Saturday, January 18, 2014

Sandman Mystery Theatre #3 (June 1993)

Sandman Mystery Theatre #3: "The Tarantula" Act Three
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.

Late at night, Lieutenant Burke comes to investigate an Evergood Milk Company warehouse, but he's not the only one.  The locks chaining the doors shut have been picked, and when Burke gets to the office, he finds the Sandman going through the safe.

Wesley Dodds returns home at three in the morning, but his butler, Humphries, tells him he has a visitor--Dian Belmont!  Hmm, what could she want at 3:00 AM?

Dian confesses to becoming obsessed with the Tarantula case.  She feels guilty that her dreams are uninterrupted while her friend, Catherine Van Der Meer, must be enduring agonizing torture at the hands of her kidnapper.  She wants desperately to get involved in the case and help out, and she tells Wesley she just needed to say it out loud to someone.

So she didn't come over for sex.  Disappointing.  We do see a bit of her observational skills, though, as she mocks Wesley for being too tired to take his hat off while they're talking.  Once she leaves, however, we see that Wesley kept the hat on because his head was bleeding after his struggle with Burke at the warehouse.

Elsewhere, the third victim of the Tarantula has been beaten to death and lies rotting at Catherine's feet.  Upstairs, her kidnappers bicker and argue like, well, like family members.

Hmm... One of them refers to Catherine as a "shiksa".  That's a yiddish word, ain't it?

Meanwhile, Albert Goldman is in his den closing a business deal that will put ownership of something in his daughter Celia's name.  After that, he calls his driver and asks him to pick up his girlfriend, Miss Van Der Meer, and then remembers she was kidnapped, duh-doy!  So he tells the driver to pick up another girl.  Any girl.  He stokes the fire with an iron, an iron that looks remarkably similar to the weapon the Tarantula beat Catherine and her fellow victims with.

The next day, Dian Belmont visits her father, District Attorney Larry Belmont, at his office and asks for a job working close to the case.  He dismisses her and shoos her out of the office.  On her way home, she passes a saloon called Sammy's Bar.

Inside Sammy's we find Lieutenant Burke and Captain Ross McDonald drinking and talking about the case.  Burke is pretty sour about being sprayed by knockout gas twice.  He tells Ross that the paper trail from the Evergood warehouse leads to a lawyer named Fenton Devere.

The Sandman followed the same trail.  In Devere's penthouse, the guard dog attacks.

The Sandman threatens to kill the dog with poison gas if Devere doesn't answer his questions.  Devere gives some information on the owner of Evergood, but when he starts lying, Sandman gasses him (with knockout gas, not poison).  Shortly thereafter, Lt. Burke arrives.

Wesley Dodds goes to visit his friend Judge Schaffer to ask circuitously how one would obtain a company's bankruptcy records.  The judge tells him to visit the bankruptcy court.  At the same time, Dian Belmont confronts her father about wanting to help him catch the Tarantula, but he dismisses her again and tells her to stay in the house.

While Dian was sneaking through her father's records, the Sandman broke into the records room of the bankruptcy court.  After that, Wesley returns home.

Wesley and Dian share notes about Albert Goldman, how he made his money bootlegging and whether or not he could still be involved in crime.  Dian reveals that on the day Catherine was kidnapped, she mentioned being involved with a gangster.

At the Goldman Estate, Albert Goldman goes to his daughter's bedroom to tell her he has set up a trust in her name at the First Bank of Hollywood.  She'll get boatloads of money if and when he dies. The news is so pleasing to her that she begins to kiss him.  We get confirmation that they have been carrying on an incestuous affair.

But as Celia seduces her father, their tryst is observed through a keyhole by her brother, Roger.

At the police station, Lt. Burke interrogates Fenton Devere.  When the lawyer won't give the desired answers, Burke beats him.  Eventually Devere reveals that Albert Goldman was the owner of Evergood Milk, and used the company as a front for his booze smuggling during Prohibition.

That night, Wesley dreams of greed and lust, of corruption of the soul.

He wakes to find that he has a visitor.  This time, it's not Dian but Judge Schaffer, who tells him the Tarantula has struck again.  This time, the kidnapping victim is Celia Goldman.

The story is ramping up as we near its climactic finale.  Matt Wagner continues to add layers not only to the mystery, but to the characters.  We learn a few more hints about Wesley's complicated history with his father.  We get a sense of what kind of man and investigator Lt. Burke is--the kind willing to use violence to get his way.  However, of all the characters, Dian Belmont continues to be the most fun to watch.  Her journey from fun-loving party girl lacking ambition to driven detective raging against stereotypes makes her the breakout character of the arc.  It's also great to see how her relationship with Wesley develops slowly.

Guy Davis "beautifully ugly" style looks better than ever in this issue.  The dog that attacks the Sandman out of the dark is monstrously savage.  The grotesqueness of the Tarantula's violence is brutal, while the smoldering passion of Celia's illicit coupling with her father plays out in Sandman's stormy vision.

If I haven't mentioned it previously, David Hornung's colors are amazing.  In the first scene, the Sandman wears a violet trench coat over an olive suit, a lovely play on the color scheme of the Golden Age, when Sandman wore a purple opera cape over a green suit.

Come back next Saturday for the Final Act of "The Tarantula"...



  1. I can remember reading this story and feeling like I needed to take a shower after every issue. It really is a disturbing brew.

    And I think it was pretty gutsy of Wagner to put this story as the opening arc. Sure this was a Vertigo book. But this is dark stuff indeed.

    Love the art. Love the story. And really came to love Dian in this book. She really co-stars in the book even though Wes gets the title.

    And lastly, 4 issue story arcs are great. No padding here!

  2. Sorry I went a week without responding, Anj. For some reason, every time I try to reply using my iPhone, it doesn't post.

    I completely agree that Wagner nailed the four part story arc with this series. They never felt decompressed or padded, as you say. There was always plenty of meat and development. It's one of several reasons I think Matt Wagner is one of the most underrated storytellers in comics.

    I wonder if he and Vertigo felt more liberated to tell as dark and ugly story as they could because they didn't know how the series would sell. If the numbers weren't there to merit a second arc, they didn't want to leave anything on the shelf.