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Enter 'Sandman': Netflix comic series dares to dream

Tom Sturridge stars in ambitious adaptation of popular comic.

“Even a nightmare can dream.”

Uh, what?

Believe it or not, that utter piece of hogwash dialogue makes perfect — even poignant — sense in “The Sandman,” Netflix’s ambitious adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s legendary comic series.

Created by Gaiman, David S. Goyer and Allan Heinberg, “The Sandman,” even more than most comic series, builds a universe of its own. At its center is the ultra-gothy Dream (Tom Sturridge), a being in charge of all of mankind’s dreams, able to enter and alter anybody’s world of sleep.

Other characters include Death (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), Lucifer (Gwendoline Christie) and Desire (Mason Alexander Park), so you know we’re in Deep Metaphor territory. There’s also a talking raven named Matthew voiced by Patton Oswalt, which puts us in Deep Silliness territory, although the show doesn’t seem to know that.

The season runs through a number of storylines sequentially, like reading one comic after another, but an earth-shattering (or dream-shattering) event opens the series. A would-be wizard in the late 19th century mistakenly captures Dream and then holds him captive for 100 years. Dream’s magic possessions are taken from him and the world of dreams becomes, well, a nightmare.

After he escapes, Dream has to recover his missing stuff and repair his crumbling kingdom. Excitement ensues, especially as Dream tries to chase down a bloodthirsty nightmare named The Corinthian (the always fine Boyd Holbrook).

Wild images abound. A baby flying gargoyle, a talking scarecrow with a pumpkin head, ancient witches swallowing live snakes. The fantasy world is pretty overstuffed these days but “The Sandman” stands out visually. 

A parade of fine actors — Joely Richardson, Charles Dance, Stephen Fry — weave in and out, with David Thewlis particularly strong as an escaped mental patient. Still, the show remains comic-book thin on character and plot conveniences are everywhere. “The Sandman” dreams of being more than it is, but it’s still pretty good. 

Tom Long is a longtime contributor to The Detroit News. 

'The Sandman'