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Pour one out for the first hit Sandman TV show: Lucifer

I need Tom Ellis and Gwendoline Christie to high five

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Tom Ellis as Lucifer sits smugly on a couch under blue light in season 6 of Lucifer Photo: John P. Fleenor/Netflix
Susana Polo is an entertainment editor at Polygon, specializing in pop culture and genre fare, with a primary expertise in comic books. Previously, she founded The Mary Sue.

There’s a lot to enjoy in Netflix’s The Sandman series. The show is good! The comic is great! It’s rich with meaty allusions ripe for discovery. It’s a story with fascinating mysteries and wonderful messages.

It’s also created a great situation for me personally, one where I get to point out that Lucifer of the TV show Lucifer and Lucifer of The Sandman are the same character.

And I don’t mean because of the Bible.

Image: Gwendoline Christie as Lucifer Morningstar and Tom Sturridge as Dream in Netflix’s The Sandman Image: Netflix

In case you’re not familiar with Lucifer, it’s the Tom Ellis-starring dramedy that ran three seasons on Fox and three more on Netflix. And if you are familiar with the show that’s equal parts detective procedural, supernatural drama, and love story, you could still be unaware of its connection to DC Comics’ The Sandman.

Lucifer stands as a work of its own, but its central framing — that Satan got tired of ruling in hell and quit to run a piano bar in Los Angeles — is DC Comics canon. And the story that made that DC Comics canon is in the pages of The Sandman.

[Ed. note: Spoilers for The Sandman comic, I guess? It’s... very old, though.]

Viewers who have finished the first season of The Sandman on Netflix were left with Lucifer — played by Gwendoline Christie — swearing vengeance on the lord of Dreams for making her look like a chump in front of every demon in hell. Lucifer even has a plan, and in the comics, we know exactly what that is.

It’s to abdicate rule of hell and open a piano bar in Los Angeles. The vengeance part is where he gifts Dream the keys to hell, making him the owner of a piece of metaphysical real estate so valuable other entities are willing to threaten his life over it — which initiates the bulk of the plot of The Sandman’s third story arc. But that’s beside the point, which is that the Lucifer of the DC Universe tickles the ivories in the City of Angels all because of Gaiman’s The Sandman.

Lucifer the TV series never wore its origins on its sleeve — it was a case of “inspired by the DC Universe” rather than “based on the DC Universe.” There have been some Lucifer spinoff series in the DC Universe, but none of them are especially like the show. (My favorite is 2015’s Lucifer, in which he is forced to investigate the murder of God.) Instead the show attracted cult status by springboarding confidently off of the absolutely solid pitch of “One of them is a police detective, the other is a cheeky piano bar proprietor and secretly Satan. They solve crime... and fall in love????”

As Polygon’s reviewer describes it, the show was “the story of an angel who rebelled against God and was sent to hell for his crimes, and the mortal female detective who’s immune to his devilish charms. Early in the series, the cases Chloe and Lucifer worked on together were almost all human-on-human violence, with no demons or biblical baddies. The main conflict was whether Chloe would find out that Lucifer was, in fact, the devil, not just some rich guy living out a weird fantasy.”

By the end of the show’s final season, it had blossomed into a cheeky and loving meditation on forgiveness and change, saying that “sometimes fate is malleable, and sometimes a destiny that feels like a punishment is really a blessing. But none of that is true for people who don’t open themselves to self-improvement and self-reflection, as Lucifer does.”

Lucifer found an audience by being everything it could be, from a goofy mess to a dramatic will-they-won’t-they. And that’s why it’s no shade to point out its origins in The Sandman. I don’t need Christie’s Lucifer to battle Ellis’ Lucifer for supremacy — unless it’s in a Roger Rabbit-style piano battle.

But I would like to see them high five.

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