Neil Gaiman has famously summarized The Sandman with a single sentence. “The Lord of Dreams learns that one must change or die, and makes his decision.” It’s a humorous little assertion: poignant in its accuracy, mysterious in its vagueness.
Another good strategy to describe The Sandman is: “a story about stories and their relationship to our humanity.” William Shakespeare seems in it. So does the Martian Manhunter, the mythological determine of Loki, Marco Polo, and Eve — like, from the Garden of Eden? If you desire a third stab at an outline, “a horror comic that swiftly turns into a high-concept mythological fantasy comic” may match the invoice.
The Sandman is many issues: pulp horror, mythopoetry, city fantasy, a superhero reboot, a goth’s type handbook, Succession with anthropomorphic personifications, a flawed however earnest try to painting queer lives struggling for actualization and security within the Nineteen Nineties, a graphic novel, a group of quick tales, and a piece that’s canonical with DC Universe.
The one factor you’ll be able to’t say about The Sandman is that it may have occurred at another time in historical past, both international or particular to comics. With the primary cinematic adaptation of this supposedly unfilmable magnum opus premiering on Netflix, it’s price turning again the clock to look at all the substances that went into the most important cult hit in superhero comics, if solely to reply the query: Why is Sandman… like that?
The authentic Sandmans
The story of the story of The Sandman begins in 1939. Superman was simply over a yr outdated — in actual fact, the 1939 World’s Fair in Flushing, Queens, New York, was the primary time anybody was ever employed to painting the Man of Steel in costume. Attendees of the honest may get their palms on a free copy of New York World’s Fair Comics, and in its pages they met a brand new costumed crime fighter referred to as the Sandman.
By day, Wesley Dodds was a rich businessman, however by night time he donned a gasoline masks to prowl the streets of New York City in quest of criminals, whom he would interrogate and anesthetize with using his gasoline gun, sprinkling sand over their sleeping our bodies as a calling card for the police. As the Golden Age of comics got here to an in depth within the Fifties, Dodds’ tales petered out. But the world of comedian e-book superheroes by no means leaves a narrative behind when it may be rebooted many years later.
And in 1974, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby — the creators of Captain America — took a spin on reviving the Sandman. This time round, the hero wore a shiny purple and yellow costume, and prowled the “Dream Stream” in quest of rogue nightmares, dispatching them together with his magical pouch of dream mud lest they invade the goals of youngsters.
This Sandman solely caught round for a couple of points, however a decade later his story was folded right into a story in Wonder Woman. Even later, that story was folded right into a story in Infinity Inc., a crew e-book concerning the grown kids of the retired Justice League of Earth 2.
And in that story, Hector Hall — son of Hawkman and Hawkwoman — grew to become trapped within the Dream Stream and took over the duties of the Sandman. Eventually, he introduced his spouse, Hippolyta “Lyta” Hall — the daughter of Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor — into goals as effectively, the place the 2 conceived a baby.
These two characters each have their influences on The Sandman. For instance, Dream’s black, elongated helm is an interpretation of Dodds’ Forties gasoline masks, and the linking of Sandman to precise energy over goals comes from Kirby and Simon. But for the subsequent cease on our tour of main Sandman influences, we’ll want to depart the realm of fiction solely for a a lot scarier one: publishing historical past.
The Crisis on Infinite Earths
The second half of the Nineteen Eighties at DC Comics was outlined by large swings. The firm’s first full continuity reboot, Crisis on Infinite Earths, was a proper invitation for comics creators to reinvent and redefine the most important, oldest characters in superherodom.
In Batman: Year One, Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli carved a sweaty, sleazy, neon statue of Gotham City that continues to be definitive even in 2022. In his Wonder Woman, George Peréz gave the Princess of the Amazons a brand new origin story that endures to this present day. John Byrne reworked Lex Luthor from mad scientist to deprave industrialist so seamlessly that most individuals would by no means know he hadn’t all the time been a wealthy jerk. Change was within the air, and no reimagining was too wild.
Into this effervescent pot of inventive vitality stepped DC editor Karen Berger. By the time the primary problem of The Sandman was revealed, her editorial eye had already fueled storylines like Alan Moore’s revamp of Swamp Thing, the primary solo sequence for John Constantine, and Grant Morrison’s run on Doom Patrol and Animal Man — all instantaneous classics.
Berger had already made a reputation for herself within the realm of horror books that doubled as postmodern twists on the superhero system. Additionally, she favored a secure of writers from the United Kingdom, creators who had been acquainted with American superheroes by way of the thriving import commerce, however maybe much less treasured about flipping the applecart. In a couple of years, these pursuits would come collectively in her very personal publishing imprint, DC’s legendary Vertigo Comics, however in the intervening time, let’s think about her wanting on the work of one among DC’s brand-new writers.
