The Sandman is the perfect comic book show to fight Marvel fatigue

Tom Sturridge as Dream in Netflix's adaptation of The Sandman
(Image credit: Netflix)

Update: Will The Sandman be canceled or renewed by Netflix? Here’s what Neil Gaiman says.

Marvel fatigue is a very real thing, if you ask the right people. Some, like my colleagues here at Tom’s Guide, will argue that Marvel has too much going on — and the quality is suffering as a result. If you are one of those people, then The Sandman might be the show for you.

The Sandman jumped to No.1 on Netflix's charts shortly after arriving last Friday, and it arrived with nary a mention of the fact that it's a DC Comics adaptation. In fact, references to the wider DC universe have been stripped away, leaving a dark fantasy drama in its stead. In other words, the kind of show you don’t need to be a comic fan to enjoy.

I discovered this over the weekend while watching Netflix with my girlfriend. We normally have very different tastes, and watch shows at very different speeds, so finding something we both enjoy is tricky. Fortunately The Sandman managed to tick all the right boxes.

Both of us were sick of watching reruns of Come Dine With Me, so I popped the first episode on. I had already enjoyed The Sandman comic, and the recent Audible adaptation, and I’ve been eager to see if the show can match my lofty expectations. 

And we were both hooked by the end of the first episode. This was a surprise, considering my girlfriend is generally not one for enjoying comic book properties. A couple of years back we tried to watch the Marvel movies in an abridged order (essential movies only, with little to no filler) and she got bored five movies in.

But The Sandman is something totally different, and it thrives with an aspect of the source material that helped make the comic run so beloved in the first place.

The Sandman is the kind of fantasy we haven’t really seen before 

(L to R) Tom Sturridge as Dream, Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Death, on a bench, in The Sandman

(Image credit: Netflix)

The Sandman’s first episode is one big mystery for the uninitiated. The show sows breadcrumbs of what’s going on throughout that first 50 minutes, but several questions still linger. Who is Dream? Why was he summoned by the Burgess cult? What were they even hoping to accomplish?

More importantly, Dream is not your archetypal superhero. He’s not an ordinary person imbued with some sort of superpower, like so many heroes, nor is he a god of some kind. He’s a fundamental aspect of creation, and his absence is shown to wreak all kinds of havoc on the waking world  or “real world” if you prefer.

Dream is not like Spider-Man, Batman or even Thor. He doesn’t fight crime, or save the world. His only care is to preserve the Dreaming realm, with everything else being completely inconsequential. Though occasionally that does require some expedition into the world, as we see in the show.

Generally, Dream isn’t concerned with the affairs of mortals. Whether you’re good or evil the only time he pays you any attention is if they start doing anything that tampers with either him or the Dreaming.

The whole concept of The Sandman is also incredibly unique. It is built around different planes of existence, with beings that personify various states and emotions we mortals find ourselves enduring. 

Personifying Death is nothing new, but Dream? Desire? Despair? It’s all very novel. As is the idea that our dreams do actually happen on a separate plane of existence, rather than an inconsequential product of our subconscious. The Sandman offers a glimpse at something we haven’t really seen before.

You don’t need to be a comics buff to understand what’s going on 

Jenna Coleman as Johanna, Tom Sturridge as Dream in The Sandman

(Image credit: Netflix)

The Sandman show isn’t a totally faithful adaptation of the comic that preceded it. The comic series was designed to be part of the greater DC comics universe, and so had a number of characters that you’d see in other series. 

In the original comics, the characters Martian Manhunter and Mister Miracle both feature prominently, and there are mentions of both the Justice League and its predecessor The Justice Society. In the show, all of these are missing — something Sandman creator Neil Gaiman said was deliberate. 

Gaiman says he “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." And that's perfect.

Anyone who read The Sandman will know that certain DC characters were pretty integral to the plot. On Netflix they’ve been adjusted accordingly — most prominently in the form of Johanna Constantine (Jenna Coleman). In the comics, this arc features John Constantine, a staple character of DC comics who fights demons and the occult. 

Johanna is pretty much the same, albeit more likeable and less prone to both hubris and chain smoking. As far as we know, anyway. DC veterans can see the John-like things about her, but to newcomers she’s simply a freelance exorcist. 

John Dee (David Thewlis) is no longer the supervillain Doctor Destiny, while Lyta and Hector Hall (Razanne Jammal and Lloyd Everitt) are no longer second-generation superheroes. The general story for all the characters has remained the same, but the links to the wider DC comics universe have been severed. 

In short, you can sit down to watch The Sandman for exactly what it is. No need to do any background reading or delve into decades old comics to figure out what the show is trying to do. Not unless you really want to.

Outlook: The Sandman needs no introduction 

Tom Sturridge as Dream, reading the book of Rose Walker, in The Sandman

(Image credit: Netflix)

Needless to say my girlfriend and I both binged through The Sandman over the course of the weekend. I had no doubt that I would enjoy the show to some extent, but I had no clue that she would end up enjoying it as much as she did. 

Minus all the gory stuff with the eyes of course, something neither of us particularly enjoyed. With this and Coraline it seems as though Neil Gaiman really doesn’t like eyes that much.

Much like my colleagues who don't know The Sandman from Metallica's 'Enter Sandman," my girlfriend had some questions.  There are some bits of the show that are either a little confusing or take a while to be answered. But considering how much of a challenge it was to sit through some of the longer Marvel movies I’d call that a clear win. And it gives us both another show to look forward to together — as was (sort of) the case with Stranger Things.

The only major downside here is that The Sandman is on Netflix, which has proven itself incredibly fond of the cancelation button. Then again, being a DC property the only serious alternative would be HBO Max — which is having an even more turbulent time of it at the moment

At least The Sandman has a solid conclusion ready to go, some of which has already been hinted at in the show. Let’s just hope it can engage even more non-comic-reading viewers and actually get to that point before Netflix gets bored.

Tom Pritchard
UK Phones Editor

Tom is the Tom's Guide's UK Phones Editor, tackling the latest smartphone news and vocally expressing his opinions about upcoming features or changes. It's long way from his days as editor of Gizmodo UK, when pretty much everything was on the table. He’s usually found trying to squeeze another giant Lego set onto the shelf, draining very large cups of coffee, or complaining about how terrible his Smart TV is.