12 April 2011

Faster than a DC Bullet: Sandman Mystery Theatre, Part X: The Blackhawk and The Return of the Scarlet Ghost

Comic trade paperback, 221 pages
Published 2010 (contents: 1996-97)

Borrowed from the library
Read March 2011
Sandman Mystery Theatre: The Blackhawk and The Return of the Scarlet Ghost

Writers: Matt Wagner, Steven T. Seagle
Artists: Guy Davis, Matthew Smith, Richard Case, Daniel Torres
Colorists: David Hornung, Daniel Torres
Letterers: John Costanza, Gaspar Saladino

The first story contained here, "The Blackhawk," continues Sandman Mystery Theatre's recent trend of including characters from DC universe. Janos Prohaska, however, is no superhero and never is-- he's the future leader of Blackhawk Squadron, an international group of fighter pilots resisting the Nazis. In this story, Janos has come to America to seek funding for his resistance efforts, and Wesley Dodds finds himself drumming up said funding, while as the Sandman, he is investigating Janos for his involvement in (of course) a series of mysterious murders.

Plot-wise, it's definitely one of the better SMT stories, with a well-executed mystery. It also finally completely dispenses with the subplot about Dian not wanting Wesley to be the Sandman; in this story, she acts as "Sandy" for the first time, actively assisting the Sandman with one of his plots. Oh, and it's got a good Lieutenant Burke subplot. I'm gonna miss that guy; Wesley Dodds pops up in JSA stories, but I sure bet he doesn't. The art is even pretty all right; Matthew Smith is the least terrible fill-in artist the series has had, and when he's joined by Richard Case on inks, he gets even better. His Dian is kinda ugly, okay, but he nails Wesley in a way that most artists on this series do not.

The next story is all weird and metafictional. "The Return of the Scarlet Ghost" reveals that the Sandman's exploits have become so well known that he's become a character in pulp magazines-- the kind of magazines this comic book strives to emulate! It's a neat idea, though it's undercut by the fact that in no previous story has anyone ever said, "Hey, you're the guys from those stories!" while in this one it happens all the time. Of course, there's death threats and murders in the publishing biz, but that's all a side show to a story about adaptation and appropriation. Not only is the Sandman fodder for pulp fiction, but some of the publishers are starting to do comic books about him! There's even an interlude where Wesley and Dian read one of the comics-- a harsh-but-relatively-accurate parody of how the Sandman was written by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby-- and make fun of their fancifulness. (I think this must've been intended to take those adventures-- especially the Sandman's kid sidekick, Sandy the Golden Boy-- out of continuity, but later comics have used both the SMT characterization of Wesley and Dian and the existence of Sandy and the Simon/Kirby gold-and-purple costume. But having both SMT and the Simon/Kirby stories be "canon" is just awkward. Does this mean the comic artist just happens to accurately predict the existence of Sandy? Let's just ignore it.) The story even ends with them making a none-too-accurate film out of the whole thing. Minus the Sandman!

It's fun, and I also enjoyed the subplot about Dian trying to make it as a writer of pulp fiction. The mystery itself is so-so, but enough about the story is entertaining that that doesn't really bother me. I am really ticked off, though, that this is apparently the last reprint of Sandman Mystery Theatre that DC is doing; not only were there another eighteen issues after this, but this volume ends on a tremendous cliffhanger that I will apparently never read the resolution to!

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