Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Dark Dreams of the Sandman

I've been spending some time reading a series of graphic novels that collectively are called Sandman Mystery Theatre. This is a darker, detective noir version of the original DC Comics Sandman who is generally associated with the Justice Society of America. The original "theatre" series ran for 70 issues between 1993 and 1999 and targets an adult audience (due to themes such as extreme violence and sexual sequences among others). I wasn't aware of the series during the original run but am consumed with it now.

First off, I'm kind of a sucker both for the genre and for the period (1930s). OK, America just coming out of the depression and about to go into World War II was no bed of roses, but there is a certain romance, at least in the fictionalized version of the period, that is very attractive. If you don't believe me, go watch Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) again.

Wesley Dodds (the Sandman's alter ego) has been reshaped into a more reclusive, slightly portly image of the original hero. While he still wears a World War I vintage gas mask, he traded in his costume for a trench coat and more resembles the H.G. Wells version of The Invisible Man (film 1933). While Dodds is friendly, if a bit odd, the Sandman is down right mysterious and a little scary.

His relationship with Dian Belmont, daughter of the New York City District Attorney is (according to Wikipedia, anyway) reminiscent of the relationship between Nick and Nora Charles in The Thin Man films. Actually, I don't find their relationship to have the same sort of bantering humor as Nick and Nora have in the Thin Man movie series. For one thing, Wesley is always plagued by the dreams that drive him to wear the mask and pursue some of the most gruesome murders in the annals of fiction. Also, Dian is at once a flighty socialite and a pissy wench, the latter due to her not quite understanding why Wesley has to be the Sandman.

Reading Sandman Mystery Theatre is definitely a way to pursue your darker side and on that level, I'm thoroughly enjoying this series. Of course, if you tend to be the brooding type anyway, you might find yourself feeling a little too dark. The separation between 1939 and now helps to keep the reader from becoming completely sucked in, but topics such as cannibalism, rape, racism, Nazis and lots and lots of murder can prey on the mind.

On the one hand, I could see this being done as a great mystery/noir/period movie, but on the other hand, done badly, it would end up as just another flop in the vein of The Shadow (1994) and The Phantom (1996).

A more conventional and modernized version of the Sandman was briefly seen in the Smallville Season 9 episode Absolute Justice but it only offered the audience a brief taste of the character (although Hawkman and Dr. Fate were well portrayed). I thought that Absolute Justice was one of the finest Smallville episodes ever aired which, to my way of thinking, indicates that the Sandman and his JSA companions could have a future on television. I'd like the Sandman Mystery Theatre rendition to end up in a TV show or film, but I may have to settle (maybe) for a JSA TV show instead.

In the meantime, I've got a few more "novels" to read in the series and perhaps some evening after putting down the book and turning out the light, I'll have my own "dark dreams".

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