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You cannot escape The Sandman's dark dream...
Dateline: New York City, 1938. America has seen off the worst of The Great Depression, but all is not well in the big city. In the midst of the towering skyscrapers, rowdy jazz clubs & high society glamour, crime, poverty & prejudice run rampant in the streets. One man follows his dark dreams, to take up arms against this sea of troubles.
By day, he is Wesley Dodds, reclusive industrial heir. By night, he becomes...
Sandman Mystery Theatre is a comicbook written primarily by Matt Wagner&Steven Seagle from DC's noted Vertigo imprint, a Revival of the Golden Age Superhero & founding member of the Justice Society of America, Sandman, a Badass Normal in the Batman tradition, who debuted around the same time, who fought crime using a gun that fired sleeping gas. The title's genesis was Dodds' brief appearance in the opening issue of Neil Gaiman's celebrated series of the same title, only tangentially connected to Gaiman's work via Retcon.
Dream of The Endless' runaway success inspired a new series, focusing on the original character to bear the Sandman moniker, but heavily reworked to remove the original's more Campy elements (purple cape, custom made yellow & blue gasmask, Kid Sidekick, etc.). In fact, it could be argued that Wagner's Sandman owes about as much to the Golden Age title as Gaiman's does. We have Wesley Dodds fighting crime in a gasmask, with a gas gun who calls himself The Sandman. There the similarity to the original ends.
Instead of Superhero comics of the period, Wagner's work draws more heavily from detective stories & Two-Fisted Tales-style pulp fiction. It has a strong Noir vibe, brought to life by the various artists' dark visuals & period setpieces. The main character has also been heavily altered. Rather than the classic Rich Idiot With No Day Job persona affected by the likes of Bruce Wayne or Lamont Cranston, Dodds comes off as a bit of a short, podgy-faced, bespectacled geek, more in the style of Dan Dreiberg than anything. Were it not for occasional prophetic dreams he receives unconsciously through an ill-defined connection with the other Sandman, Morpheus, he would be the quintessential Badass Normal, just a guy in an army surplus gasmask with a fancy gun.
Much time is also given to the relationship between Dodds & his Love Interest, Dian Belmont, the daughter of the local DA & eventually his Margo Lane-esque sidekick. Many of the stories are told from her perspective & it could even be argued she's the real main character, not to mention the real Badass Normal.
Sandman Mystery Theatre is a wonderful read for anybody who loves classic pulp fiction, Film Noir, or costumed hero stories that stay towards the more realistic end of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism. The series lasted for 70 issues, from April, 1993 to January, 1999.
This series provides examples of...
- An Aesop (Most of the stories are themed around some social ill or other, for example racism, sexism, child abuse, etc. Usually handled subtly enough.)
- Asshole Victim (Quite a few.)
- The Bear: One of the Phantom of the Fair's victims is this.
- Break the Cutie: Happens to quite a few of Dian's friends. Also, poor, poor Emily...
- Brother-Sister Incest: Implied to be the origin of The Butcher.
- Bury Your Gays: The Phantom of the Fair, which involves a serial killer who specializes solely in gay men. Including Wesley's friend Robert.
- Calling Card: The Sandman usually leaves clues in the form of poems written on bits of origami on the crooks he's gassed for the police to find.
- Chew Toy: The Sandman gets the drop on Burke enough for it to become a running gag.
- Church of Happyology: In some ways The Order of Ancient Mysteries comes off as a sort of pre-WWII version of this in Midnight Theatre, which is a bit odd considering Gaiman's upbringing...
- Coat, Hat, Mask: Dodds' Sandman costume consists of a big, brown trenchcoat, his dad's old World War One gasmask, a fedora & whatever else he happens to be wearing.
- The Commissioner Gordon: Both DA Belmont & ME Klein.
- Crossover: Sandman Midnight Theatre, written by Neil Gaiman, featuring a brief meeting between the two Sandmen. Also features a few with other JSA super people, despite not being in the same continuity as the main DCU. Maybe.
- Fat Bastard (Most of The Python's victims, though his actual motive wasn't the bastard part so much, as he was driven criminally insane when his obese mother molested him. And even then, one of his victims was his black foster mother, and she did nothing to him. Burke, a moderate racist, calls him a monster because of it.)
- Funetik Aksent (Most of the "Cherman" characters who appear sound like they learned English from The Katzenjammer Kids.)
- Gas Mask Longcoat: Guess.
- Good Girls Avoid Abortion: A notable subplot that emerged in the later half of the series involved Dian getting pregnant. The pregnancy was dealt with in The Crone, where Dian decided that it wouldn't be right to bring a child into the world during a time of war and with parents who aren't ready for the responsibility, so by the end of the arc Dian (with Wesley's extremely reluctant agreement) decides to have the pregnancy aborted. The aftereffects of this decision are felt up to the end of the series. In The Cannon, Wesley dreams of their child growing into an adult and telling Wesley that, while he forgives his parents, God may not be so forgiving. In The Goblin, a head injury is the catalyst which causes Wesley to undergo a breakdown/willing Split Personality Takeover which is implied to be his way of escaping his guilt and anger over the issue (he comes out of it sobbing and saying he misses their child). Dian's father also has a heart attack when he learns of the abortion.