This 27-year-old grew up within the south of England, and he’s primarily a journalist, however with some quick fiction credit. He’s written a couple of strips for the British comics anthology 2000 AD, and a few quick graphic novels with a relatively avant garde illustrator buddy. He’s additionally received a couple of problems with Marvelman underneath his belt, choosing up from the place author Alan Moore — one other of Berger’s younger Brits — had left off. Maybe he would have carried out extra if Marvelman’s residence journal hadn’t gone out of enterprise. His solely work for DC to this point is a miniseries that mixed botanical horror (together with a Post-Crisis revamp of Poison Ivy) and a type of journey tour of DC Comics characters from Swamp Thing to Lex Luthor.
After contemplating all of this, Berger decides to ask him if he’d be enthusiastic about pitching a reboot of maybe probably the most obscure member of the Justice Society, a personality that even Jack Kirby and Joe Simon couldn’t crack. And with the hubris of a 27-year-old, Neil Gaiman stated sure.
That’s the story of how The Sandman got here to be. But the story of why it encompasses a lot and is so troublesome to outline isn’t full with out its author. Today, Neil Gaiman is an internationally recognized novelist whose bestselling books have been tailored into award-winning films like Coraline and Stardust, and big-budget tv like American Gods and Good Omens. It’s troublesome to image him as an up-and-coming journalist turned comedian e-book author whose solely revealed novel is a biography of Duran Duran.
But when you repair that lens into the telescope of your thoughts, The Sandman comes into focus. A younger author had no thought if he’d ever get one other likelihood at success, and so he packed each single factor that he preferred into the work. The Sandman by no means attracted a single attribute artist collaborator — artistically, its steadiest throughline was Gaiman’s creativeness and prose.
A voracious reader of fantasy and a devotee of gothic horror, Gaiman supplied Berger a very large swing. Instead of one other Sandman journey story, he’d write a six-issue yarn a few sentient personification of the human creativeness escaping from captivity and fixing a thriller. Each problem would have the arc of a gothic horror story, and over the course of the six, his character would make a journey tour of the DC Universe, from the headquarters of the Justice League to the depths of hell itself.
In the very first problem, he’d set up that Wesley Dodds’ urge to turn out to be a sleep-themed costumed crime fighter was the results of an upset within the realm of goals. Then, from DC’s personal historical past of gothic horror, he’d pull in Cain and Abel. Not the biblical figures (a minimum of not at first, though later Gaiman would enable a little bit of Genesis to bleed again into them) however the Cryptkeeper-style hosts of House of Secrets and House of Mystery, DC’s midcentury makes an attempt to steal the ravenous viewers of Tales From the Crypt.
Next, from Saga of the Swamp Thing, by Gaiman’s buddy Alan Moore, he would borrow John Constantine. Following the Hellblazer, Dream of the Endless would go to hell itself, peopled each by biblical Lucifer and DC’s personal Etrigan the Demon. From hell the reader would go to a hell on earth — Arkham Asylum — to introduce the story’s final foe: the Justice League supervillain Doctor Destiny. And simply earlier than the climax, we’d even get a fast kibbutz with Mister Miracle and the Martian Manhunter within the headquarters of the Justice League International.
As The Sandman’s success assured its life past its first story arc, Gaiman solely expanded his referential palette. He resurrected Swamp Thing character Matt Cable as Matthew the Raven. He revealed that Hector Hall’s Sandman was led to by heretofore unknown actions of Morpheus the Dreamlord, as had been quite a lot of Shakespeare’s performs, characters of Greek delusion and theater, components of English folklore, actions in basic literature, and historic figures like Emperor Norton III. The sequence’ penultimate arc attracts in Lyta Hall, daughter of Wonder Woman, and her dream-conceived child, and in addition featured Lucifer Morningstar, Puck from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the mythological Loki, and the Furies of historical Greece.
In The Sandman, Gaiman created the Dreaming, a realm that contained each thought of which the human creativeness is able to conceiving. And, as a result of to do in any other case would have been dishonest, his story handled all these concepts — faith, delusion, folklore, theater, literature, superhero comics — as equally helpful components.
Ask a fan of Sandman concerning the sequence as we speak, and so they may say that what they like about it’s the Old Gods Do New Jobs concepts, which Gaiman would increase upon for American Gods; the city fantasy components that might crop up in Neverwhere; the love of folklore evident once more in Stardust; or the creepily ingenious dream worlds filled with almost ineffable guidelines a la Coraline. All of them are proper.
In Sandman, Gaiman creates a narrative about creation — creation of fiction, creation of self, creation of historical past — that’s, if nothing else, about how creation is a steady course of fueled by all of the fictions and selves we now have entry to at any second. It was inevitable that The Sandman would even be a portrait of the younger artist within the course of of making himself.