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This week marks a big occasion for fans of Neil Gaiman's The Sandman series, as DC/Vertigo released The Sandman: Overture #1, a prequel written by Gaiman and illustrated by J.H. Williams III. So it seems like a great time to look back at the original series in the form of a top 10: the top 10 supporting characters in The Sandman.
The Sandman mainly deals with six Endless: title character Dream (also known as Morpheus), his compassionate sister Death, his stoic eldest brother Destiny, his crazy youngest sister Delight/Delirium, and the twins Desire and Desire. However, there are many, many other characters in the 75 issues of the original series, and most of them are pretty fascinating.
This list could easily be top 20 (or more), so it was difficult narrowing it down to 10. For this, I didn't consider any of the Endless (including the former Endless, Destruction).
Although I will try to avoid giving away big secrets, the article does contain some spoilers.
10. William Shakespeare
This might seem strange if you haven't read The Sandman. The famous Bard is indeed a character in The Sandman series as Dream develops a close relationship with a young and brash Shakespeare, who aspires to greatness. Dream makes a deal with Shakespeare, offering a future success to Shakespeare in exchange for twoplays written specifically for Dream, including A Midsummer Night's Dream, which is featured prominently in the story arc "Dream Country."
9. Rose Walker
Rose Walker is one of the central characters of the second arc of The Sandman called "The Doll's House." Although she believes she is just a regular teen, it turns out that she is a "dream vortex" that could destroy the world. She travels from England to the U.S. looking for her brother and becomes involved in an eccentric boarding house and eventually a dangerous meeting of serial killers. All the while, Dream has to decide whether to sacrifice Rose's life in order to save the entire world.
8. Lyta Hall
Lyta Hall plays a very important part in the conclusion of The Sandman, although she appears often throughout the series, first as the wife of Hector Hall and mother of an infant boy, Daniel. Lyta Hall is one of the strongest links between The Sandman and the regular DC Universe. Although her background is changed somewhat in The Sandman, Hall was known as Fury, a member of the Infinity, Inc., a team of superhero offspring that had their own series in the 1980s. Her maiden name was actually Hippolyta Trevor and she was the daughter of Golden Age (Earth 2) Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor before she married Hector Hall, the son of Golden Age Carter Hall (Hawkman).
7. Hob Gadling
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live forever? Hob Gadling is a character who decides that he doesn't want to die, and this simple decision allows him to live for centuries. Eventually, he develops a friendship with Dream, who is intrigued by a human with such lasting power (human lives whip by quickly to an Endless). They agree to meet at the same tavern every century, and this becomes an enjoyable recurring segment of The Sandman, as we see how living throughout history while everyone else dies changes Hob.
Yup, it's that Lucifer, although in much the same way that Gaiman makes Death a likeable character, Lucifer in The Sandman has nobility that you don't see in a many representations. Lucifer is one of the guardians of Hell, which Dream must invade during the fourth story arc, "Season of Mists." Eventually, Lucifer makes a quite unexpected decision that leads to him leaving Hell altogether and live on Earth. Interestingly, there is some physical resemblance between Lucifer in The Sandman and David Bowie.
5. The Corinthian
There may be no creepier character in all of The Sandman than The Corinthian. He is an escaped nightmare who has left the dreaming, a realm controlled by Dream, and is now wreaking havoc on Earth in "The Doll's House." He finds Jed, the brother of Rose Walker, and takes him to a hotel that happens to be holding a serial killer convention. The Corinthian, who leaves death in his wake, also has a very distinctive look. He wears sunglasses and looks human, but behind his glasses are eye sockets full of sharp teeth.
One of the great things Gaiman does in The Sandman is that he reinvents characters from early in the story in later issues. When we first meet Barbie in "The Doll's House," she lives at the boarding house where Rose Walker finds herself. She looks very preppy and is in a relationship with Ken (get it?). However, she is drastically different in the fifth arc, "A Game of You." Here she's divorced from Ken, living in a dodgy area of NYC with a number of interesting female associates, including the transgendered Wanda. She ends up getting drawn into a fantasy world of her own making, where she eventually encounters Dream.
3. Mervyn Pumpkinhead
Mervyn is sort of like a union worker of the dream world who, yes, has a pumpkin for a head. He does a lot of the prepping of worlds that Dream needs created, usually with complaint. It's not that Merv dislikes his work or Dream, but he expresses the feelings of any worker who has ever had a boss that didn't get all of the effort required to complete a task. Beneath his gruff exterior, though, Merv is a good and reliable person, which is shown when the dreaming comes under attack in the penultimate arc, "The Kindly Ones."
At first, Thessaly seems meek and a bit odd. We meet her in the building where Barbie lives in "A Game of You." Ultimately, though, we come to learn that Thessaly is a witch and the last of her kind. She is one of the characters in The Sandman who are hard to pin down. She kills without remorse but only for a reason. She has a love affair with Dream but also aids those who seek his destruction. To be even more elusive, she even goes by the name Larissa later in the series. Thessaly, who plays an important part in "The Kindly Ones," always has a reason for her actions and never seems to lose control, which makes her pretty fun to watch.
Although other supporting characters in The Sandman have more important roles in the plot, Matthew is crucial to the heart and soul of the series. A former human who now lives as a raven in the dreaming, Matthew befriends Dream. At times, Matthew seems to be Dream's only friend. When things start to go quite bad for the powerful Dream in "The Kindly Ones," Matthew echoes reader thoughts, asking Dream why he doesn't do more to prevent the attack on the dreaming. Matthew is in many ways the opposite of the distant and controlled Thessaly. He always has his heart of his sleeve (or wing). Matthew may be somewhat inexperienced in the ways of the dream lands, but he always cares deeply, which makes him to me the most winning of all the supporting characters in The Sandman.
What do you think? What other great supporting characters from The Sandman also deserve mention? Leave your suggestions in the comments.