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 | April 6, 2020 | 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.


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

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 are working 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

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.

As for the main plot, Morpheus will 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.

Netflix
(Photo by Netflix )

Additionally, issue #4, “A Hope in Hell,” introduced the version of Lucifer Morningstar featured in Netflix’s Lucifer. It is theoretically possible that series’ star, Tom Ellis, could make an appearance as the Prince of Darkness for this one episode, which would no doubt make fans of that series quite happy and, eventually, lead to a handful of other appearances should The Sandman continue.

The program will also update the story, with Morpheus escaping his captivity in the 2020s instead of the 1980s. As Gaiman told CBC Radio last November, “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 Morpheus’ 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.



 

 

Tag Cloud

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