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Netflix: everything you need to know about Sandman

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For many it is the comic that Borges would have written if, indeed, Borges had dedicated himself to it. And, as a (very) hasty synthesis, it’s not bad. Because Sandman, the cartoon that consecrated the English screenwriter Neil Gaiman, shares with the work of the Argentine writer not only the fine goldsmithing in the use of the word, but also the recurrence of certain existential and metaphysical themes, such as the mechanics of the universe; the interference of the gods in human affairs, the circularity of time, the essence of eternity, immortality and dreams, and the idea of ​​infinity as an ever-expanding library.

According to Gaiman, Sandman is “an exquisite blend of modern myth and dark fantasy, where contemporary fiction, historical drama and ancient legend seamlessly intertwine. And he does so as he visits the people and places affected by Morpheus, the king of dreams, during his attempts to repair the cosmic and human mistakes he has made during his vast existence.” Phrases that define the plot arc of the first season of Sandman, the long-awaited series that Netflix premieres today.

According to screenwriter and producer David S. Goyer –the same of the Batman trilogy filmed by Christopher Nolan– “Sandman is an extremely complex narrative and, at the same time, very easy for the viewer to follow. That double condition is the greatest strength of the series. In reality, it is none other than Neil’s authorial voice, the quality that has made him a writer revered by millions of fans around the world. Staying true to that voice has been the great triumph of the series.”

Since the comic was released in January 1989, Sandman managed to build itself as a metanarrative universe loaded with symbols, inhabited by multicultural references and nurtured by a profuse literary tradition, all filtered by the sophisticated and elegant British phlegm of the author. From Shakespeare to Cervantes, passing through Lewis Carroll, Mark Twain, Dickens, Chesterton, Tolkien, Michael Moorcock, H. P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, Borges himself, fairy tales, Central European legends, the texts of The Thousand and One Nights, The Wizard of Oz, the mass media, the revulsive power of punk and gothic romanticism, the poetry of Elvis Costello, David Bowie and Tori Amos, the different contemporary philosophical currents but also Wiccanism and the occult; mythology and religions; science and reason: everything has its space.

“For me,” Gaiman once assured, in a display of false modesty, “it was just the story of a dysfunctional family.” The Eternal family (not to be confused with Marvel superheroes), concepts embodied in anthropomorphic personifications of Dream, Death, Desire, Delirium, Despair, Destiny and Destruction. They are immortal and immemorial beings, entities that cut across all cultures, whether human or alien. They exist since before there was “something” and will continue to endure once there is nothing left. They influence the daily life of any living being and, in part, are fickle to the emotional vicissitudes of the creatures that adore, hate, fear or ignore them.

Of the seven Eternals, only four will say present in this season of Sandman: Dream, Death, Desire and Despair, played by Tom Sturridge, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Mason Alexander Park and Donna Preston, respectively. The casting that raised dust on social networks: Gaiman himself was responsible for justifying and celebrating the choice of each of the actors. “I love living in a time where nothing I did 35 years ago feels strange. Sandman included LGBTIQ+ characters long before that term existed. To be able to have a non-binary actor like Mason Alexander Park play a non-binary character like Desire is a fantastic thing. And if Death is shown as African-American, it is because Kirby Howell-Baptiste’s interpretation is sublime, magical, perfect. I know because I saw the over 800 auditions that were held for the role. And Sturridge is Sandman, my Sandman at least.”

Seeking to represent the new social agenda regarding gender issues, the Netflix series broke the hegemonic mold. The white librarian Lucien became the African-American Lucienne; paranormal investigator John Constantine (played by Keanu Reeves and Matt Ryan, respectively, in the Arrowverse movies and TV series) transformed into demonologist Johanna Constantine; Lucifer (the same character that Tom Ellis embodies in the Netflix series) abandoned his masculine iconography to assume a feminine appearance, and even the biblical brothers Cain and Abel changed his ethnicity to Pakistani Pashtun.

“Respecting the open-mindedness with which Neil approached this work three decades ago meant keeping what had to be kept and changing what needed to be changed,” Goyer said. Where not much could be done, by order of Warner, was in the interaction with the superheroic universe of DC, whose only screen would seem to be that of HBO Max. Except for a few occasional winks, which remained as color elements, all references to the Justice League were removed. John Dee is no longer the archvillain who put Superman and Batman in check, but the mentally unbalanced one who makes Hannibal Lecter look like a harmless little lamb; Lyta Hall is not the daughter of Wonder Woman, and Hector Hall was never the son of Hawkman and Hawkwoman.

