First, a confession.
I recall picking up a comic of beautiful painted art, thinking it would be about a forgotten golden age hero. Eventually, it was in a way, but that wasn’t where this book began. It began with Dream.
DC Comics hadn’t started their Vertigo line yet, but the seeds were there. Saga of the Swamp Thing had been taken over by writer Alan Moore and the artistic trio of Stephen Bissette, Rick Veitch, and John Totleben, and the Comics Code Approved sticker came off. The British Comic Creators invasion was just getting started and one of them was a gent by the name of Neil Gaiman. Sandman was Neil’s story to tell and it was a wonderful thing to follow.
Comic adaptations to television and big screen came and went and came back again and rumours of some kind of Sandman media burbled away. Then came the likes of Umbrella Academy and Locke & Key to the small screen. These were not traditional super hero comics. Quirky, dark, complex. And unlike Lucifer (which I enjoyed several seasons of for different reasons), these stuck close to the source material, in spirit at least when they did depart.
Meanwhile Neil had made quite a name for himself with works like Coraline, American Gods, Good Omens, Stardust, and a few others that made a big splash. Now was the time and in my humble opinion, the adaptation to television has been well done. As tempting as it might be to do an episode by episode breakdown and compare / contrast it to the comic sources, that’s more time, energy, and critical theory than I have to spare at the moment. So instead, a few broad spoiler free strokes of what I liked and approved of.
There were persons of color and LGTBQ+ representation within the source material (which was pretty progressive back in the late 80s) and the television show has remained faithful to that. A few characters had their race and / or gender swapped and that didn’t change the story. Does some of it seemed forced? Maybe? I’d say the casting has gotten the personalities right and the actors fit them well. Desire is spot on and I’m good with more guest appearances of Jenna Coleman as a Constantine.
Divorced from DC
The comics only crossed over into the mainstream DC a few times, usually to surprisingly good effect like tying together all the other Sandmen or a nod to a minor character that appeared once in Saga of the Swamp Thing. In the adaptation, its completely cut out though they still manage to keep in characters like Constantine and Lyta Hall without all the baggage of DC Continuity. There are times when being a continuity all your own is for the best.
I was looking forward to our favorite eye-guy being in his spotless whites but he’s a predator first and foremost so blending in a little bit more made sense. He also has more agency in the tv series, setting him up more as an antagonist who is directly plotting rather than a nightmare being tracked down by coincidence. He’s a monster but it was good to see him get more screen time and personality.
The Vortex / Doll’s House
The mash up of Collectors and Doll’s House with the Vortex as the key element worked surprisingly well, the notion of using the Vortex as a means to collect lost dreams feeling like one of those fan theories made true to justify all the scattered pieces coming together in one place. I particularly liked the use of Gault instead of Brute and Glob, making for a far more sympathetic antagonist even if we only see her briefly. Rose also seemed far more informed in the adaptation, with things spelled out for the audience more than once, which in a tv show isn’t surprising. With a comic, it’s much easier to reread the previous panels to make sense of the current one.
Yes, I will watch another season if it remains as good as this. I might even buy it on DVD to rewatch at my leisure and foist off on those unfortunate enough to not know what they are missing. There are some things lost but there is only so much that you can hope to include in an episode or to put together without the effects and prop crews going mad. One of the bits we didn’t get to see was the synchronicity catching up to Constantine as various radios and a jukebox all warble out omens so here’s a little tribute to the King of Dreams to end off on …