This gripping gothic hoopla is the antidote to Marvel burnout

This gripping gothic hoopla is the antidote to Marvel burnout

Tom Sturridge as Morpheus/Dream - Netflix/PA

Tom Sturridge as Morpheus/Dream – Netflix/PA

Strictly speaking, Netflix’s The Sandman is another superhero adaptation that has been churned out to feed the public’s seemingly insatiable appetite for strangely dressed people saving the world. But this DC Comics creation isn’t Thor or Iron Man. Say hello to the Incredible Sulk instead of the Incredible Hulk.

Morpheus, the Lord of Dreams – nobody really calls him the Sandman – is a dark gadabout who dresses like a depressed version of 1985’s Cures Robert Smith. His hair culminates in a sort of timid, dystopian quiff; his complexion is 50 shades translucent. And instead of leaping off tall buildings, he leaps into people’s subconscious — and weaves the dreams that excite and haunt us.

At least he does, until he’s kidnapped by jazz-age occultists. This is where this often glitzy and otherwise solid binge series begins.

The Sandman has long been considered the ultimate “unfilmable” comic book. The Neil Gaiman saga for DC’s Vertigo imprint, which ran from 1989 to 1996, surfs a dreamlike logic deemed impossible to reduce to television. Or, if not impossible, then pointless. Characters bounce between timelines. The plot has the zigzag anti-logic of the human imagination running amok. The sheer gothic gloom of the 80’s leaves no room for Marvel-esque remarks or innuendos.

All of these qualities have been preserved in Netflix’s long-awaited Sandman, created by Gaiman and Batman v Superman screenwriter David S. Goyer. This fidelity to the source material will delight die-hard Gaiman fans (there is no such thing as a lukewarm Gaiman fan). But The Sandman can also captivate newcomers burned out from Marvel spin-offs and opening up to a comic book caper that sets its sights higher than hilarious ultra-violence.

The cast is the stuff of dreams. Gwendoline Christie from Game of Thrones is as cold as Satan. Jenna Coleman tackles all EastEnders and plays Cockney demon slayer Johanna Constantine (sexually interchanged with John). Sanjeev Bhaskar and Asim Chaudhry make a great extended cameo as eternally feuding siblings Cain and Abel. And they should really come up with some kind of prize to present together to Mark Hamill, who voices a talking pumpkin named Merv Pumpkinhead, and Lenny Henry, who plays the furry dream monster Martin Tenbones.

Most impressive is Tom Sturridge as Morpheus himself. In the original comic, Morpheus’ speech bubbles are shown in jet black; Sturridge, a believer in the material, gets that riotous gloom just right. He truly sounds like every word he utters is dripping with midnight-colored ink. He’s also so pale that Robert Pattinson looks like he’s just returned from a two-week stay in Lanzarote.

The 10-part series takes a beating and takes on the first two of the Gaiman graphic novels collected. But it moves fast, the episodic nature of the books lends itself well to television. It only breaks down at the very end when Gaiman and his co-writers are forced to cobble together a conventional season finale that feels forced.

Until then, it’s a gripping goth hype – one that at times feels like The Avengers to Sisters of Mercy fans. Morpheus is one of the Endless, a family of interdimensional beings who serve as midwives to the human experience. Also joining their ranks are Death (Kirby Howell-Baptiste – a standout in the strongest episode) and Desire.

Joely Richardson as Ethel Cripps - Netflix/PA

Joely Richardson as Ethel Cripps – Netflix/PA

The latter is played by Mason Alexander Park as a sort of nightmare mash-up of Annie Lennox, Mark Almond and a wine bar yuppie celebrating the deregulation of the London Stock Exchange. The performance is compelling, although it’s one of the few examples where the late 80’s origins of the source material shine through.

The Sandman begins relatively conventionally in a 1916 Downton Abbey-style heap where a bitter wizard Sir Roderick Burgess (Charles Dance) attempts to summon death so that his son, killed in the war, can be brought back. Instead, he summons Dream, who arrives with a nightmarish elephant mask, familiar from the comic, locked away by Burgess and his descendants for decades.

With Morpheus in prison, the dream world decays and a plague of restless sleep is unleashed (some people are trapped in an eternal slumber). The action from there jumps everywhere – across time, dimensions and genres. This multi-faceted approach extends to the characters, who are more diverse than in the comics.

That this has sparked resentment online says more about the narrow-mindedness of certain corners of the nerd community than it does about Gaiman. If the idea of ​​death as a young black woman is keeping you up at night, the best advice is to delete your Reddit account and go for a walk.

The Sandman arrives as the newest addition to Neil Gaiman’s troubled television universe. American Gods on Amazon started out promising, only to melt away in a white heat of indecipherable conspiracies. Similarly, on Good Omens, his beloved collaboration with Terry Pratchett, the BBC/Amazon tilt was far too pleased with itself.

But The Sandman mostly gets it right and is as authentic an adaptation as one could reasonably expect. It’s finally here for Gaiman fans.

Will you see The Sandman? Let us know what you’re looking forward to most about the series in the comments

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