Sandman is technically part of the DC Universe, but its canon status is a little wonky; if that sounds like other Netflix superhero series, it should.
The Sandman’s arrival on Netflix this August at first may seem a little odd for DC fans on streaming services. The vast bulk of DC’s movie and TV endeavors can be found on HBOMax, which carries Warner-owned content. While Netflix hosts a number of DC-based shows – including Sweet Tooth and seasons of the Arrowverse shows from the CW – The Sandman feels like more of an outlier. That comes in part from its odd relationship with the rest of the DC canon. While technically a part of the comic company’s official universe, Morpheus and his supporting cast interact with them infrequently at best.
That puts it in odd company with Netflix’s other comic series — Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist and The Defenders. Those shows have decamped to Disney+, at least in the United States, and their status as Marvel Cinematic Universe canon remained a serious question for quite some time. Marvel recently confirmed their status, but the odd dust-up is paralleled by Morpheus’s unusual place in the DC line-up, so The Sandman may be in for a similar ride as the Marvel shows.
The Sandman comics served as one of the flagships of DC’s Vertigo line, which presented more adult content than standard DC Comics. It began when the company stopped seeking Comics Code Authority approval for their Swamp Thing comics in the early 1980s, which were being revolutionized under the auspices of writer Alan Moore and artists Stephen Bissette and John Totleben. The Sandman belonged very strongly to those sensibilities, presenting complex and very high-minded stories with accompanying mature content.
That also put it in a strange position as far as the rest of the DC Universe went. Morpheus unquestionably belonged to that universe. He made an appearance in Swamp Thing #84, as well as multiple issues of Hellblazer and Etrigan the Demon. The clincher was Sandman #5 in which Dream visited the Justice League, and Martian Manhunter recognized him as the God of Dreams from his people’s mythology.
However, the connection between Sandman’s mythology and the rest of DC became increasingly distant after a time. On his Tumblr blog in July, 2021, Neil Gaiman confirmed the new show would be separate from its IP parent, writing, “as Sandman went along it seemed naturally to drift away from the DC Universe into one that looked a lot more like ours,” before stating that unhitching the story from the more mainstream part of the superhero universe for Netflix would streamline the narrative and keep the focus on Morphius.
That parallels the odd kerfuffle over the Netflix Marvel series, which joined the likes of Agents of SHIELD and Agent Carter in a kind of canonical null zone. According to Variety, Disney would be unable to use the character in a non-Netflix series for two years after their cancellation in 2018. That, and their violent adult-oriented content – like The Sandman’s – made it seem unlikely that their family-friendly owners would have any interest in claiming them as “official” members of the MCU.
Time fixed that for Daredevil and the other shows when the terms of the Netflix contract expired. Matt Murdock even made an appearance in Spider-Man: No Way Home and the entirety of Netflix’s Marvel collection is currently available to stream on Disney+. It’s an odd and quirky coincidence that they should be replaced comparatively quickly by a DC equivalent occupying the same hazy canonical space that they so recently abandoned.
The Sandman premieres August 5 on Netflix.
A native Californian, Robert Vaux has spent over 20 years as a professional film and television critic: working for such outlets as Collider, Mania.com and The Sci-Fi Movie Page. His favorite superhero is Nightcrawler and his lucky numbers are 4, 9, 14, 16, 36, and 40.