Warning: The following contains SPOILERS for the first season of “Sandman”.
Viewers of the Netflix series “The Sandman” may be confused by the final fate of John Dee in the first season and wonder what really happened to him. Despite the fact that John Dee played an antagonistic role in the first half of the season and caused significant damage, he apparently remains unpunished for his crimes. This seems incompatible with the general character of Morpheus, also known as the Dream of the Infinite, who imposed severe punishments for much less when other people threatened the Dream World and the Phenomenon.
In DC comics, John Dee was originally a supervillain. He used the pseudonym Doctor Fate and fought with the Justice League of America using various ingenious devices, including A materialistic icon that allowed him to make his dreams come true. The Sandman comics introduced a retcon that established that the Materialopticon was powered by a magic ruby that Dream of the Endless used to concentrate its powers. Netflix’s “Sandman” removes all references to the identity of Doctor Fate and the Justice League of America, presenting John Dee as a lost man who manipulated the Dream ruby for his own purposes. He stole it from his mother, Ethel Cripps, who originally stole the sand, ruby, and helmet containing the power of the Sandman from Roderick Burgess.
Both the comics and the 1st season of Netflix’s “Sandman” are built around the climactic battle between John Dee and the Dream of the Infinite for control of Dreams. In the end, John destroys the ruby in the hope that he will destroy the Dream with it, believing that this is the source of his power, and not just her focus. Instead, destroying the ruby releases the energy it contains, restoring Dream of the Endless to its full power. When asked if he is going to kill John for what he did, Dream says he could, but instead he accompanies John back to the prison hospital where he was incarcerated and sends him to sleep in his cell.
What happens to John Dee in the Sandman comics?
The same chain of events unfolds in the original Sandman comics, but John Dee and Dream meet the Batman villain Scarecrow on their way to John’s cell at Arkham Asylum. This creates a funny scene parodying The Wizard of Oz, where Dee declares that “there is no place like home”, imitating Dorothy Gale, when he returns from the realm of dreams to reality. This apparently put an end to John Dee’s criminal career as Doctor Fate, although he will return in a later history of the Justice Society of America, where he used his knowledge of Dreams to manipulate a girl from the Legion of Superheroes with the same abilities so that she would fight her friends on his behalf.
There are several reasons why Dream of the Infinite might have decided to spare John Dee rather than kill him, besides the simple fact that he is usually forbidden from killing mortals. In the comics, Morpheus’ character had not yet developed the empathy that would define his later interactions with others, and was more concerned with regaining his strength than with the lives that John Dee had ended with his actions. Netflix’s “Sandman” offers a different explanation in the first season of the series: Morpheus admits that John Dee was a victim of circumstances who was accidentally corrupted by a force “not made for mortals.” In both cases, John’s punishment would have done nothing to bring back the people he had killed, and from Morpheus’ point of view, it didn’t make much sense.