gilbert and Razane Jammal as Lyta Hall, two people who are much more than they originally seem.
Less connected to specific stories are the members of the Endless, Morpheus’s siblings and lords of other states experienced by humans. In addition to Dream and Death, the Endless include Desire, Despair, Delirium, Destruction, and Destiny. Of the additional five, the trailer only shows us two, twins Desire (Mason Alexander Park) and Despair (Donna Preston). While they certainly make for compelling images, chances are that the Endless will not be much of a focus for season one. But if we get a season two, expect to see more of Dream’s fantastic family.
The Sandman comes to Netflix on August 5 2022.