Well, as the Big Two’s big summer events roll on, my tendency to avoid such things means that I have had little to read recently. As such, I have decided to dip into some of the older comics that make up my ever-growing “to-read” pile.
I finally decided to start work on the 56 back issues of Sandman Mystery Theatre that I had not made time for earlier. This is one series I’d seriously recommend searching the back issue section of your local comic shop for, as I believe much of it has not been collected in trades.
With the success of Neil Gaiman’s unrelated Sandman series, DC gave writer, Matt Wagner, (later joined by co-writer Steven T. Seagle) the chance to work on a new series of the golden age Sandman, Wesley Dodds. Dodds, haunted by dreams of violence and crime (and also the occasional Morpheus cameo) operates as the costumed detective, Sandman, whose primary weapon is a sleeping gas of his own creation.
Set in New York during the late 1930s, with the spectre of WWII looming over the city, SMT is a fantastically pulpy crime series. The criminals and villains Dodds faces may have super villain code names but they are all exclusively monsters of the human variety. Being a vertigo comic, it can deal with darker subjects than the normal superhero comic books: disparity between the poor and wealthy, racism, and misogyny are recurring topics. It’s worth noting that racism is not only associated with the villains in this book – while in no way a hero, Lieutenant Burke, the most prominent member of the police (whose path regularly crosses that of the Sandman) is a horrible racist.
The sexism displayed by a large proportion of the male characters is countered with the character of Dian Belmont, one of the most interesting and well-developed female characters I have ever read in a comic. As the joint lead with Dodds, this is as much her story as his and, as her character develops, it is gratifying to find a superhero’s girlfriend who is not just eye-candy – she may not dress up in a costume but her resourcefulness and determination make her Dodds equal.
Lastly, I’d just like to point out that the majority of the book’s arcs, all of which are done as four issue-long stories, feature the fantastic artwork of Guy Davis. His unique style, one I have always loved, suits these dark, pulpy period stories so perfectly.