I remember the first time I tried reading The Sandman comics. It was in college and I wasn’t really ready for the entire DC Vertigo imprint as it was so far away from the comics I was used to. As I got older, my tastes in comics and stories in general became much more diverse. I eventually went back and tried reading The Sandman comics once again and that’s when I understood why so many people love this seminal Neil Gaiman piece of work. The stories were deep and varied. They were told in interesting ways and tackled really dark concepts. But I understood that, as good as they were, these comics could not be translated into live-action. At least, that’s what I thought then. That’s because Netflix proved me wrong with The Sandman television series.
I did get into the Netflix adaption with some trepidation. Like I said, I just didn’t think any live-action version of The Sandman would be up to snuff with the comic version. I will say I was impressed with how close the series does follow the comics, more specifically, the first two story arcs. I guess that was to be expected since it seems like Neil Gaiman himself was really involved with the project.
After watching Netflix’s The Sandman, I will say it was a really good adaptation of The Sandman. It gets a lot right and it’s a really faithful adaptation of the source material. Heck, some lines from the series are practically lifted from the comic word-for-word. That’s how close it follows it!
However, despite my saying it’s a very close adaptation of the comic and deserves all the positive reviews it’s been getting, I actually don’t think the people who watched the Netflix show should start reading the comics. In fact, I believe they should stay away from it. Even if it does ape some scenes exactly.
Before you accuse me of gatekeeping of geekdom or anything like that. Rather, the biggest reason is, even though I mentioned how well the adapted the comic, because of the changes Netflix made. I’m not saying the things the altered are bad. I honestly think the things they changed made the show much more palatable to the audience Netflix caters to and I do approve the changes. But the changes they did make made The Sandman much more for a casual audience.
Now, from this point forward, I will be delving into SPOILER territory for both the live-action series as well as the original DC Vertigo comics. It’s important for me to highlight and compare some story points and how they made some important changes where Netflix and Neil Gaiman had to revise for the show. So, SPOILERS ahead!
Anyway, one of the bigger changes Netflix had to made was adapting the stories and make them more standalone from the greater DC comics universe. Although The Sandman was printed using DC’s Vertigo imprint, Neil Gaiman still sprinkled in some DC heroes here and there. When Morpheus journeys to Hell to retrieve his helmet, he’s guided through the area by a demon named Squatterbloat in the Netflix show. In the DC Vertigo comics, however, Dream is escorted through Hell by Etrigan the Demon. Comic book fans know who Etrigan is. Even fans of the Justice League and the Brave and the Bold may also be able to identify him as he’s appeared in those shows as well.
Etrigan isn’t the only one Netflix had to cut out as other characters, such as Mister Miracle, The Martian Manhunter and even the Scarecrow make a couple of cameo appearances early on. There are some DC characters who did make the transition to the Netflix show. Cain and Abel are the most noteworthy as they were the narrators/storytellers of the House of Mystery and the House of Secrets horror comic anthology series. Even John Dee, the guy who had full control over Morpheus’ ruby, is actually a lesser known Justice League supervillain known as Doctor Destiny.
The first time I read the comic, I wasn’t even aware of who John Dee is and his connection to the greater superhero community but it didn’t hurt my appreciation for his story arc. But I was familiar with most of the superheroes that appeared in The Sandman comics so seeing them there was a hoot and a half. So I appreciated their appearances. However, more casual fans may get confused as they might see an out of costume Mister Miracle and wonder why he’s having dreams of escaping the planet Apokalips before talking to Morpheus. It might seem to come out of nowhere and it kinda does. But it’s these deep cuts that made The Sandman feel a lot more connected to the comics that I read and made me appreciate it more. Others might just look at these moments and just walk away more confused than enthused.
Speaking of John Dee, I believe he’s the perfect encapsulation of the second reason why casual fans who stumbled upon and liked Netflix’s The Sandman should read the comics. In the show, John Dee comes across as generally kind hearted but has a warped vision of how life works. He’s a whole lot more disturbed in the comics. I mean, he’s actually terrifying in the comics! I’m not saying this lightly. In fact, his story arc was the biggest reason why I didn’t like reading The Sandman comics during my college days!
In the comics, John Dee doesn’t even look human. He’s been driven insane as the Justice League took away his ability to dream. John Dee is drawn more like a walking corpse, a far cry from the frail looking man in pajamas you see in the Netflix show. He even looks like he doesn’t have a jaw at times, which is oddly more disturbing to me for some reason. Not only is he insane but seemingly has no morals. Remember the scene where John Dee is picked up by a kind woman named Rosemary? In the series, he lets her go and repays her kindness by giving her his Amulet of Protection, a macguffin that doesn’t show up in the comics. In the comics, John Dee outright kills her with a gun after being driven to the location where Morpheus’ ruby is stashed. But that’s not the worst of it.
The worst part is when John Dee goes to the diner and starts driving the entire world insane. In the show, he’s doing it as he truly believes it will make the world a much better place in the long run. He has a good, albeit rather twisted, reason for his actions. In the comics, he’s not benevolent in the least! He manipulates the people into maiming and torturing themselves for no other reason but because he can. Comparing the diner scenes from the Netflix show and the comic, the live-action version comes off very, very tame.
As I mentioned before, when I read this issue in college, I was taken aback with how disconcerting it was. The Netflix show does follow the same beats for the most part. But a lot of the more horrific elements, like John Dee eating the fingers of the diner’s customers because it was given to him as an offering or reducing their brains to a more feral state is nowhere as frightening as to what we saw in the live-action version. I can’t really blame them for making these changes and Neil Gaiman approving them because scenes like this is just going to be too much for your average Netflix subscriber.
I would expect a lot more people wanting to read The Sandman comics now because of how well-received the Netflix series is. If you haven’t yet but want to because of the live-action series, don’t let me stop you. However, I do have to warn you that it’s not exactly something that stands alone as it’s still a part of the DC comics universe as a whole so some references may go over your head. I also have to warn you about how much darker and more disturbing it is and it’s something you might have to mentally prepare yourself for. Just saying that, if you thought the show was frightening and distressing, you’ve only seen the “sanitized” version.
Have you seen Netflix’s The Sandman? Have you read the original Neil Gaiman comics? How do you think the two compare? Let me know in the comments section below!