The 10 Best Sandman Characters, Ranked

The first season of Netflix's "The Sandman" is hitting screens on August 5, 2022, and fans of the beloved comic series are already hyped. The 11-episode season is expected to cover at least the first two books of the beloved comic series, and hopefully — assuming Netflix doesn't cancel the show like they cancel nearly everything else — it will get around to adapting the rest of the series. We already know from "American Gods" and "Coraline" that Neil Gaiman's works often make for amazing adaptations, so fingers crossed that "The Sandman" will be another lovely experience.

With that in mind, it's worth looking back at the best characters from the comics, many of whom are expected to show up as early as season 1. There are hundreds of memorable characters in the groundbreaking series, but here are 10 that made a particularly lasting impression. 

10. Matthew Cable

Matthew was once a human who died while in a coma and was given the opportunity by Dream to continue living, but only as a raven. Matthew said yes, and spends the rest of the series as Dream's trusted loyal companion. He's rarely the main focus of any particular storyline, but he's a constant welcome presence as one of the few people within the Dreaming who remembers and understands what it's like to be a regular human. He's basically the audience surrogate throughout "Brief Lives," especially when he's trying in vain to teach Delirium how to drive safely.

Perhaps the best thing about Matthew is how cool he is. When he's told that a man has fallen victim to a spell that permanently makes him think he's got insects crawling over him, his response is a calm, "Bugs. Yeah. I been there." But his shining moment is in "The Kindly Ones," where he refuses to leave Dream's side as he goes on his final perilous journey. "Go knock 'em dead," he tells Dream.

In the TV series, Matthew will be voiced by Patton Oswalt, who was a massive fan of the comics even back when they were first coming out. Neil Gaiman explained the rationale behind the hiring process, saying that they were looking for a voice actor "who could make you care about a dead person who was now a bird in the Dreaming — one who isn't certain what's going on, or whether any of this is a good idea."

9. Hob Gadling

A consistent recurring character throughout the series, Hob Gadling is a man who claimed that dying is for chumps. "The only reason people die is because everyone does it," he once said. "You all just go along with it. It's rubbish, death." Dream overhears him saying this back in a 14th-century pub, and decides to make him an offer: Hob can live for as long as he wants, just as long as he and Dream get to meet up every hundred years to talk about it. 

So, Hob gets a taste of immortality, suffering through wars, plagues, famine, and so on. He grows wiser and more jaded, and everyone he knows and loves inevitably dies, but throughout the series, he still never changes his initial stance about death. After over five hundred years, he still accepts Dream's offer of eternal life. 

Hob's not perfect by any means — he participates in the slave trade for one, which the series never truly lets us forget — but he's interesting because of how much he subverts the expectations behind this kind of story. Nearly every other narrative about a mortal granted immortality ends with the character begging for death, but that never happens here. Hob appreciates the gift of life every step of the way. 

Hob will be played by Ferdinand Kingsley in the Netflix series, whose portrayal Gaiman describes as being "exactly the thing and the performance that I had in my head 35 years ago ... It's just like, 'Oh, there you go, there's Hob Gadling.'"

8. Rose Walker

Rose first shows up in volume 2, "The Doll's House," which is also where the "Sandman" series truly becomes the one fans know and love. After the aggressively weird and somewhat disjointed opening book, "Preludes and Nocturnes," the second volume is one that centers primarily around a normal human character. With so much of the series focused around gods and monsters, it's hard not to cling to the few mortals who occasionally get to take center stage. 

With that in mind, Rose is the perfect person for this role: she's a relatable, everyday person who gets caught in a conflict far bigger than she could ever imagine or even understand. Despite all that, she doesn't lose sight of her goal to find her missing little brother. She's also fun in that she's remarkably willing to shake off strange, otherworldly behavior. She briefly ends up moving into a house full of extremely eccentric people, and she manages to make the best of it. 

Rose's main story is over after "The Doll's House," but she does show up again throughout the rest of the series, most notably in "The Kindly Ones" where it's revealed she hasn't aged at all since the events of volume 2. Throughout it all, she remains one of the most likable and compelling human characters in the whole series. 