For the rest, the series meticulously follows the discourse established in the comic The Sandman, with Sueño beginning the reconstruction of his life and his kingdom, the relationship with his peers and his subjects, amending the mistakes that, by action or omission, ended up causing on both sides of the vigil, during the century he spent imprisoned by an arrogant human, fond of the arcane arts. “This is just the beginning,” said Tom Sturridge. Wait until you see the extraordinary group of humans, gods and mystical creatures that will come in the next seasons. From Shakespeare to Marco Polo, passing through Robespierre. And more Cain and Abel, more Lucifer and more Johanna Constantine. I really can’t wait.”

Dream (Tom Sturridge)
Dream (Tom Sturridge)

Dream (Tom Sturridge): Also known as Morpheus or Sandman, in reference to the character in Celtic folklore who spreads magical sand over the eyes of sleeping people to make them dream. He is the king of dreams and his domain is Reverie, the realm that all humans visit when they dream. Created by Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth and Mike Dringenberg, he debuted in The Sandman #1 in January 1989.

Death (Kirby Howell-Baptiste)
Death (Kirby Howell-Baptiste)

Death (Kirby Howell-Baptiste): Dream’s older sister, she is the most sensitive, empathic, and wisest of all the Eternals. Created by Neil Gaiman and Mike Dringenberg, she debuted in The Sandman in August 1989.

Desire (Mason Alexander Park)
Desire (Mason Alexander Park)

Desire (Mason Alexander Park): the least of the Eternals, cruel incarnation of all that is longed for. He can manifest as male, female, both or neither, according to his will. The brainchild of Neil Gaiman and Mike Dringenberg, it appeared in The Sandman in November 1989.

Despair (Donna Preston): Desire’s twin, she is the most easily influenced of the Eternals. Created by Neil Gaiman and Mike Dringenberg, she made her appearance in The Sandman in November 1989.

Matthew the Raven (voiced by Patton Oswalt) – Thanks to the mystical forces of Dreaming, this man was transformed after his death into a chattering crow, who accompanies and assists Dream. In his human form, Matthew was created by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson for the Swamp Thing comic in November 1972.

Lucienne (Vivienne Acheampong): The Reverie’s librarian and Dream’s personal assistant. Paul Levitz and Néstor Redondo created the original version of the character, Lucien, who was introduced in the Tales of Ghost Castle comic in May 1975.

Cain (Sanjeev Bhaskar) and Abel (Asim Chaudhry): sons of Adam and Eve according to the Old Testament, they are the guardians of The House of Mystery and The House of Secrets, physical and metaphysical spaces within the Dreaming. Cain was created by Bob Haney, Jack Sparling, and Joe Orlando; and first appeared in The House of Mystery comic book in August 1968. Abel, created by Mark Hanerfeld, Bill Draut and Joe Orlando, debuted in the September 1969 issue of DC Special magazine.

Merv Pumpkinhead (voiced by Mark Hamill) – The Reverie’s doorman and maintainer. Scarecrow with a pumpkin for a head, he usually works as a comic element of the series. Created by Neil Gaiman and Sam Kieth, he appeared in The Sandman in May 1989.

The Corinthian (Boyd Holbrook): Nightmare that escaped from the Reverie. Charming and dangerous, he acts as a serial killer on Earth. Created by Neil Gaiman and Mike Dringenberg, he debuted in The Sandman comic in November 1989.

Lucifer (Gwendoline Christie): Monarch of Hell, elegant and merciless, corresponds to the figure of the fallen angel of the Christian tradition. Created by Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth and Mike Dringenberg, it appeared in April 1989 in the pages of The Sandman.

Three Witches (Nina Wadia, Dinita Gohil, and Souad Faress): Mythological archetypes known as the Greek Furies, the Roman Fates, the Baltic Laimas, or the Norse Norns. In the series they are presented as female entities capable of predicting the future and giving clues to find people and lost objects. Created by Alex Toth, they were featured in The Witching Hour comic in February 1969.

Johanna Constantine (Jenna Coleman): cynical demonologist and exorcist, heir to a lineage that has always been related to the mystic arts and the Dream itself. The original version of the character, John Constantine, was created by Alan Moore, Rick Veitch, and John Totleben for the Swamp Thing comic in June 1985.

John Dee (David Thewlis): Mentally unbalanced, he has in his possession a gem that allows dreams to come true. Created by Gardner Fox and Mike Sekowsky, he appeared in the July 1961 Justice League comic.

Lyta Hall (Razane Jammal)
Lyta Hall (Razane Jammal)

Lyta Hall (Razane Jammal): A young widow who, every night, in her dreams, is reunited with her dead husband, Hector Hall (played by Lloyd Everitt). Created by Roy Thomas and Ross Andru, Lyta appeared in the February 1983 issue of Wonder Woman magazine. Hector, created by Roy Thomas and Jerry Ordway, debuted in the All-Star Squadron comic in September 1983.

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