22 January 2011

Faster than a DC Bullet: Sandman Mystery Theatre, Part II: The Tarantula

Comic hardcover, 111 pages
Published 2004 (contents: 1993)

Borrowed from the library
Read January 2011
Sandman Mystery Theatre: The Tarantula

Writer: Matt Wagner
Artist: Guy Davis
Colorist: David Hornung
Letterer: John Costanza

After the success of Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, DC revisited the original Sandman with Sandman Mystery Theatre, a pulp-influenced reworking of Wesley Dodds. In these stories, Wesley is not a playboy, but a shy, retiring man plagued by terrible dreams to fill the gap in the cosmos caused by the capture of Dream. Instead of the array of shorts we got in the 1940s, Matt Wagner gives us a sprawling, complicated tale of the Sandman trying to track down a mysterious murderer known only as "the Tarantula." (There was a Tarantula in one of the original Golden Age Sandman stories, but he isn't related to this one as far as I can tell.)

Dodds, though, is largely an enigma in this story, driven by strange dreams and mostly seen from an outside perspective, even when a scene focuses on him. The viewpoint character of The Tarantula is very much Dian Belmont, no longer a safecracker, but still the daughter of the District Attorney. One of her friends is one of the victims of the Tarantula, and her efforts to assist in the case-- and her interactions with the mysterious Sandman, not to mention the charming Wesley Dodds-- begin to give some aim and purpose to her until-now aimless life.

The plot of The Tarantula is a labyrinthine mystery, mostly taking place at night in New York City. The mystery is well-done, cutting the difficult line between obvious and impossible just right. The primary things that makes this story work, though, is the atmosphere that it oozes-- these are the dark, decadent adventures the Sandman should have been having all along. The Sandman inhabits a world every bit as frightening as his visage, tormented by dreams that show him the worst things he can imagine.

I really like Guy Davis's art. It's a little cartoony, but it works. He has a nice command of human faces, especially, and his characters look like real people: you can see Wesley's slight slump, and Dian is attractive but not a supermodel, more cute (and plump) than a knockout. On the other hand, he handles the dark and the creepy just exactly right as well. Moody and mysterious, The Tarantula is everything the original Sandman should have been all along.

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