Rose will be played by Kyo Ra, with this being the actress's debut performance. "We needed someone young who could make you care as she ventures into some very dangerous places," Gaiman explained about the casting choice. "Kyo Ra achieves that as Rose."

7. Barbie

Volume 5 of the series, "A Game of You," is another book that focuses primarily on a human character who knows nothing of the supernatural or the seven Endless. Barbie (who first made a few appearances in "The Doll's House,") is a young woman living in a shabby New York apartment building. One of her quirks is that she likes to draw things on her face when going out in public. Another quirk is that she hasn't been able to dream in years. This is a problem for the imaginary friends in the world she used to dream about because it turns out they're in some very real trouble as she's been away.

"A Game of You" centers around Barbie returning to her childhood dream world and surviving the perilous situation with the help of her friends living in her apartment. Barbie's stand-out moment, however, is her treatment of her trans friend Wanda, who dies near the end of the volume. She returns to Wanda's hometown, filled with people who disrespect Wanda's identity at every turn, and after everyone leaves the funeral she crosses out Wanda's deadname on her gravestone. With her lipstick, she writes "WANDA" over it. "Least I could do," she says afterward, but it was still a kind, character-defining moment for her, especially considering when the story was written.

It doesn't look like anyone has been cast yet to play Barbie in the show — which makes sense, considering she likely won't play a major role until season 2 or 3 — but it's going to be a lot of fun to see her on-screen when that happens. 

6. Wanda

"A Game of You" hasn't aged perfectly with its depiction of its queer characters. Neil Gaiman himself said about the storyline, "If I were writing it today, rather than in 1989, when there weren't any trans characters in comics, it would be a different story, I have no doubt." While the volume is clearly sympathetic to Wanda, it can certainly be a little exhausting for modern trans readers, in particular, to watch her identity get disrespected constantly throughout the narrative, even after her death. The use of the bury your gays trope doesn't help things either. 

Yet regardless of how her tragic ending makes you feel, Wanda herself is an undeniably awesome character the whole way through. She's funny, she sticks up for Barbie constantly, and she treats the world with far more compassion than it ever showed her. Gaiman, who from the beginning of his career was including more queer characters in his stories than you'd expect in even today's mainstream works, clearly has a lot of respect for the hardships trans people have to go through, and that shines through in every one of Wanda's scenes.

Like Barbie, Wanda has not been cast yet. So far, it's not clear how the show plans to update her story, but it'll be interesting to see how they pull it off. Wanda's such a cool character, and it's going to be exciting to find out who gets to portray her on-screen for the first time ever. 

5. Destruction

Making his first appearance in "Brief Lives," Destruction is the last member of the Endless to be introduced. He's unique in that unlike the rest of them, he's abandoned his realm. He's disillusioned with the way the universe works, and he's depressed by how quickly everything changes or dies. All of the Endless are basically immortal, but Destruction's the one who seems to suffer the most as a result, and the fleeting nature of time bothers him more than it bothers the rest of his siblings. 

There's also something beautiful about the way Destruction chooses to live his life after he abandons his post. After accepting that nothing really matters in the grand scheme of things, he dedicates his life to pursuing different types of art like painting, cooking, sculpting, and poetry. He's not good at any of them but it doesn't matter; he's doing it for himself, simply because he wants to. 

Destruction's biggest effect on the series is the way he helps to show how much Dream has changed since the first issue, especially compared to the stories of him from hundreds or thousands of years ago. Destruction remarks that Dream has grown kinder and more empathetic over the years, even more so than Dream knows. 

Considering he's the last of the Endless to show up in the series (not until volume 7), it's unlikely we'll be seeing him on screen for at least another two seasons. But if the comics are anything to go by, he'll be worth the wait. 

4. Delirium

Delirium is the youngest of the Endless, and she's a lot. She swings wildly from emotion to emotion, and because she often has trouble finding the right word to describe things, she ends up rambling quite a bit. That said, she's still a fun and sympathetic character, in part because of how childlike and defenseless she often is. 

She's not as helpless or as absurd as she seems, however. When one human hurts her feelings in "Brief Lives," she says to him, "I think you'll have invisible insects all over you now for all your life and forever and always," and sure enough, that's exactly what happens to the man. She's also capable of being calm and coherent, but only at times of great stress. Interestingly, Delirium was once known as Delight, but over the years she turned from a consistently cheerful person to someone more manic and unhappy. We never find out exactly why and how she changed, but you always get the sense that her siblings remember Delight, and they treat her kinder than usual because of it. 

