Theatre Hopping

2008-07-19
4:17:52 am

Hey Gang, sorry about not posting recently. I’ve been falling asleep pretty early (cause I’m getting old) which cuts my viewing and reading time sufficiently. But, I have been reading a few things here and there. I’ve had a copy of Sandman Mystery Theatre Vol. 3 in my “to read” pile for a while now. I was hoping I’d get Vol. 2 (I’d already read 1 and 4) so things would make a little more sense, but I decided “what the heck” and jumped in anyway. I had actually forgotten I had 4 on my shelf, so it was fun to go back and re-read that after 3.

Okay, so here’s the deal with Sandman for anyone who doesn’t know. In the way-late ’30s Wesley Dodds comes back from a trip to “the Orient,” he’s having these crazy, prophetic dreams and decides to become a Mystery Man called The Sandman. Armed with a gas gun and a gas mask, he helps solve crimes in a pre-WWII New York City. The book was co-written by Matt Wagner and Steven T. Seagle and drawn by Guy Davis and launched from the Vertigo imprint in 1993.

Volume 3 is entitled “The Vamp.” Basically, the members of a gentlemen’s social club are getting aced and it all comes back to a pretty nasty fraternity “prank” they played back in the day. Interestingly enough, the mystery isn’t what really draws me into this Sandman story. I had a pretty good idea of who the killer was part way through the book and that was fine because I was really swept up in the world of the late-’30s NYC. Like I mentioned in the Batman: Thrillkillers review, I’m a sucker for certain time periods and this is definitely one of them. There’s this really interesting mix of British upperclassness, but with a very American twist to it. Plus you’ve got the building tension about what will be called World War II and on top of all that you’ve got the dawning of the Mystery Men in the DCU. This was back when Vertigo books could still have ties to the DCU. Wagner and Seagle also tackle some bigger issues like racism and homosexuality in ways that seem familiar even today.

The great thing about this volume is that it’s told completely from the perspective of Dian Belmont, Wesley Dodds’ girlfriend (and future wife). She’s a real smart cookie who fancies herself an amateur detective (here dad’s the DA). The story really follows her more than anyone else and we get to see why she’s one of the coolest unsung characters in comics as she navigates the worlds of jazz clubs and high society functions all the while trying to figure out how her friend from college is related to the killers.

“The Scorpion” follows a killer who uses a whip as he goes after the members of a particular oil company. Again, the killer’s identity is pretty obvious right off the bat. If you’re paying attention, you’ll be able to figure out who it is pretty quickly. But that’s kind of how some TV procedurals work too right? You get a pretty good idea of who did what, but it’s the process of watching Wesley figure out for himself while trying to keep Dian in the dark about his dual identity and really get a hang of this whole superhero game. What’s more interesting here is the why.

I’ve talked to some of my friends about this book and while some have read it, others couldn’t get into it because of the art. Davis’ art does come off as sketchy at times, but I highly encourage you guys to give it a shot. Once you get used to it, it’s like you don’t even notice anymore (like watching a movie in black and white nowadays). Davis does an amazing job of putting you in this, most likely, unfamiliar world and grounding you and the characters in it. And then he’ll throw some pretty wild dream sequences at you that look completely different, but really capture that dream quality that’s so hard to put on the page.

So, if you’re solely looking for a mystery book, I don’t think this would be the best pick. But if you’re looking for a great look at a group of highly complex and interesting characters in the unique setting of the 1930s DCU, I can’t make a higher recommendation. Let’s just hope DC keeps putting out the volumes. They’re up to 6 now, which I have, but I still need to get my hands on 2 and 5.

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