- Heroic Build (Averted. Wes is actually a bit pudgy.)
- Hollywood Pudgy: Dian.
- Inspector Javert (Burke, at first, though after he find out the Sandman had his office bugged he decides he'd rather just kill him than arrest him.)
- Intangible Man (The Mist.)
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Mr. Ricketts from The Goblin.
- Kill'Em All (Some of the bleaker story arcs end with nearly all the main characters introduced dead by the end. The Brute is a particularly good example.)
- Knockout Gas (One of the Sandman's signature weapons.)
- Leather Man: The Phantom of the Fair, a homosexual man in denial (though possibly suffering from either schizophrenia or a Split Personality) who captures, tortures, and kills other homosexuals and dumps their bodies in the World's Fair.
- Let's You and Him Fight (The Face's murders are an attempt to incite this among the Chinatown gangs.)
- Lolicon (Mr. Schenk from The Brute.)
- Mad Scientist (The Mist.)
- Master of Disguise (The Face.)
- Mistaken for Gay: Wesley in The Phantom Of The Fair.
- My Beloved Smother: The villain of The Crone was trying to frame his mother, a literary professor and avid hater of the radio by dressing up like an old woman and leaving behind books which he had taken from her personal library. He did so because she never supported his desire to become a radio star, however, he was also doing it in order to rise up in the show's cast and to win the affection of the female lead.
- Mythology Gag (During the Hourman arc, Wes attends a costume party in a riddiculous looking getup resembling a costume he wore for a while in the original comics.)
- Noble Bigot with a Badge (Detective Burke, most notably. Gets a taste of his own medicine in The Vamp when questioning suspects at an exclusive club who look down on his Sicilian heritage.)
- Only a Flesh Wound (Handled just a touch more realistically than most. Though Wesley is often visibly pained by the various injuries he suffers on the job, they ultimately don't impact his performance too much. The man somehow manages to get shot in the gut with a revolver, fend the attacker off with his gas gun, cauterize the wound with a red hot poker & he's up and about the next day with only some minor first aid.)
- Parental Incest (Drives the plot of the first story.)
- Politically-Correct History (Mainly averted. The series does a decent job of showing the casual racism of the times, though the protagonists' attitudes are still somewhat anachronistic. May be justifed by their characterization, though, as Wesley traveled a lot in his youth & got to know people from many different backgrounds, while Dian is noted to be a very progressive sport of person.)
- Politically-Incorrect Villain: Averted, or perhaps subverted. Ray Kessler is insane and kills people out of a seriously misplaced drive for euthanasia. He is also a terrible father and ends up raping his younger girlfriend, who he tends to treat like shit. He is also implied to go through a string of younger women. He is, however, always perfecting polite and kind to blacks and is good friends with a black doctor whom he sticks up for.
- Psycho Lesbian (The title character of The Vamp is a textbook example, but they at least try to balance it out with some more positive lesbian characters, namely Carol, who manages to be sympathetic despite being rather promiscuous & flighty, as well as her girlfriend, who, though something of a Love Martyr, is an even more realistic character (and thus not interesting enough to feature for very long...).)
- Of course being a lesbian has nothing to do with why she's insane.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: In The Goblin, Dian starts joining Humphrey's daughter Etta in doing some charity work at an orphanage. However, the two are sent to run an errand at another orphanage called Standard House, and it looks more like an asylum. The manager of the building, Mr. Ricketts, calls the two out on their "desire to help children" by showing them the children who get sent to Standard House: malformed, ill, developmentally disabled, or simply too old. Basically, children that aren't able to get adopted because they aren't attractive or "pretty" enough. Dian decides to devote more time at Standard House.
- Rogues Gallery (The Sandman has a few recurring nemeses, most notably The Face.)
- Shur Fine Guns (The rusty old pistol Rocket Ramsey uses to take revenge on the gangsters who ruined his life blows up in his hand after a few shots.)
- Start of Darkness: The ending of The Mist. This is a subversion though, as he never actually appears in the book after this arc.
- Stop Helping Me!: Hourman was originally hired by a woman to talk some sense into her husband, who was spending all his hanging out with low-level mafia goombas. Each one of Hourman's attempts at trying to talk some sense into the guy and providing a way out of the criminal life end disastrously (for his wife, at least, who is on the receiving end of her husband's anger) because the guy is too stupid and too proud to actually listen.
- Super Serum (Hourman's Miracle Pills.)
- The Brute (The title character of the third story arc.)
- The Mafia (Italian gangsters make a few appearances, though they're usually not the main focus. Many other organized crime outfits feature more prominently. For example, the gangsters in the Tarantula arc were Jewish.)
- The Summation (Wesley, Dian & sometimes her father & others usually sum up the plot at the end of each arc, in case you missed anything.)
- The Vamp (The title character of another story arc.)
- Third Person Person (Lenny from the Hourman crossover.)
- Truth Serum (One of the side effects of the gas.)
- Two-Person Love Triangle (Averted. Dian likes Wesley. The Sandman scares the hell out of her, at least at first.)
- Yellow Peril (Invoked, but mostly subverted in The Face.)