Long-winded review of Sandman tv show.
I grew up with the Sandman comic. That was the 90s and late 80s. Comic book revolution. Arguably the best writing generation of comics. But the story goes back a lot further.
My parents were out of town and one of their friends was sent to check on me and my sister now and then. I believe my sis was old enough to baby sit, so she was probably just making sure we were alive and not burning the house down. She drove us to a used book store that sat pretty much ON old railroad tracks. A shack of a place filled with so much paper a fire marshal would have a heart attack seeing it. The guardian said she’d buy us anything we wanted. Because it was all insanely cheap. Like every book would be like 25 cents. My sister and I had armfuls. Like so many books we could barely carry them.
I bought a bunch of comic books too. Someone had sold off all their old DC comics. Probably the mom of some kid who went off to college. So I got all these comics from a few decades prior. Nothing valuable. Especially since they were in bad condition, with 20 cents written on the covers…
Among the comics were a lot of House of Mysteries and House of Secrets. Whoever the former owner was, they were into horror. Eerie and Creepy magazines that were pre-comics code and scary as shit. But all the House of comics were code. They followed the same kind of formula: someone makes a deal with the devil, they get screwed. One of the earliest I remember was a professional concert pianist wishing he had the hands of another player–bigger, more dextrous hands. So he makes a deal with the devil, has to kill the other pianist. But the guy he hires to kill him, burns the body. So he ends up with these burnt hands in the final panel.
Horror comics were very big at that time. And those comics had two narrators: Cain and Abel. The editor of those comics was a woman named Karen Berger. I only know that because the series finally came to an end and she was in one of the comics. Horror comics finally grew out of fashion and she appeared to basically fire them.
Why does that matter? Because Karen Berger became the editor of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. She’s the one who took those series into the new imprint of DC, Vertigo. That allowed them to be in another universe that didn’t have Superman/Batman, et al. And that was important. Because if there’s a Sandman doing stuff, it’s really less important if there’s also a Dr. Fate and whatnot. And in the Sandman comics (and tv series), you’ll see Cain and Abel who have their Houses of Mystery and Secrets. I’m not sure if it was that Neil read those comics, or he was ribbing his editor a bit. But they became regular features and characters. And when it happened, I got the callback to those used comics I had read long before.
As for the tv series, it was almost a panel-for-panel retelling of the first ten or so comics of Sandman. And, in that sense, I wasn’t as interested as I might be. Because it was so exactly the same that I already knew what was going on. Comics are already a visual medium. There were so many shots that I had seen in the comics that I felt like I was re-reading. And then what stood out was when they diverged.
Neil Gaiman is already one of the most inclusive writers you can possibly find. He has lots of people of color, women, and sexual identities. We used to joke about it when I was in high school. Like every alley cat was actually a gay, cross-dressing, gothic alley cat. But the series had to take even more characters and make them gayer and more ethnic. To be clear, I’m not ranting. Or jumping up and down. The comic series is already very diverse and if that bothers you, you’d never enjoy it. But it simply struck me as odd. Who knows why they cast some parts some way? It could be that they just found some actor as better. But across the board it seemed like they went against type. Other than Morpheus, who is obviously the lead, I think there might have been two straight white males in the entire tv series.
But as for the show, again, I just felt like it was such a direct retelling that I wasn’t all that engrossed. And I felt like they lost a lot of the tone. Early Sandman could be quite scary. The 24 Hours comic, where the ruby is used in the diner to turn everyone into basically puppets, was terrifying. And we got a tiny glimpse of it in the last minute or so when they all hack themselves to pieces. But up until then, it wasn’t scary. The Corinthian was scary in the comics. But they had him front and center and talking and talking in so many scenes and being so charismatic, that he wasn’t scary. The guy had mouths for eyes. And I’m guessing that’s something that works better in a comic. But they had an entire convention of serial killers and they didn’t make them scary. It wasn’t cringe. You have so many tools in a tv show. A soundtrack! You can make a mood frightening. Tilt the camera sideways. These were psychopaths who had been normalized by a nightmare that had escaped into our world. You got that feeling in the comic. But they shot it normal. Everyone was normal. A little kid was running around doing hijinks and we weren’t scared for him.
And I saw someone else comment on this: Sandman/Morpheus is a lot more of a dick in this show than the comics. Morpheus was really based on Gaiman himself. And maybe that was him realizing what an arrogant ass he was as a youth. But he wasn’t especially likeable to watch. I didn’t hate him, as others seemed to. But it’s harder to rally behind your protagonist when he’s such a jerkface.
I’m sure I’ll keep watching, if it keeps going on. I think it took so long to bring the series forward because special effects are were so costly. But now they’re cheap. And with so much potential, DREAMS, they didn’t do a whole lot. It was super talky and slow. They didn’t match the visuals of the comics so most times it just felt like a tv show that hinted there was supernatural.
I really did enjoy the comics. And I think Neil Gaiman does some good writing–now and then. Not all of his work is stellar. But that’s true of everyone.