Sandman (USA/2022). Creators: Neil Gaiman, David S. Goyer, and Allan Heinberg. Cast: Tom Sturridge, Patton Oswald, Jenna Coleman, David Thewlis, Gwendoline Christie. Available in: Netflix. Our opinion: good.
Sandman was one of the comics (along with The return of the lord of the night, by Frank Miller, and Watchman, by Alan Moore) that, in the late 1980s, changed comics. While all of these are often credited with bringing an adult sensibility and complexity comparable to that of any good novel to the plot and characters of superhero comics, their merit is greater: they focused on expanding what and how could narrate on a drawn page. On the one hand, they opened the doors of intertextuality and self-reflection –they are comics that dialogue with movies, books, records and, above all, with other comics– and, on the other, they affirm the specificity of their medium: they are the best possible version of what they choose to tell. There were better and worse adaptations of Moore’s or Miller’s work, but never one that lived up to the originals. This also goes for Sandman.
From the center of the DC universe, the home of Superman and Batman, Neil Gaiman built a story in which the only superheroes who have an important role are marginal and forgotten characters from the company; in which the main figure –a particular version of the god Morpheus– sometimes does not even appear in his own comic and in which the most captivating thing is the human dimension of the protagonists: their desires, their traumas, their whims and their losses. That is to say, it was a title of the company that invented superheroes made completely against the grain of the field. When it first appeared, it didn’t even look like a comic: each cover, designed by Dave McKeen, was reminiscent, in its mix of doctored photos and graphic design, of records from the legendary 4AD label.
After a beginning that cites the horror comics of EC Comics, Sandman it quickly expands in all directions: it can incorporate GK Chesterton, Marco Polo or Shakespeare as characters; place himself in ancient Egypt, in the present or in the kingdom of the fairies and tell, in his own way, the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, that of a necropolis in which burial is an art or that of how Lucifer decided to open a piano bar, among many others. Its profusion of stories cannot be limited to a single theme, but if one had to decide on one, it would have to be said that Sandman speaks, above all, of the tension between desire and responsibility.
The adaptation, supervised by Neil Gaiman himself, takes the first fifteen issues of the saga very faithfully, to the point that multiple scenes traced from the vignettes can be traced. And, at the same time, there are notable differences. Most have to do with the 30 years that have passed since the publication of the comics. The fact that Morpheus was a “darky”, a more slender version of Robert Smith at the time of The Head on the Door, contributed in the 80s to accentuate its tragic romanticism. Today, that aspect and the excessively dramatic tone with which he enunciates the character’s lines bring him closer to a parody. Time was also not kind to the entire plot line that involves serial killers, a novel topic three decades ago and even more so because it was presented in a perversely comical way, but which, after the dozens of movies and series that have appeared since it became a fashion , is irreparably worn.
The comic revealed itself to be daring and transgressive: it was the first published by a corporation and within the world of superheroes that incorporated a non-binary central character, the god/goddess Desire. His welcome lack of respect for what was admissible in her time transmuted, in the series, into perfect obedience to the norms of ours. In keeping with the unquestionable prescription that mandates that all artistic manifestations be inclusive and represent the invisible, here the gender and color of half a dozen characters are changed (including Death, the most popular figure in the saga) so as not to take risks and not to bother the politically correct police.
Gaiman has the gift of creating attractive characters, full of original edges, as if it cost him no effort. However, that attribute of his comics, both in this and in other versions of his works, does not end up being translated to other media. What is seductive on the page, on the screen seems a bit forced, certainly uncomfortable, and it doesn’t quite gel.
For his part, the writer declared that three decades had to pass before Sandman find the right fit. It is true that the current development of technology makes it possible to render the images of the comic irreproachably on the screen. It is a rich and multifaceted world, fueled by the powerful imagination of the author, which requires a high degree of visual competence. In this regard, the series is up to the challenge.