Saturday, January 11, 2014

Sandman Mystery Theatre #2 (May 1993)

Sandman Mystery Theatre #2: "The Tarantula" Act Two
Written by Matt Wagner
Art by Guy Davis
Colors by David Hornung
Letters by John Costanza
Edited by Shelly Roeberg and Karen Berger
Cover by Gavin Wilson

Curtain up.

In police headquarters, District Attorney Lawrence Belmont is meeting with Commissioner Davis and two of the senior detectives, Captain Ross O'Donald and Lieutenant Burke.  The subject of their meeting: the newly discovered body of a badly mutilated woman, kidnapped by a murderer calling himself the Tarantula.

In the women's bathroom next door, the DA's daughter, Dian Belmont, happens upon the mysterious Sandman spying on the cops' meeting.

Click to enlarge.
Dian stumbles out of the ladies' room and goes to her father, who is briefing some uniformed cops and Judge Schaffer.  When Dian hears that a woman's body has been found--possibly her friend Catherine--she swoons in the hallway.

She wakes up in an office with her father and the judge hovering over her.

When we first met Dian last issue, she was carefree and little rudderless.  In a short time, however, the tragedy of her friend's kidnapping has brought a change in her.  She pressures her father into letting her identify the woman in the morgue, and after failing to spot distinguishing birthmarks on the body, she realizes that it's not her friend's body.

Then where is Catherine Van Der Meer?  Well, she's alive, but not in great shape.  She's chained up in some dark basement cell, being tortured by a man in what looks like a black Ku Klux Klan robe and hood.

The Tarantula is torturing Catherine for information about a man in her life.  Is this the boyfriend she told Dian about shortly before her kidnapping?  It's a little vague, but the Tarantula believes someone told Catherine something he wants to know, and he doesn't believe her pleas of ignorance.

What's this?  The Tarantula has accomplices--at least two; what appears to be a woman in a patterned shawl and someone else making a drink.  The setting looks lavish and fancy.  Is Catherine being held in the basement of a mansion?  And why would these people allow these savage beatings and murder to happen in their household?

We jump back to police headquarters where Judge Schaffer has been tasked with taking Dian home.  Outside, they bump into the judge's young friend, Wesley Dodds, who offers them each a ride in his car.  Dodds drops Schaffer off first.  When he's alone in the car with Dian, he acts emotionally distraught over the kidnapping and murder.  He apologizes for acting so vulnerable--not manly--in front of her.

The next day, at the Goldberg estate, the socialite daughter Celia gently kicks one of her boy toy's out of the house.  Her father, one of the richest men in the state, chastises her for bringing her playthings to the house, but she challenges him on his meeting with gangsters a few nights earlier.

The hint of incest isn't all that's messed up with this family.  At dinner, Goldberg reprimands his son, Roger, newly moved back to the house, for his lack of drive, while the mother lies passed out at the table, a drink in her hand.

Yeah, this family has issues.

Dian receives a letter penned by Wesley Dodds full of apologies and encouragements.  She seems quite taken with him, and maybe he is with her, as well.

In the city, Lt. Burke goes to question the cab driver who dropped off Catherine just before she was grabbed.  But Burke isn't the first person on the scene.

After knocking Burke unconscious, the Sandman switches gas cartridges and sprays the cab driver with what acts like a tranquilizer and truth serum.  By the time Burke comes to, the Sandman has asked his questions and disappeared.

The next day, Dian meets Wesley for a meal or coffee where he shares some insight into his love of writing and why he came back to New York.

That night, the Tarantula strikes again, grabbing another woman.  And Wesley's dreams continue to haunt him with nightmarish symbolic images.

Catherine wakes up and her kidnapper promises to torture and kill her new cellmate unless she tells him what he wants to know.

This issue keeps up the phenomenal character work established in the first issue.  We learn more about our protagonist.  Wesley is a literary man who might have become a writer if his father hadn't died and his dreams hadn't turned to pictographs of ever-increasing depravity as society grows darker and more violent in the years leading up to war.

Wagner also gives us one of the greatest character descriptions for Dian when Wesley describes her as "a high-powered motor in neutral".  That tells you everything you know about her.  She's brilliant, she's resourceful, she's brave and she's bold; all she has needed is an inciting incident to unleash her potential.  And the Tarantula--or rather, the Sandman--is exactly what she needed.

The tension of the mystery may be lessened a bit by the revelations in this issue.  Seeing Catherine's captivity illustrates her pain, but also tells us that her kidnapper has an agenda beyond pure psychotic infliction of pain on women.  There's more calculation to her torture, and that could be seen as more or less terrifying depending on your perspective.

The Goldberg's, so far, have served no purpose in the plot of this story, so obviously they're involved in the Tarantula.  But who is the man under the hood?  Is it Roger, the disturbed son who needed to move back in with the family for some reason?  Or the father, who's involved with gangsters and may have an illicit relationship with his own daughter?  What if it is Celia under the hood?  And what of the constantly inebriated mother?  We saw two possible accomplices discussing the Tarantula's treatment of Catherine, so perhaps the more relevant question is: which one of the Goldberg's is not involved?

Come back next Saturday for Act Three of "The Tarantula"...


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