Friday, August 5, 2022

What is The Sandman?

 If you aren't already familiar with The Sandman comic book series by Neil Gaiman, find the person in your social circle who owns the most black clothing and they'll probably know what it is. With a TV series coming to Netflix and two full-cast Audible titles accompanying the legendary comic, I think it's time to explain what us goth kids are squeeing over. 

Once Upon a Time in the 90's....

Most comics in the late 80's to early 90's can be split into three camps: Classic stories that still resonate with audiences and gave us the characters we know and love (X-Force, Knightfall), weird examples of masculinity that would never fly today (Spawn, The Maxx), and the edgy fringe stuff. Sandman comics belong in the third category, being edgy dramas about beings beyond the comprehension of mortals dealing with massive existential problems. The comics rarely featured battles, such as audiences are used to in comics, meaning giant muscle men bashing into each other or shooting improbable guns at each other, instead being more about the inner battles around ones purpose in an endless everchanging universe. The comics do take place in the DC Universe, and a couple cameos have popped up on both sides (The titular Sandman requiring the assistance of Martian Manhunter and Death relinquishing her powers to Lex Luthor being two examples) but the higher ups in DC's comic team have chosen to use Gaiman's characters and works sparingly if at all, out of respect and honor for the source material. 

Okay, so that's the dry history lesson, but what is it? 

The Endless

Full disclosure: I only relatively recently got into the Sandman stories because as a kid A: I was broke and B: I had little to no access to the comics even if I had money. It doesn't help that the concept is a massive existential nightmare that takes some thinking about to wrap one's head around, so don't feel bad if trying to understand this is like following the logic of someone who recently suffered a brain injury and is now high on the Oxycodone they were prescribed for the pain. I will do my best to explain the plot but bare with me, it's a weird one. 

Okay so back at the beginning of sentient life in the universe seven beings came into existence which would be the personifications of seven aspects of said life. These beings, called the Endless, safeguard their respective circles to help keep the universe balanced. The easiest thing to compare them to would be mythological gods, but in cannon a lot of the gods are still held under the seven Endless's sway. These characters are: Destiny, Death, Dream, Desire, Despair, Delusion and Destruction. Each have separate personalities and responsibilities in respect to their realms. Our main character is Dream, AKA The Sandman, AKA Morpheus, AKA the dude in all the advertisements who looks like the lead singer of The Cure. Back in the 20's a cult manages a complex ritual to entrap Death, Dream's sister (Oh yeah, they're all siblings, but their parents are explained way down the line as like the universe's embodiment and some sort of... Thing... I don't know...) and end up catching Dream instead. Dream is imprisioned until the 80's when he escapes out of his pokeball and sets out on a quest to restore his neglected kingdom. 

The first story arch, and probably what we're going to see most of in season one of the Netflix adaptation, is him reclaiming three artifacts he used to help wield his power, namely a helmet that he built from the bones of two gods who tried to usurp his kingdom, a pouch of sand that he can use to put people to sleep and effect their dreams, and a ruby necklace that amplifies his powers. He also needs to wrangle a few escaped dreams and nightmares who have snuck into the human world and are causing general mayhem across the populace. Along the way it's confirmed that he will run into Constantine, the very same from the movie only this time a woman, various of his siblings including fan favorite Death (more on her later) and Lucifer Morningstar, a version of the devil based on Paradise Lost and who got his own show for several seasons. 

Yeah, that Lucifer. 

Quick Geekout on Death

Death of the series is, as I mentioned, a fan favorite. She even has a Funko Pop of her comic book version that's been out years before the masses were exposed to the full glory that is The Sandman. This Death, portrayed in the comics as a spunky 80's goth, is a fun happy-go-lucky person who sees her job as essential to the process of life. She keeps an upbeat attitude knowing that right after a person passes from mortality they will be confused and scared, so she shows them that things are going to be okay. Death is a refreshing take not only on the titular Grim Reaper character but on the concept of death itself, not being something scary and awful but something natural and leading to the next step in a person's progression. Think of the Angel of Death from Touched By An Angel only less tall blonde guy and more spunky goth girl. 

What is the Appeal? 

The appeal to this entire franchise to me, besides the dark urban fantasy setup, is the interesting concepts Gaiman explores. Dream is imprisoned for decades and yet the world, for the most part, went on without him. Does that mean that he's necessary? Part of his job is to influence imagination through dreams, and keep all the stories that are told, but is that as important as the job Death does? We also explore how the Endless influence people's lives, like what Death means to people, like the fairness of it or if a life is worth living if it's just going to end, or is it better to follow one's dreams or live strictly in the here and now? The series is a beautifully written drama about the elements that, while completely out of the control of man, are well within other's control and how mortals react to them. 

If you don't believe me, give it a watch. 


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