I've always thought that The Sandman Mystery Theatre was one of the most underrated titles of the 1990's. To be sure, it was a niche title, but the fact that it ran for 70 issues is testament to the fact that it had a loyal audience. The book had a strong 30's crime noir look and feel to it both in the stories by Matt Wagner and the art by Guy Davis and Vince Locke. Both artists used a palette of washed out greens, browns, and grays and various half-tones. This re-imagining of the Sandman portrayed him as less superhero and more influenced by 30's pulp action heroes like The Shadow or the Spider, as he faced off against sinister and often bizarre villains.
The Wesley Dodds of this series was far from an archetype hero...the artists depicted him as a sort of frumpy, bespectacled man, who looked more like an accountant that an avenging crusader of the night. Dodds was almost like a junior Bruce Wayne, complete with a secret lab/hideout and a doting butler. What set The Sandman Mystery Theatre apart from other titles, and I resist calling this a super hero title, is that Dodds appears far more than the Sandman, and the emphasis is on the man more than the alter ego. Center in the series is his relationship with girlfriend Dian Belmont, daughter of the District Attorney. Belmont will discover Wesley's secret during the first story in this trade paperback and almost leave him. But she's also intrigued and will end up essentially as Wes' partner and assisting him.
For those wondering about continuity, the tales throughout the run of the title take place very early in his career. In fact, it is in this book, which collects issues #21 - 28, where the Sandman is first given his name by the local newspapers. There are two story arcs in this trade, "Dr. Death" and "Night of the Butcher" and if those are titles straight out the Shadow Magazine then I don't know what is!
"Dr. Death" features art by one of my personal favorites Vince Locke. Vince and I grew up in the same suburb west of Detroit and he was the first comic talent that I ever interviewed some twenty years ago when he was doing "Deadworld" for Arrow Comics. Few artists handle morbid subjects as well as Locke does and he and Wagner make a great team on "Dr. Death." A wannabe Doctor, who is dating Dian's best friend, is giving out sinister prescriptions to his patients, predicting their impending doom. The Doctor is targeting those he deems unworthy of life by society's standards; a washed up prize-fighter, a once renowned pianist, an aged dancehall girl. All die agonizing deaths and the Sandman has to figure out just who the killer is and how he's managing to kill them.
Regular series artist, Guy Davis, is back for "Night of the Butcher" a horrific tale about a string of serial killings where the victims are brutally hacked to death. Even more gruesome is that the victims are missing several body parts. The police make a grisly discovery in a sewer pipe of a lower half of a man's torso. The Sandman butts head with a hardnosed police lieutenant who considers the vigilante more of a threat than the killer. Things are about go get a whole lot more nauseating for both men once they follow the killer's trail deep into long forgotten parts of the city's sewer system.
Both of these stories display the Sandman's resourcefulness as well as his vulnerability, he even gets his butt kicked but good by the tough cop, escaping only when a records clerk his the Lieutenant with a broom handle.
Sandman Mystery Theatre is some of Wagner's finest work. Note that as the book is part of the Vertigo line, it is intended for mature readers due to language, violence, nudity, and gore. Great title!
REVIEWED BY TIM JANSON
on April 30, 2007
This particular volume is a bit more voluminous than earlier installments and once read in full the choice to combine these two stories into one volume is fully justified.
There are certainly 2 entertaining pulp/horror tales taking place, but the focus shifts more fully to Wesley and Dian's growing relationship. The secret of Dodds' alter ego threatens to split the two lovers and this is the true reason to purchase this volume. Wesley is confronted by the lifestyle he has chosen to lead and is forced to deal with the consequences of his heroism and secret life.
Dian comes out the better of the two as far as reader sympathy, but even she is not completely safe from some much needed soul searching. She struggles with the last vestiges of her lazy, naive, rich girl persona; baggage she hautily thought herself rid of after a few real world experiences.
If you are already invested in the series this is a must read as it delivers a true pay out for the characters and the reader.
If you haven't read the series up till now then after a brief 5 minute spoiler session with a fan you will be primed to jump in at this point.
on May 15, 2007
I have loved everything in the series that I have read. This trade, however, contains two of the weakest arcs. It is still very much worth reading but I'd recommend waiting for the next volume first.
This series does perfectly capture the period noir tone and it does not hold back on the racism and sexism that were pretty common discourse at the time. It is quite refreshing to see this shown frankly since it is something that nostalgia often covers up.