Dark Nights: Metal #1 was full of surprising plot twists, from the debut of the Justice League’s very own Megazord to the return of a long-standing hero. But one twist definitely rose above the rest.
Warning: This article contains spoilers for Dark Nights: Metal #1!
The biggest development in this issue involved the surprise appearance of Dream, protagonist of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman saga. While the Sandman franchise is technically connected to the DC Universe, it’s very rare to see these characters directly cross paths with DC’s heroes. That hasn’t really changed even with DC officially rolling the Vertigo Universe back into the DCU. Dream and his siblings usually have far more pressing concerns than the struggles of a few colorfully dressed mortals on one particular Earth. But these crossovers have happened. Here are five major times the Dream and his fellow Endless have appeared in other DC books (along with a few extra cameos).
As seen in: Various
The Sandman comics have never been entirely divorced from the rest of the DCU, even as the series veered more in the direction of cosmic fantasy after its first couple story arcs. And really, there’s no way to separate the two, as several main characters existed in the DCU well before Sandman itself was a thing. That includes servants of The Dreaming like Lucien, Cain and Abel as well as the oldest member of the Endless family, Destiny.
Destiny actually made his debut in 1972’s Weird Mystery Tales #1, some 17 years before Gaiman, Sam Keith and Mike Dringenberg launched their Sandman series. The concept of The Endless didn’t exist at that point, obviously, but the basics of Destiny were already well in place. Then, he was portrayed as a blind but all-seeing cosmic entity perpetually chained to a book that contains all the knowledge that existed or ever will exist.
Initially, Destiny was a sort of host or master of ceremonies for Weird Mystery Tales, introducing the various anthology tales. But over time the character began to take a more active role in the book and its spinoff, Secrets of Haunted House.
Destiny would later have an encounter with the Man of Steel in 1980’s Superman #352, where he tried to convince Superman that humanity was becoming too dependent on his powers and that they needed to embrace their own fate.
As seen in: Captain Atom #42-43 (1990)
The first significant case of the Endless branching out from Sandman and into other DC books came in 1990’s Captain Atom #42, as the titular hero is dragged through Purgatory and encounters several incarnations of Death, including the Sandman version and the Black Racer of the Fourth World franchise. The idea being that Gaiman and Dringenberg’s version of Death was merely one aspect of the larger universal force that is Death.
Gaiman was reportedly displeased with this take on his character, feeling that it diminished her importance in the grand scheme of things. Ever since, Gaiman and DC have struck an agreement that the Endless can only be used in the DCU with his explicit permission. Gaiman has taken a more active role in Death’s DCU appearances, including co-writing a more recent Death appearance in Action Comics (more on that later).
Despite this, Death continued to enjoy small cameo appearances in various ’90s DC books. For example, she can be seen observing the destruction of Earth in 1992’s Legion of Super Heroes #38 and giving Lobo a well-deserved slap in Lobo’s Back #3.
As seen in: Sandman Midnight Theatre #1 (1995)
In terms of DC’s publishing history, Morpheus is hardly the first character to bear the mantle of “Sandman.” The original Sandman is Golden Age superhero Wesley Dodds, a character known for donning a gas mask and blasting criminals with a sleep gas-firing gun. But as readers came to learn, there’s actually a direct link between Wesley Dodds and Morpheus.
That link was solidified in Sandman Midnight Theatre, a one-shot offshoot of the Dodds-centric Sandman Mystery Theatre series. Sandman Mystery Theatre had already hinted that Dodds’ dreams were being influenced by Morpheus (who at this point in the Sandman timeline was imprisoned by cultist Roderick Burgess). In this issue, Dodds actually traveled to Burgess’ English estate and encountered his namesake in the cellar.
Writer Kevin Smith included a similar flashback to Morpheus’ imprisonment in an issue of his 2001-2002 Green Arrow run.
As seen in: JLA #22-23 (1998)
Where Morpheus has often lurked in the background of the DCU, his successor, Daniel has developed a habit of directly teaming up with DC’s heroes. Daniel’s appearance in Dark Nights: Metal #1 isn’t the first time he’s crossed paths with Batman and the Justice Legaue. He previously appeared in Grant Morrison and Howard Porter’s JLA, where he helped the team battle Starro and avert a disaster in both the waking world and The Dreaming. As Daniel revealed at the end of JLA #23, he was merely trying to repay a debt his predecessor owed to Earth’s heroes.
But even with that debt repaid, Daniel has shown a continued interest in Earth’s heroes. Morrison and Porter’s JLA issues also paved the way for Daniel to play a small, recurring role in the pages of JSA. Among other things, writer Geoff Johns built on the ties between Morpheus and Wesley Dodds established in Sandman Midnight Theatre and forged new connections between Daniel and Dodds’ modern-day replacement, Sandy Hawkins.
As seen in: Action Comics #894 (2010)
Action Comics #894 marks what is easily the most significant crossover between the Sandman and DC Universes to date, though we’ll see if Metal claims that honor for itself by the end. This issue is part of the yearlong “Black Ring” storyline, which took place in the aftermath of Blackest Night and followed Lex Luthor’s efforts to reclaim the power he briefly held as a member of the Orange Lantern Corps. Having been shot dead by Gorilla Grodd in the previous issue, Luthor awakens in issue #894 to find his disembodied self being watched by Death herself.
Luthor proved to be more a source of amusement for Death than anything else, though no doubt she was a bit perturbed by the events of Blackest Night and the way Nekron blurred the lines between life and death. Their meeting served as a crucial step in Luthor’s journey towards enlightenment and absolute power.
As we mentioned earlier, Gaiman was reportedly none too happy with how Death was portrayed in her original DCU appearance. Writer Paul Cornell revealed that Gaiman actually co-wrote portions of this issue, specifically pitching in on Death’s dialogue and ensuring that her characterization remained consistent with his own. Gaiman didn’t receive official co-writer credit for Action Comics #894, but the issue does feature the message “A very special thanks to Neil Gaiman” in the credits.