22 January 2011

Faster than a DC Bullet: Sandman Mystery Theatre, Part III: The Face and The Brute

Comic hardcover, 206 pages
Published 2004 (contents: 1993-94)

Borrowed from the library
Read January 2011
Sandman Mystery Theatre: The Face and The Brute

Writer: Matt Wagner
Artists: John Watkiss, R. G. Taylor
Colorist: David Hornung
Letterer: John Costanza

The second volume of Sandman Mystery Theatre is decidedly weaker than the first. The first story, "The Face," sees a series of brutal murders in Chinatown escalating tensions between rival gangs to the point of war as the Sandman tries to find the murderer before that happens. Unfortunately, though the story often criticizes many of its characters for racist thinking, the story still falls victim to many Orientalist tropes itself, especially in John Watkiss's artwork, where the Chinese characters are so slanty-eyed they don't have any pupils. "The Face" of the title (again, not the same Face as in the Golden Age Sandman stuff, though quite similar) barely has any interaction with the Sandman, and the resolution of the mystery is a bit underwhelming. As in the first volume, Dian Belmont was probably the best thing about this story, especially the part where she takes matters into her own hands and steals her father's gun.

The second story, "The Brute," is a bit better but still not as successful as The Tarantula. The Sandman himself feels lost here, doing little actual investigation until things suddenly fall into place for him at the end of the story. The focus on Dian's growing conscience works well, though, as does her growing relationship(s) with Wesley Dodds and the Sandman. A lot of the story is taken up by the travails of a boxer and his daughter that, though gripping, keep the focus solidly off the Sandman himself. And the "Brute" of the title is kind of random and pointless; I'm not sure why each Sandman Mystery Theatre story has to have a gimmicky villain when the series is otherwise uninteresting in the conventions of superhero comics. R. G. Taylor's art is too stiff, and his Wesley looks too middle-aged. Overall, The Face and The Brute fails to follow up the strong beginning of the series, though it's entertaining enough on its own merits, mostly for Dian Belmont's continued growth and presence.

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