After over 25 years of Hollywood trying and (luckily) failing to turn it into a movie, Neil Gaiman’s genre-defying/genre-defining comic book masterpiece The Sandman is finally being adapted to screen thanks to an upcoming big-budget TV series adaptation from Netflix. In that quarter century though, our world has changed a fair bit in terms of politics and social dynamics, and it appears that the new show will reflect that.
Originally debuting in late 1988, The Sandman followed Morpheus aka Dream, the living personification of dreams and stories who is one of the Endless, seven beings representing universal aspects who are older and more powerful than gods. The story opens in the early 20th century with Morpheus being captured and kept prisoner via an occult ritual. He remains trapped for 72 years before eventually escaping into the world of 1988, and sets off to reclaim his kingdom, a metaphysical realm known as the Dreaming, which has fallen into ruin in his absence. Along the way, his story would spin out into the mundane world tempered with the aesthetics and mindset of the 1990s.
But speaking to DigitalSpy, Gaiman has revealed that the Netflix series is being updated chronologically to allow Morpheus to escape into our contemporary time.
The Netflix version is going to begin in 2021, so Morpheus will have been kept prisoner in the Netflix version for 105 years rather than 70 years…
As Gaiman – who is exec producing and co-writing the show himself alongside veteran TV and comic book writer Alan Heinberg as showrunner – continued, he explained how bringing the show into modern times introduces new possibilities.
We’ll take that one, see what that does. It’s already in the scripts, it does interesting things because… if we were creating this character now, what gender would the character be? If we were creating the character now, who would they be? What would they be doing? And going on from there.
It’s firmly established in the comics that the Endless – including Morpheus – shift their appearance, including gender, depending on the culture they’re reflecting or the needs of the story they’re involved in. Desire, another one of the Endless, is almost always depicted as androgynous with the character appearing to onlookers as whatever they find the most attractive.
In a later story, A Game of You, The Sandman also made history by introducing Wanda, the first transexual character ever in mainstream American comics, as well as another lesbian couple. If an adaptation had happened decades ago, chances are these characters would probably not have been represented respectfully on-screen. With The Sandman set in the world of 2021 though, potentially this opens up the casting of these characters in the Netflix show to any gender, including transgender, transexual, or androgynous actors who may not have conformed to the societal “norms” of when The Sandman was first published.
Besides for gender identity, The Sandman contains a substantial bit of religious and geographical politics as well, referencing things like the Iraq War, Margaret Thatcher, etc. These would definitely get updated for modern times as well.
As to just when we would get to see what all this updated take on The Sandman looks like though, Gaiman said that “we were meant to start shooting at the end of May” but “given this COVID world, everything is on pause.” In the meantime though, pre-production work is continuing remotely with Gaiman recently revealing (via ComicBook.com) how this adaptation just would not have been possible before.
I get these emails of production design stuff on Netflix and Sandman that I just want to show them to everybody, and I know that I can’t. They’re incredibly confidential, but I look at them, and I glow. The other day they sent me Lucifer’s castle and the gates to Hell and all of these Hell designs, and I’m just like, ‘This is amazing. Oh my gosh.’ It’s like watching Kelly Jones’ nightmares and Sam Keith and Mike Dringenberg’s nightmares just coming to life. We couldn’t have done that, I think even five years ago, definitely not 10 years ago. The technology wasn’t there. The budget wasn’t there. The audience wasn’t there. The delivery systems weren’t there. The idea of going off and doing Preludes and Nocturnes and The Doll’s House as our first 10 episodes, nobody would’ve let us do that. The world wasn’t ready. So, it’s ready now. They caught up with us.
And I can’t wait to catch up with this show when it eventually releases.
Last Updated: July 23, 2020