12 April 2011

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

Comic hardcover, 300 pages
Published 2009 (contents: 1942-74)

Borrowed from the library
Read March 2011
The Sandman

Stories and Art: Joe Simon & Jack Kirby
Additional Inks: Mike Royer

In 1941, DC gave the Sandman a new costume and a new sidekick in an attempt to revive a fading character by making him more like a superhero-- they even ditched Wesley Dodds's girlfriend Dian. It probably would have failed, had not Joe Simon and Jack Kirby taken over the character in 1942, fresh off their success creating Captain America for Marvel. Every story the two of them collaborated on is here. They're goofy, sure, but they're also really quite good-- they've got art by Jack Kirby, you know! Kirby and Simon's layouts are dynamic, with stretching borders and crossing the gutter and just all-out dynamism. The Sandman no longer uses his gas gun or mask here (alas), but the name is kept appropriate with the use of dreams in the stories. Frequently, characters are motivated by their dreams (or even lack thereof), and all the villains in New York City dream of the Sandman. In fact, when Wesley Dodds is replaced by an impostor, Sandy figures it out because "Dodds" mentions dreaming of the Sandman!

Some are better than others, of course, and as you might imagine from a book featuring twenty-four different stories, it eventually gets repetitive. Some are just dumb, but there are a lot of neat ones, too. I also enjoyed the glimpses of World War II propaganda; the Sandman and Sandy exhort the reader to buy war bonds, but even better is the comic about Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito reading The Boy Commandos. They get flat-out terrible at the end, but I think those ones might not actually be by Simon and Kirby-- though I'm basing that on the most fleeting of evidence! It's just weird to think that these adventures happened to the same guy as Sandman Mystery Theatre. And it's even weirder to think that that version of Wesley Dodds hung out with an obnoxious snot like Sandy. (Okay, he's nowhere near as bad as Green Arrow's kid sidekick Speedy.)

Also included is the first issue of the 1974-76 series about the second Sandman, Garrett Sanford, which reunited Simon and Kirby for the last time ever. It's weird and doesn't quite hang together-- what is General Electric's plan, anyway?-- but the concepts and visuals are as captivating as always. You can see why Roy Thomas brought back this version (and even game him a name, which Simon and Kirby did not), and why Neil Gaiman nicked some of the concepts for his Sandman series.

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