After decades of rumors and revisions, cult-classic, dark fantasy series The Sandman is finally getting a live-action adaptation via a Netflix original series, and no, this is not a dream. Since the start of 2021, more information regarding the upcoming show’s cast and production is slowly but surely being revealed. While longtime Sandman fans might be pretty well-versed in the premise of the artsy and emotional comic series, those not a part of the “cult” in “cult-classic” might be wondering what it’s all about. If you find yourself thinking just that, allow us to shed some light for you. (You can also read our 2020 interview with Neil Gaiman about The Sandman here.)
The Sandman, Explained
— While the character of The Sandman already existed in DC Comics prior to 1989, it’s writer Neil Gaiman’s revival of the series that created the character and story we know and love today. Advertised as a “horror-edged fantasy set in the DC universe,” the series follows a pale man who is referred to by many names, including Dream, Morpheus, and of course, The Sandman.
— Dream, as he’s most commonly called, is a part of The Endless, a family of seven siblings who physically embody and carry out the will of abstract concepts, such as destiny, destruction, and desire. Each one of The Endless has their own tasks and rules their own realm, and in many ways they take on the form of a sort of mythology within the DCU. The cosmic beings are said to have existed since the beginning of time and are among the most powerful creations in the DC universe. However, while the whole family plays a vital role in the events that take place over the course of the comics seven-year run, ultimately the story revolved around Dream.
— After being wrongly imprisoned and forced to reflect upon his life, Dream returns to his realm only to be burdened with the task of having to reclaim both his totems of power that stolen from him during his absence and his sense of purpose. As the story continues, much of it revolves around the dysfunction of The Endless, and the toll their lack of sensitivity takes. Ultimately, Dream’s quest is a tragic one — one in which he repeatedly tries to right his wrongs but is forced to reconcile with just how severe those wrongs were.
— Nearly universally praised upon release, The Sandman went on to become one of the first graphic novels to be on the New York Times Best Seller list and is considered one of the most influential comics ever written, inspiring future writers and catapulting DC Comic imprint Vertigo to fame. At this point, you might be wondering why a compelling and critically-acclaimed comic book — written by a beloved fantasy author with numerous adaptations — hasn’t already graced our television screens. Well, long story short, it’s not for lack of trying.
The Sandman‘s Development Hell
— Long story long, a Sandman big-screen adaptation has been in development hell for the better part of 25 years. Since the mid-90s, DC Comics parent company Warner Bros. has had a film adaptation in the works, with various scripts and cast members attached at different points. In 1996, Roger Avary (who was fresh from working alongside Quentin Tarantino on Pulp Fiction) was reportedly attached to the project. After collaborating with Pirates of the Caribbean writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, the trio created a script that, ultimately, did not work. It was passed around between writers until it got back to Gaiman, who called the script, “not only the worst Sandman script I’ve ever seen, but quite easily the worst script I’ve ever read.”
— By 2001, Warner Bros. went silent on the status of the film. When asked about it in 2007, Gaiman told fans he’d “rather see no Sandman movie made than a bad Sandman movie. But I feel like the time for a Sandman movie is coming soon.” Three years later, news of a Sandman adaptation once again surfaced, though this time it was said it’d be a television series. While both HBO and Supernatural creator Eric Kripke were both approached with an offer to work on the series with WB and Gaiman, ultimately neither worked out.
— In 2013, David S. Goyer (Blade, The Dark Knight Trilogy) announced he would be producing an adaptation of the graphic novel, alongside Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Gaiman. Originally, Jack Thorne (Shameless, Skins) was brought on to write the script, but after the studio decided revisions were necessary, Eric Heisserer (A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010), Final Destination 5) was hired to rewrite it. The day after this was announced, Gordon-Levitt announced he was leaving the project due to creative differences. Shortly after, Heisserer reportedly turned in a script but then immediately left, stating Sandman should be an HBO series instead.
The Netflix Adaptation
— While it might not be coming to HBO, it looks like Heisserer was right and a series treatment is what we’re getting. In 2019, Netflix announced it had teamed up with Warner Bros. to create an adaptation of Sandman that might actually see the light of day. In January 2021, a few members of the key cast were revealed, followed by even more earlier this week. However, as of right now, no release date has been announced. According to Gaiman in his Netflix blog post, we still have a few more announcements — and secrets — to hear before we can settle in for what’s sure to be a dreamy night.