The Sandman, comic-book fantasy on Netflix: Everything you need to know

Jenna Coleman as Johanna Constantine and Tom Sturridge as Dream in a still from The Sandman. The Netflix adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s comic-book fantasy is released on Aug 5.

This week Netflix releases The Sandman, a 10-episode adaptation of the acclaimed comic book by Neil Gaiman.

First published by DC Comics in 1988, The Sandman ran for 75 issues and is widely considered one of the finest works of its kind.

A dark, fantastical tale that has inspired numerous sequels and spin-offs, this marks the first successful attempt to bring Gaiman's vision to the screen.

The Sandman chronicles the story of Dream, one of seven supernatural siblings known as the Endless. The personification of dreams and ruler of the Dreaming, he goes by many names, including Morpheus, Dream King, and of course, The Sandman.

A being as old as time itself, Dream is not quite a god, yet wields infinite power within the realm of the unconscious.

Gaiman's story begins in the early 20th century, when Dream is captured by an occultist hoping to summon his sibling Death, and is imprisoned for almost a century.

In the present day Dream finally escapes, only to discover that the tools of his trade have been stolen, and his kingdom, the Dreaming, has collapsed. He sets out to exact revenge on his captors, retrieve his magical belongings and rebuild his domain.

What follows is an epic series of adventures that sees Dream traverse time and space, the dream world and the waking world, as well as venture into other fantasy realms, including Hell.

On these journeys he encounters all manner of beings and entities, characters from mythology and folklore as well as recognisable historical figures and icons of popular culture.

Neil Gaiman, creator of the original comic book series.
PHOTO: Instagram/Neilhimself

Dream also crosses paths with the other Endless: Death, Desire, Destiny, Despair, Delirium and Destruction, some of whom are eager to help their brother, while others work actively against him.

The Sandman is also part of the DC Universe and, especially in its early issues, features a number of recognisable characters from other superhero comic books.

The Hellblazer John Constantine – portrayed on screen by Keanu Reeves in the 2005 film Constantine – helps Dream track down his lost bag of magical sand.

Dream also consults Martian Manhunter and other members of the Justice League of America, while Arkham Asylum and The Scarecrow also make brief appearances.

Tom Sturridge as Dream in a still from The Sandman.
PHOTO: Netflix

Gaiman also addresses earlier incarnations of DC's Sandman character, who has appeared in numerous forms over the years, more often as a human crime-fighter wielding sleeping gas, however, than as the magical character of these stories.

The acclaimed British author has seen many of his dark fantasy tales reworked for the screen.

Adaptations of celebrated Gaiman novels such as Coraline , American Gods, and Good Omens, which he co-wrote with Terry Pratchett, have all been enthusiastically received, while his take on the demonic character Lucifer in the Sandman comics inspired the long-running Fox TV series of the same name.

A co-production between Netflix, DC Entertainment and Warner Bros, The Sandman has been developed for television by Gaiman, together with Allan Heinberg (screenwriter of Wonder Woman), and David Goyer, the long-time DC collaborator who worked with Christopher Nolan on The Dark Knight trilogy.

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It would appear that Gaiman's comic book opus is in relatively safe hands, but many have tried and failed to adapt this wildly imaginative tapestry of narratives and ideas in the past.

Since the early 1990s, work on a film adaptation of The Sandman has been percolating at Warner Brothers, with writers including Roger Avery (Pulp Fiction), Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio (Pirates of the Caribbean), Jack Thorne (Shameless), and Eric Heisserer (Arrival) drafting scripts at various times.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt was attached to star as the pale, androgynous Dream at one point, but like with almost everybody else involved, they eventually left or were fired, citing creative differences over how The Sandman should be realised.

Gwendoline Christie as Lucifer in a still from The Sandman. 
PHOTO: Netflix

Cut to today, and The Sandman is finally primed for release. British actor Tom Sturridge plays the title role, opposite a robust supporting cast that includes Gwendoline Christie, Boyd Holbrook, David Thewlis, Jenna Coleman, and the voice of Patton Oswalt as his trusty raven, Matthew.

The casting seems to support Gaiman's predilection for sexually ambiguous and gender-fluid characterisations, with a wildly diverse roster of supporting players.

The Sandman is bursting with potential to become a global fantasy phenomenon. P
PHOTO: Netflix

Unfolding against a tapestry as vast and magical as those realised in The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, or Game of Thrones, The Sandman is bursting with potential to become another global fantasy phenomenon.

Past experience might advise us to temper our expectations, but the prospect of seeing The Sandman finally brought to life is, for many fans, a dream come true.

The Sandman will start streaming on Netflix on August 5.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.