Review: Netflix's 'The Sandman' Brims with LGBTQ+ Representation

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday August 8, 2022

Tom Sturridge stars as Dream in Netflix's 'The Sandman'
Tom Sturridge stars as Dream in Netflix's 'The Sandman'  (Source:Netflix)

The long-await, oft-delayed screen adaptation of Neil Gaiman's iconic comic book "The Sandman" has finally arrived on Netflix. Fans will doubtless bicker as to whether the 11-episode first season got everything right, but one thing the adaptation hasn't shied away from is the comic book's LGBTQ+ representation.

Starring Tom Sturridge as Morpheus — a.k.a., Dream, the god of those nocturnal visions that sleepers experience — the show's first season brings to life the comic series' storylines. When a self-styled "Magus" (Charles Dance) sets out, in the early 1900s, to capture Death and force it to do his bidding, he accidentally traps Dream instead — just as Dream is about to eradicate an nightmarish entity (or, better said, an actual living nightmare) called The Corinthian (Boyd Holbrook), who has escaped from the Realm of Dreams into the waking world. With Dream stripped naked, stripped of his powers, and imprisoned in a glass cage in the basement of a mansion for more than a century, The Corinthian is free to wreak havoc; he's a supernatural serial killer with tooth-lined mouths in place of eyes, a nightmare in every sense of the word.

Dream's imprisonment has other consequences, as well; more than a million people fall victim to sleep-related illness, including chronic insomnia and inexplicable comas. That becomes a significant plot point halfway through the series, as the episodes — adapted more or less directly from specific issues of the comics series (although with a few stories reconfigured or melded together to fit the flow of the season) finish up early mini-arcs and move on to new ones.

But first, Dream makes good his escape (thanks to the gay son of the Magus; there's more than a hint of ferocious homoerotic attraction between the young man and the imprisoned god) and sets about rebuilding his decimated Dream Realm, which has crumbled in his absence. The Corinthian, sensing Dream's escape, becomes alarmed at the prospect of finally being brought to heel and eradicated. Thus begins a desperate competition, as The Sandman seeks to find and reclaim his "tools" — a magical ruby, a garish, gothic helmet, and a bag endlessly full of enchanted sand (all of which he needs to reestablish control over dreams and nightmares alike), and The Corinthian seeks to stop — and, if possible, destroy — him.

The series reimagines classic characters, gender-switching a few of them... including amoral demonologist Johanna Constantine (John in the comic books, including his own spinoff title, "Hellblazer"). Like her four-color counterpart, Johanna (played by Jenna Coleman) is fearless, corrupt, and keen on beautiful women. (That said, she's also bisexual.)

Dream is reluctant to rely on his siblings for help, but they come into play throughout the comic series, and we see a few of them here, too. There are six: Death, of course, who was the target of the Magus' machinations in the first place, but also Destruction, Destiny, Delirium, Despair, and — most enticingly — Desire, for whom pansexuality isn't just natural, but ideal. (Death [Kirby Howell-Baptiste] and Despair [Donna Preston] have parts to play, but Desire [played by non-binary actor Mason Alexander Park] has more to do in Season One than the rest of the family, collectively known as The Endless.)

The LGTBQ+ elements in "The Sandman" adaptation are not a major focus, but neither are they glossed over with a quick mention before being discarded (in the manner of, say, "Loki"). They play a small, but significant, part in how the story unfolds. The Corinthian, for instance, is gay; this affects who he charms, murders, or otherwise interacts with, and how. Supernatural entities are allowed to break the bonds of the gender binary (including Satan, who's played by "Game of Thrones" fan favorite Gwendoline Christie). The show's diversity in character and casting extends, delightfully, to a role for John Cameron Mitchell (along with a couple of drag performances by him), and to another role for Stephen Fry.

If the series preserves the source material's embrace of LGBTQ+ characters and identities, it also strives to bring to life the comic's surreal, often beautiful imagery with outright visual quotes and elegant, complex camera work that's blended with CGI magic. The comic's humor is intact, also, primarily in the form of Matthew (Patton Oswalt), a recently deceased human being reincarnated as a magical raven whose job it is to accompany and assist Dream on his endeavors. Plucky and full of wry one-liners, Matthew embodies a certain strain of gleeful fatalism: "Fuck it! Let's go to Hell," he quips when he learns that it's necessary to make a literal deal with the Devil in order for Dream to reacquire his missing helmet.

Will fandom — always notoriously picky, no matter what the genre or property in question — give its seal of approval? For those who read the comic during its initial 75-issue run in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the decades-long wait has culminated in a satisfying fruition. Gaiman's storytelling is broad, generous, and profound in equal measures. Some might carp and quibble (especially members of the "everything is too woke these days" fanboy crowd) but for most of us, I suspect, the Netflix adaptation has proven a dream come true.

All eleven Season One episodes of "The Sandman" are available now on Netflix.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.