|Comic trade paperback, 199 pages|
Published 2008 (contents: 1995-96)
Borrowed from the library
Read February 2011
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...