08 March 2011

Faster than a DC Bullet: Sandman Mystery Theatre, Part IX: The Mist and The Phantom of the Fair

Comic trade paperback, 200 pages
Published 2009 (contents: 1996)

Borrowed from the library
Read March 2011
Sandman Mystery Theatre: The Mist and The Phantom of the Fair

Writers: Matt Wagner, Steven T. Seagle
Artist: Guy Davis
Colorist: David Hornung
Letterer: John Costanza

The other DC characters come thick and fast in this volume, which features Ted Knight (the future Starman), the Mist (a future Starman villain), Jim Corrigan (the future Spectre), and the Crimson Avenger, not to mention a passing reference to the Flash himself. I don't know if Sandman Mystery Theatre was in trouble or what, but it's a little jarring in what had been a fairly self-contained series. Wagner and Seagle work most of them in just fine, though; Knight, the Mist, and Corrigan don't have their powers yet, while the Crimson Avenger doesn't have any at all. (Oddly, he's the most disconcerting-- with his flamboyant posturing and public presence, he's a very different kind of superhero to the Sandman.)

Both stores in this volume are good but disjointed. "The Mist" suffers from the same problem as "The Hourman," in that the tale of the other characters is often more interesting than Wesley's; I loved the rise and fall of the villainous scientist known as the Mist. Meanwhile, Wesley is rebuilding his relationship with Dian and investigating a series of mysterious crimes, but he only finds the Mist by accident. Plus there's just too many shady characters to keep track of. It's not a satisfying mystery, but I still enjoyed reading it.

"The Phantom of the Fair" takes the Sandman back to where he began in the Golden Age-- the New York World's Fair-- and it's a neat story, especially in how it shows Wesley confronting his own homophobia. The explanation for it is a bit too pat, though: he saw a friend of his forced to give a man oral sex when they were children. The roots of such prejudice are much less easily traced and destroyed than that. I did like all the ruminations on utopia in this story. This story isn't really a mystery as such, though; Lieutenant Burke does more work on the case than Wesley again. (Though it's one of the most enjoyable Burke stories in Sandman Mystery Theatre so far. I love it when Burke is allowed to be an all-out asshole.) So again, The Mist and The Phantom of the Fair is a mixed bag; Wagner and Seagle seem to have a difficult job balancing the personal plots and the mystery plots without compromising the latter.

Faster than a DC Bullet: Sandman Mystery Theatre, Part VIII: Sandman Midnight Theatre

Perfect-bound comic, n.pag.
Published 1995

Borrowed from the library
Read February 2011
Sandman Midnight Theatre

Written by Neil Gaiman
Plotted by Matt Wagner
Story by Wagner and Gaiman
Painted by Teddy Kristiansen
Lettered by Todd Klein

There was a time when Neil Gaiman's The Sandman and Wagner and Seagle's Sandman Mystery Theatre were running alongside one another, so it must have seemed logical to cross the two series over. But despite an appearance by Dream (one of many mainstream DCU appearances in SMT of late), this is definitely a Sandman Mystery Theatre tale, albeit one filtered through a Neil Gaiman style. With Dian gone to England to find herself, Wesley eventually pursues a mystery there, and the two have a number of confrontations while solving a mystery and then reconciling. The mystery is a bit thin, and the reconciliation comes out of nowhere, but I enjoyed the story all the same. It just oozed atmosphere, partially because of Gaiman's dreamlike writing, but mostly because of Teddy Kristiansen's amazing artwork. He's the first artist who's not Guy Davis to do successful work on Sandman Mystery Theatre, and I really liked the story as a result. He is the only other person to get Wesley's dashing-but-awkward, young-but-pudgy appearance just right, and the way he does Wesley's glasses was especially great. Sometimes Wesley was as impenetrable as his disguise.

What really bothered me, though, was the Wesley referred to "the Sandman" as a different person throughout the story. Which is a neat idea, but Dian claims it's something he always does-- when he's never done it in Sandman Mystery Theatre ever! Nor does he do it again, to my knowledge. A weird little inconsistency.

Faster than a DC Bullet: Sandman Mystery Theatre, Part VII: The Hourman and The Python

Comic trade paperback, 199 pages
Published 2008 (contents: 1995-96)

Borrowed from the library
Read February 2011
Sandman Mystery Theatre: The Hourman and The Python

Writers: Matt Wagner, Steven T. Seagle
Artists: Guy Davis, Warren Pleece
Colorist: David Hornung
Letterer: John Costanza

This is the first volume of Sandman Mystery Theatre to draw connections with the wider DC universe-- in this case, the appearance of Rex Tyler, here called the "Man of the Hour," but eventually to become the superhero "Hourman." The Hourman is an oddly imbalanced story; half of it is about Wesley and Dian's evolving relationship, as usual, and half of it is about the Hourman's attempts to begin a crime-fighting career. They cross over in that Wesley discovers the Hourman in the course of his own activities as the Sandman, and the Hourman's investigations lead him to the same crime the Sandman is hearing about in his dreams. The relationship stuff is good, especially now that Dian is actively helping Wesley's crime-fighting, but it's overshadowed by the stuff with Hourman; I love a good origin story, and this is an excellent one. It doesn't help that the mystery here is perfunctory; Wesley spends more time investigating Rex Tyler than he does the crime, and the crime itself is stealing jewelry from an immoral and obnoxious rich person. It's hard to get worried about this. Far more interesting is Rex's fumbling attempts to help a family in trouble with local gangs.

The second story here, "The Python," is the first SMT story that completely did not work for me. To start with, it suffers from the same problem as every story with a fill-in artist: Warren Pleece is not Guy Davis. His art is simpler than Guy Davis's and more cartoony, which isn't really appropriate for the gritty atmosphere of SMT, but it's also just less accomplished. There's a lot of ugly or distorted faces, and not always in spots where they're wanted, I think. But also, the mystery this one just doesn't work-- earlier SMT stories suffered from a superfluity of suspects; this one has almost none, and then the murderer is someone completely different, with no previously indicated means, motive, or opportunity. (But still a contrived link to Dian.) It's lame, and the Sandman scarcely contributes until the obligatory fight scene at the end; everyone's favorite asshole cop Lieutenant Burke does most of the work again. Which is cool, I like Burke, but this isn't Lieutenant Burke Mystery Theatre. The other thing that doesn't work about "The Python" is that while Dr. Death and The Night of the Butcher showed Dian's initial horror at Wesley's secret life and then acceptance, and "The Hourman" showed her actually helping him, she all of a sudden backslides here for no readily apparent reason. Call my cynical, but I think Wesley and Dian's split is solely to set up the crossover in the next installment...