Neil Gaiman's Sandman begins in the DC Universe of its time, the post-Crisis DC Universe with a huge roster of characters and history going back decades. Although the tone of Gaiman's work is very distinct from mainstream superhero comics, he makes many references to DC continuity, from the Golden Age, up through the mystery-themed comics of the Seventies, and up to his present, including the idiosyncratic Justice League of that time.
Because Sandman attracted many readers who did not otherwise read comic books, an annotation explaining references to DC superheroes is probably useful for many of Gaiman's fans. Here, I give an issue-by-issue breakdown of references to DC continuity throughout the Sandman series and hope that they are useful to Gaiman fans who might otherwise be disoriented by the obscure references to DC lore.
One sees that after many references to DC superheroes in the first third or so of the series, there are far fewer after that, until a few superhero cameos in the last few issues.
Sandman Superhero Annotations
Background: In 1939, Sandman, one of the first comic book superheroes, debuted. Like Batman, he was a rich man who dressed up in a costume to fight crime, primarily at night. This Sandman, real name Wesley Dodds, was never as popular as Batman, and the character went out of publication after a few years, although he was revived many years later.
A new Sandman, Garrett Sanford, appeared for just a few issues in the 1970s, with the look of a superhero, but living and acting in a dimension of dreams rather than the physical world. Hector Hall, the son of the original Hawkman superhero, took Sanford's place in 1983.
Gaiman's Sandman, also known as Morpheus or simply Dream, borrows the name and the approximate appearance of the Wesley Dodds version of the superhero, but is an immortal supernatural being who predates human existence and is the ruler of the Dreaming, the realm of dreams. Loosely inspired by the earlier Sandmen, Morpheus is, in Gaiman's telling, the real Sandman, and the others are explained as temporary human spinoffs inspired by him. They all appear in Gaiman's epic, to varying degrees.
These notes are organized by issue (labeled with a "#") and, where applicable, page number.
7 Dream's appearance is like that of the superhero Sandman.
18 The superhero Sandman is shown on the same month as his actual debut.
Cain, Abel, the House of Mystery, and the three witches are all DC characters who narrated mystery stories, alternately grim and comic in tone, which only rarely intersected with the DC superheroes.
8 Arkham Asylum is where Batman's mentally ill villains are held.
8 Doctor Destiny is a Justice League villain who specialized in the ability to control dreams.
9 The Justice League took away Doctor Destiny's ability to dream in order to neutralize the threat he presented to them. This drove him insane and gave him a ghastly appearance.
21 John Constantine has magical powers.
21 We see two Justice League members, Green Lantern and Batman.
9 The big, green bloke is Swamp Thing, a plant-man hybrid of great power.
Etrigan is a demon who is bound to the body of a man, Jason Blood.
19 Anti-life is the goal of the evil god-like character, Darkseid of Apokolips.
3 Doctor Jonathan Crane is Batman's villain the Scarecrow.
5 Granny Goodness is one of the evil gods under Darkseid.
7 Scott Free is Mister Miracle of the New Gods, the good counterparts to Darkseid. He was at this time a member of the Justice League.
13 Doctor Destiny altered gravity and posed as Green Lantern.
14 J'onn J'onzz, the Manhunter from Mars, is a Justice League member.
23 Mister Dent is the Batman villain Two Face.
Matthew Cable was a character in Swamp Thing who died. Here, he has been resurrected as a raven.
Hector Hall is the son of the Golden Age Hawkman, later a new Sandman
Lyta Trevor is the daughter of the Golden Age Wonder Woman
Sanford was yet another, short-lived, DC Sandman.
Johanna Constantine, appearing here for the first time, is the ancestor of John Constantine.
23 Destiny has appeared as an immortal force of nature in DC comics since 1972. Gaiman uses this existing character as one of the seven Endless, the other six being original Gaiman inventions.
Urania Blackwell, Element Girl, is the female counterpart of Metamorpho. Like him, she can transform her body into any element at will.
12 Steve Trevor is the traditional boyfriend of Wonder Woman.
19 Eve, like Cain and Abel, narrated DC mystery titles.
15 The Wesley Dodds Sandman is seen fighting in an eternal battle between his team, the Justice Society, and Norse gods. This was the premise of a story that wrote the Justice Society out of DC continuity for several years.
17 Hyperman, Lila Lake, and Weirdzo are named here for the first time as variants on Superman, Lois Lane, and Bizarro, implying that DC superheroes are no longer part of the Sandman reality.
18 Now Bizarro is mentioned. An error?
12 This is the Bizarro Lois Lane, again.
4 Variants on Superman (DC) and Spider-Man (Marvel).
Prez was a DC series in the Seventies.
13 Wildcat (Ted Grant) is a boxer who became a superhero, debuting in 1942.
19 The Golden Age Sandman is in the procession.
19 A retcon made the Fury, not Wonder Woman, Lyta's mother.
22 Superman, Batman, and the Martian Manhunter speak about different
versions of themselves as dreams. Superman and Batman have been the
subject of TV shows. The Martian Manhunter has not.
11 Wesley Dodds is the Golden Age Sandman.