SPOILER ALERT: This story discusses a few plot developments in “The Sandman,” currently streaming on Netflix.
When viewers watch the ending credits for Netflix’s new series “The Sandman” — the long-anticipated adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s acclaimed graphic novel series chronicling the phantasmagoric exploits of Morpheus, aka Dream, aka the Sandman (Tom Sturridge) — they’ll behold the curious sight of the logo for DC Entertainment. Indeed, “The Sandman” was published by Vertigo, an imprint of DC Comics, from 1989 to 1996, and in the first two volumes, which make up Season 1 of the Netflix series, there are several direct references to and characters from the wider world of DC Comics.
Much of those connections and references, however, have either been significantly altered or stripped away entirely from the live-action adaptation of “The Sandman.” For example, in the graphic novel, the villain John Dee (David Thewlis) is living within Arkham Asylum, Gotham City’s infamous prison for the criminally insane, and his desiccated, skeletal appearance bears a strong resemblance to the DC villain Doctor Destiny — a major foe of the Justice League. On the show, however, John is living in a nondescript mental institution, and has the appearance of a normal man.
Meanwhile, the DC warlock and occult detective John Constantine, who has an extended interaction with Morpheus in the comics, has been gender-flipped to Johanna Constantine (Jenna Coleman), and has a similar (though tweaked) backstory from the legacy character.
According to Gaiman, who executive produced the show with David Goyer and Allan Heinberg, these decisions had nothing to do with the volatile state of the wider universe of DC adaptations (R.I.P. “Batgirl”), nor the fact that “The Sandman” is streaming on Netflix rather than HBO Max.
Instead, for Gaiman, it was more just a matter of bringing the TV series in line with the full arc of the graphic novels.
“‘The Sandman’ itself started out in the DC Universe, the comic, and then it just sort of wound up wandering off into its own place,” the author tells Variety. “Its world joined up more and more with our world and became less and less a world in which costumed crime fighters fly around and so on, which meant that by the time ‘The Sandman’ finished, it had its own aesthetic which really wasn’t the DC Universe anymore.”
Gaiman was also eager to avoid stoking any unintended expectations that “The Sandman” would in fact link up in some meaningful way with other DC properties, especially since the graphic novel’s DC references date back to a much earlier (and largely defunct) comic book era.
“We didn’t want a TV show where you felt that you had to have read a whole bunch of comics published in 1988 and 1989 to understand what was going on,” he said. Having Doctor Destiny appeared on the show could lead fans to wonder (loudly on the internet), are the Justice League going to show up too?
“Well, a) No and b) That hasn’t been the lineup of the Justice League for about 29 years, at this point,” Gaiman says. “That bunch disbanded in 1996. No, we’re not bringing in the Justice League of 1988.”
While Gaiman strove to keep Netflix’s “The Sandman” out of the DC Universe, he couldn’t help paying homage to the roots of the character, with a dream sequence in which kidnapped boy Jed (Eddie Karanja) imagines himself as the brightly colored superhero version of the Sandman created by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, as he looks for DC villain Pied Piper.
“We love DC Comics,” Gaiman says. “Bringing the Jack Kirby-Joe Simon ‘Sandman’ as a 12-year-old kid’s dreams was an enormous dream.”