Over 30 years on from its creation, The Sandman is finally on its way to screens this year. Neil Gaiman’s seminal comic book saga has long been deemed unfilmable, but Netflix has managed it, and the first season of the mythical DC epic is set to debut on streaming this summer. As you would expect, much of the marketing to date has focused on the titular Sandman, aka Dream, aka Morpheus, the Lord of The Dreaming, as played by Tom Sturridge.
While Dream is the central character, The Sandman is really a sprawling ensemble story, with Morpheus often upstaged by the many other colorful characters who occupy his corner of the DC universe, like Lucifer (played by Gwendoline Christie in the show), living nightmare Corinthian (Boyd Holbrook), or John Constantine — reimagined as Johanna Constantine (Jenna Coleman) for Netflix.
The comic book’s breakout character, though, is Dream’s sister, Death, so fans are extremely excited to see her appear in live-action for the first time in the incoming series. But who is she in the pages of DC Comics, and what can we expect from her portrayal in the show? It’s time to talk about Death.
Who is Death in the comics?
First appearing in The Sandman #8, Death — as her name suggests — is the personification of death. She is one of the Endless, seven immortal beings who embody universal concepts. Alongside herself and her brother, other members of the Endless include Despair, Destiny, and the villainous Desire (Mason Alexander Park in the series).
Much like traditional depictions of the Grim Reaper, Death visits people as they die to guide them into the afterlife. Unlike the usual image of death as a gloomy skeletal figure, though, Death of the Endless is a young woman with the fashion sense of a goth who has a surprisingly sunny and approachable disposition, which sharply contrasts with her somber sibling, Dream.
As well as appearing prominently throughout all 10 volumes of The Sandman, Death likewise featured in Gaiman’s The Book of Magic series and in Sandman spinoff comic Lucifer. She also, very occasionally, has shown up in mainstream DC comics, such as in Action Comics #894 and The Flash (vol. 3) #6.
The Netflix show isn’t the first time that Death has been adapted for other media, as Marvel star Kat Dennings voices the character in Audible’s audio drama Sandman series. Similarly, Jamie Chung has played her in an animated DC Showcase short.
It’s commonly thought that Gaiman based Death’s personality on his good friend, singer/songwriter Tori Amos, although this is actually false. Amos did, however, pose as Death for the cover of the first issue of spinoff miniseries Death: The High Cost of Living.
Who is Death in the TV series?
For TV’s The Sandman, Cruella actress Kirby Howell-Baptiste is taking on the part of Death. Our first glimpses of her in promo photos have shown that she will have many things in common with her comic book counterpart. Her all-black fashion sense is much the same, and she’ll also be wearing her fan-favorite ankh symbol necklace. That said, Death’s Eye of Horus tattoo, which is always under her right eye in the comics, has been ditched for the adaptation.
Gaiman, who serves as an executive producer on the show, has admitted that the character was “significantly harder to cast than you might imagine (well, than I imagined, anyway).” As he explained in a Tumblr post, the process of finding the right Death was a long and arduous one, but Howell-Baptiste ultimately emerged as the only correct candidate. Gaiman said:
“Hundreds of talented women from all around the planet auditioned, and they were brilliant, and none of them were right. Someone who could speak the truth to Dream, on the one hand, but also be the person you’d want to meet when your life was done on the other. And then we saw Kirby Howell-Baptiste’s (she/her) audition and we knew we had our Death.”
As demonstrated by her various notable roles in the likes of Killing Eve, The Good Place, and Why Women Kill, Howell-Baptiste definitely has the acting range to breathe life into such a multifaceted character as Death. From the sound of it, we can expect her to have some great chemistry with on-screen brother Morpheus.
The Sandman awakens when its 11-part first season — adapting the first two comics volumes, “Preludes and Nocturnes” and “The Doll’s House” — hits Netflix on August 5.