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David S. Goyer: Sandman Series Will Bend Genres With Adaptations Of Key Issues

Neil Gaiman's "The Sandman" is one of the most notoriously difficult comics series to summarize, let alone adapt for the screen. But Netflix's upcoming "Sandman" TV series will try to succeed where past "Sandman" adaptations have failed. There were multiple attempts at a "Sandman" movie in the 1990s that never got past the script stage. Then in 2014, Joseph Gordon-Levitt was attached to star, direct, and produce another movie adaptation, but it was scrapped about two years later (via Rotten Tomatoes).

The main reason why "The Sandman" has been so difficult to crack is the story is entirely simultaneously episodic and deeply serialized, and entirely nonlinear. It's perhaps best described as an anthology of cohesive mythology, and it's intertextual with everything from Greek and Norse mythological traditions to Shakespeare. 

"The Sandman" mostly takes place in the realm of dreams and sleep, and like any good dream, the rules of reality and logic don't always apply. "Sandman" stories take place across multiple realities and time periods, involving a dizzying array of characters from history, mythology, and fantasy. Sometimes the series abruptly abandons the main story, about Dream of The Endless trying to regain his powers and defend his realm, just to go off on an extended tangent.

Few understand these challenges better than David S. Goyer, who was involved in the Gordon-Levitt project and is also executive producing the Netflix series. In an interview with Collider about one of his other projects, an adaptation of the Isaac Asimov novel "Foundation," Goyer talked about these difficulties — and why fans have reason to be optimistic.

It sounds like The Sandman TV series might finally get it right

"I think it's a very truthful adaptation," Goyer told Collider. "And some of the individual issues that we adapted, that were perhaps the trickiest standalone issues in Gaiman's run, have ended up being the most interesting and genre-bending episodes. And I'm really proud of those."

Goyer didn't specify which episodes of "The Sandman" he was referring to, but the first season of "The Sandman" will cover the first two volumes of the graphic novel, "Preludes and Nocturnes" and "The Doll's House," both of which contain many standalone stories, and there are some obvious candidates within. "24 Hours" was the sixth overall issue of the series and takes place entirely in a dream-diner where the patrons slowly go insane. Another is "Tales in the Sand," about a love-stricken ruler of a mythical African kingdom. And then there's "Dream of a Thousand Cats," which is so wild and iconic, it's for the best if we don't attempt to summarize it here.

Goyer certainly knows how easily an adaptation of "The Sandman" can go wrong, but the fact that he's this excited about the show's challenges is a good sign. "The Sandman" doesn't currently have a release date, but since the first season has officially finished filming, hopefully the announcement won't be too far off.