How ‘The Sandman’ and ‘Lucifer’ Offer Two Equally Brilliant Takes on Lucifer Morningstar

The below article contains spoilers for Netflix’s The Sandman.

Despite being a part of the DC Universe, Netflix has been deep in the business of Neil Gaiman’s mythological characters from The Sandman. Of course, this is shown in the loving recreation of the original comics that has just been adapted into a TV show starring Tom Sturridge as Dream and featuring other iconic actors like Kirby Howell-Baptiste, David Thewlis, and Jenna Coleman. But given how different the two series are, one would be forgiven for missing that the Netflix show Lucifer, which wrapped up in summer of 2021, was also based on the same source material as The Sandman. That’s right, Tom Ellis’ take on the Devil is, at least in the comics, the same exact Satan played by Gwendoline Christie in Sandman.

In Gaiman’s comic book Sandman, Lucifer is a mischievous devil that is a bit of an amalgamation of different Satanic depictions across multiple faiths, religions, myths, and pop culture depictions. He also bears a striking resemblance to David Bowie. Feeling abandoned by his father and family, and unsatisfied with being the ruler of Hell, he ultimately decides to leave Hell to open a piano bar in LA in his own spin-off series. The TV show Lucifer largely was inspired by this spin-off series — the difference is that instead of a piano bar, it’s a nightclub, which is a pretty logical step to make for a TV show. In the show, Lucifer also becomes a consultant for the LAPD where he helps out Detective Chloe Decker (Lauren German) solve a bunch of grizzly murders. This is definitely a departure from the source material.

In the Lucifer TV show, the source material is more like a general guideline. It strays so much that it barely ever touches on the story from the corner of the DC universe that the Sandman lives in, and the only thing it really takes is the characters. Even then, a lot of the main characters, like Chloe, are completely original to the show. The characters that do come from the source, aren’t always a one-to-one translation either. Just looking at Lucifer himself, there are a lot of differences. Comparing Ellis’ take on the character to Christie’s in Sandman is a perfect illustration of that.

Both shows take liberties with Lucifer’s appearance. Unlike the comics character, Ellis isn’t blonde and clean-shaven. For the Sandman TV show, Lucifer’s gender was changed in order for the character to be played by Christie. The Game of Thrones actor looks more ethereal; there’s a constant unnatural light shining down on her head to give the presence of a halo that isn’t actually there. The unnatural heavenly glow offers Christie a much more heavenly appearance, as if she’s just walked out of a Renaissance painting depicting the fallen angel. Ellis merely looks like an English businessman — a very charming businessman at that, but still just someone who resembles any other human.

The differences between these two adaptations don’t stop at their surface appearance either; both actors play the characters completely differently. While she doesn’t have nearly the same amount of screentime that Ellis gets in his show, Christie plays Lucifer with a sense of underlying rage. She may be smirking in nearly every shot she’s in, but Christie’s performance highlights the deeper issues the character is dealing with. While none of it is in the text of the script, her presence and speech patterns show that as she faces Dream, she is wildly displeased with her position in life. She is the ruler of Hell, but seems to have little agency in her life, and is only sliding into the position that she has been handed. She is composed but resentful of the fact she’s there. Anytime the camera shows her face, she has this expression that is practically screaming that she does not want to be there. This is all in her performance, and while it is not elaborated much on, it does leave room to expand on where the character goes in any future seasons of The Sandman.

In Lucifer, Lucifer has already left Hell and is completely embracing a life of freedom. Compared to the ethereal anger of Christie, Ellis plays the role with a sense of joy and excitement. While Christie’s approach to the character masks the issues with control and composure, Ellis plays it as hiding the problems through an extreme lifestyle and joy. Ellis’ take on the character is more like a golden retriever just happy to be there, and only faces his issues directly when either his therapist or the situation forces him to.

With such wildly different takes, it’s almost hard to notice the similarities between the two shows. But similarities do exist. You might have to squint to see it, but both shows retain the same heart of the original comics. What makes the stories in Gaiman’s universe so impactful is how it treats these characters. When those speaking are mythological or godlike, their status in these roles is used as a means to further the story’s themes and messages. Dream and Lucifer are only in the positions they are to tell a story about history’s most dysfunctional families. Both of their stories are about finding their own senses of purpose and self-worth while reforming boundaries with their parents and siblings, so they can prioritize their own happiness over the expectations put upon them.

The other way these two shows stay true to the heart of the comics is by having the same mindset in writing human characters. With characters so powerful and all-encompassing as these Gods, human characters are always used to ground the story back to reality. Humans in these stories are necessary to keep the stories focused. To do this, Gaiman pushes aside contrivances and archetypes of traditional stories to keep the mortals sounding as real as he possibly can.

In Lucifer, this is seen perfectly in the relationship between Chloe and her ex-husband Dan (Kevin Alejandro). In most shows, divorced couples are constantly arguing and spiteful, only existing in most stories to push along forced character drama. Chloe and Dan are still friends in the show, and even when they have disagreements on parenting styles and choices they always have their daughter’s best interest in mind. They support each other, they still make a great team at the LAPD, and they still love each other in their own way; it’s just no longer romantic. It’s not just for the sake of their kid either, because they do genuinely get along most of the time. It’s a really nuanced relationship that typically isn’t seen in media, and, because it’s not steeped in melodrama, the stakes feel more real and personal when actual hardships and issues occur. Chloe and Dan are fully realized and three-dimensional characters and the show wouldn’t be nearly as strong as it is without them being written this way.

In The Sandman, this is largely shown through the character of Rose Walker (Vanesu Samunyai), a young woman with intense powers that rival those of Dream. But while Dream is an angsty King who’s in total control of his powers while being dissatisfied with life, Rose is an optimistic human with no control over her powers and determined to make her life better. While Dream is having a godly existential crisis over his own purpose, Rose is driven by her purpose to find her missing younger brother who got lost and abused in the American foster care system. While Dream isn’t doing much unless a situation forces him to get out of his own head, Rose is dealing with a very real-world problem that reflects issues that can occur to anyone. Dream thinks he needs to kill Rose, but he ends up learning how to be a better person through empathizing with her experiences and situation.

In both of these stories, these humans are so authentically written that it grounds the story and leads characters back to Earth. These realistic depictions and stories about people are written so well that they come across like any random person you could meet in your everyday life, and it forces the godly characters to grow. The real point of these stories by Gaiman are ones of self-discovery and purpose. Even if The Sandman is more beholden to the source material, and Lucifer deviates more significantly, each show is better for it — and that beating heart from the comics is present throughout their entire runs.


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Damyan Ivanov
My name is Damyan Ivanov and i was born in 1998 in Varna, Bulgaria. Graduated high school in 2016 and since then i'm working on wordpress news websites.

Posted by Damyan Ivanov

My name is Damyan Ivanov and i was born in 1998 in Varna, Bulgaria. Graduated high school in 2016 and since then i'm working on wordpress news websites.