Author Neil Gaiman is a hot property these days, between the STARZ adaptation of American Gods and the massive success of the TV adaptation of his novel with Terry Pratchett, Good Omens, on Amazon Prime. Now comes news via The Hollywood Reporter that Netflix is also jumping on the Gaiman bandwagon. The streaming giant is reportedly making a major financial commitment to adapt the Sandman graphic novel series for television.
For many of us, the Sandman comics were our first introduction to the prolific Gaiman’s work. It’s his re-interpretation of an earlier DC comics character. The titular “sandman” is Dream, but he is also called Morpheus, among other names. He is one of seven entities known as the Endless, and he has emerged from a long imprisonment to set right his past mistakes. (The other Endless are Destiny, Destruction, Despair, Desire, Delirium, and Death, portrayed as a perky punk/goth young woman—they became almost as popular as Dream himself and were featured in several spinoff comics.)
Gaiman’s 75-issue revival of the character are an odd mix of mythology, fantasy, horror, and history, rife with literary references and a fair bit of dark humor. There really is nothing quite like it, and the series proved to be hugely popular—and enduring. One standalone story, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (The Sandman No. 19) even won the 1991 World Fantasy Award for Best Short Fiction, the only time a comic has been so honored.
There has long been interest in adapting the series for film, with multiple failed attempts at creating a viable script by Warner Bros. One of those Gaiman deemed “not only the worst Sandman script I’ve ever read, but quite easily the worst script I’ve ever read.” But everyone, including Gaiman, still held out hope for a successful adaptation eventually, with Gaiman once citing filmmaker Terry Gilliam (of Brazil and Time Bandits) as someone he felt could do justice to the material.
Jump to TV
In 2013, news broke that Gaiman had teamed up with actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt to develop a feature film at New Line (owned by Warner Bros.), but Gordon-Levitt ultimately left the project over “creative differences” three years later. Sandman/Dream/Morpheus looked like he would again dissolve into development hell, but one of the last screenwriters to work on the project, Arrival‘s Eric Heisserer, opined that Sandman should really be a TV series.
So Warner Bros. started shopping around a TV adaption of The Sandman. HBO passed—it’s got a lot of pricey Game of Thrones spinoff series eating up the budget—but Netflix pounced, with a straight-to-series order. Gaiman will serve as an executive producer along with David Goyer, whose filmography is nothing to sneeze at. Allan Heinberg, whose credits include Wonder Woman and Grey’s Anatomy, has reportedly signed on as showrunner.
Of course, this could still all go horribly wrong; there are those who think The Sandman is essentially unadaptable. It’s worth noting that the TV series, Lucifer (formerly with Fox, now with Netflix for its final season) is loosely based on a character in Gaiman’s Sandman. Lucifer is a fun series for what it is: a gleefully campy supernatural police procedural that leans into its absurd premise and is carried largely by Tom Ellis’ star turn as the Devil and a winsome supporting cast. But that is not what fans want to see in a Sandman adaptation. And given Gaiman’s EP role, I don’t think it will be.