Delirium doesn't show up in the comics until volume 4, and as a result, she likely won't be making an appearance in season 1, but you can count on her making her on-screen debut in season 2. Her sweet and chaotic nature will make a welcome addition to the show. 

3. Desire

The third youngest of the Endless and the twin of the decidedly less-fun Despair, Desire is the embodiment of our innermost urges, and sometimes our urges are cruel. Desire is one of the most human of her siblings, and is able to easily blend in with regular humans as a result. Desire's also nonbinary and often androgynous, changing back and forth between presenting as male, female, or anywhere in between, depending on whatever suits them in the moment.

Desire isn't quite the villain of the series, but they're often a malevolent force, someone constantly stirring up trouble for their older brother. Much like how desire works in the real world, they often don't seem to fully consider the consequences of fulfilling their wants. After spending most of the series trying to get Dream killed, we see Desire showing some remorse in the final volume, even though they've seemingly gotten exactly what they wanted. 

But as immoral and depraved as Desire often is, they're undeniably fun to watch. It's nice to see a fashionable, scene-chewing villainous character, and that's exactly what they are from start to finish. 

Desire will be portrayed by Mason Alexander Park, a non-binary actor who seems perfect for the role. "We had barely started looking when Mason Alexander Park reached out on Twitter, and threw their hat into the ring," Gaiman said. "We were thrilled when they got the part."

2. Dream

Often going by the name of Morpheus or the Sandman throughout the series, Dream is the second oldest of his siblings, and he's got perhaps the most interesting job out of all of them. He's the embodiment of all of humanity's dreams, and he also lords over the dream realm known as the Dreaming. The best moments in the series are when Dream gets to interact with regular humans. He's often amused by their quirks or annoyed by their self-centered follies, but he's rarely cruel without cause like Desire or even Delirium. And even though he's wise and powerful, he still doesn't understand the basics of the waking human world, as shown in "Brief Lives" when he doesn't seem to understand traffic laws (or police sirens) at all. 

Dream can be a bit of a jerk sometimes, however. For instance, he would rather send his mortal ex-girlfriend to hell for 10,000 years instead of going to therapy. Luckily his older sister eventually sets him straight and he ends up journeying into hell to bring her back, so he is at least capable of changing and improving himself. In fact, Dream grows softer and kinder as the series goes on, and it's ultimately his decision to show his son Orpheus some mercy that leads to his eventual demise. In the end, Dream's strength as a character is that he's both deeply inhuman and relatable at the same time. It makes sense after all: as much as Dream shapes our reality, we collectively shape his. 

Dream will be played by Tom Sturridge in the Netflix series. There were over 1,500 auditions for the part, but Gaiman said the choice was easy: "Having watched all those other auditions, we were able to go to Netflix and say, 'it's Tom.' We know it's Tom."

1. Death

As Matthew Cable describes her, Death is "the foxy chick with all the hair." In a subversion of the standard humorless grim reaper, Gaiman depicts Death as a friendly goth woman who gently guides people into the afterlife. Death may be sad for the loved ones of the dead and dying, but there's comfort in the knowledge that, as tragic or as gruesome as someone's death in these comics can be, we know they'll get to meet her when it happens, so it can't be that bad. 

She first shows up at the end of "Preludes and Nocturnes" in a standalone story that serves as a welcome respite from all the horror going on throughout the first volume. Straight away, Death is upbeat and full of life. When Dream tries to mope around about how purposeless he feels, she snaps at him, not just over his self-pity but because he never thought to talk to her after his decades-long imprisonment. "Didn't it occur to you that I'd be worried sick about you?" she yells.

In a comic series that goes to some incredibly dark places, Death is often the only source of light. She's also the closest thing the series has to a clear-cut moral center. She's the kindest of all the Seven, and it's always nice to see her. 

Death will be portrayed in the show by Kirby Howell-Baptiste, an actress who's already proven with her previous work that she's more than capable of playing a warm, loving figure. Gaiman described the audition process as them looking for "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 audition and we knew we had our Death."