The Endless Afterlife of ‘The Sandman’


For loyal readers, By Neil Gaiman sand man The saga ended more than a quarter of a century ago. It happened in 1996, when he published DC Comics The sand man #75, the final issue of a critically acclaimed series that not only established Gaiman as a force, but helped legitimize comics as a medium. (Norman Mailer once described it as “a comic strip for intellectuals.”) After seven years, 75 issues (plus one special edition) and a history that spanned millennia, The sand man had ended, a rarity in mainstream comics, where characters often outlive their creators.

Except, of course, it wasn’t quite over.

More than three decades after Gaiman wrote his first sand man script, it’s still there; it’s that the medium of the story has changed. Netflix’s adaptation of the original comic book premieres on Friday, and that’s not the only adaptation currently running. Audible has been making its own audio version of the story since 2020, with a cast that includes James McAvoy, Kat Dennings and Successionit’s brian cox Gaiman himself voices the narrator.

DC hasn’t abandoned the Sandman either. Plus two follow-ups written by Gaiman: the hardcover anthology The Sandman: Endless Nightsand a six-part prequel miniseries, The Sandman: Opening—the company has published a series of spin-off comics written by a number of different creators. James Tynion IV is currently writing The Sandman Universe: Nightmare Countrya series about the return of Morpheus/Sandman/Dream’s worst nightmare, the Corinth, to Earth.

To be clear, it is very difficult to let go The sand man, to leave the Dream world. Even in a world where studios, creators, and publishers could adapt countless universes and comics, they often return to Morpheus. But why?

Leaving aside the facile and cynical “to make money” answer, the real answer might lie in the concepts at the heart of Gaiman’s story and the characters within it. The Sandman is the literal Lord of Dreams, and the man (or something like that, at least) responsible for creating what goes on in our heads when we fall asleep. He’s just one of a family of characters called the Endless, each an anthropomorphized personification of an abstract concept, each with a name beginning with D: Dream, Destruction, Delirium, Despair, Fate, Desire, and of course, Death. the friendly face that would become the object of many goth fandoms thanks to an iconic design by artist Mike Dringenberg.

The Endless are the key to Sandman’s success. They bring an element of humanity to stories that might otherwise drift into independent theory. And their dysfunctional family dynamic is very relatable, regardless of how readers feel about the larger plot of a given story. (I’m of the opinion that the persistence of Endless’s dream and creepy teenage attitude is one of the few things that makes him tolerable, I confess.)

Beyond that, though, they’re an endlessly appealing idea to readers and creators alike, because they suggest that there’s some level of thought and intent behind the forces that affect people’s everyday lives. The very concept of Endless is one that quietly reassures them that not everything is completely random, or worse, completely malicious, but that there is a grander scheme and order at work, even if no one he really understands it.



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