Saturday, February 8, 2014

Sandman Mystery Theatre #6 (Sep 1993)

Sandman Mystery Theatre #6: "The Face" Act Two
Written by Matt Wagner
Art by John Watkiss
Colors by David Hornung
Letters by John Costanza
Edited by Shelly Roeberg and Karen Berger
Cover by Gavin Wilson

Curtain up.

The Sandman skulks around a large house in Chinatown when someone creeps up on him with an axe.  It looks like the same man who killed the standup comedian Ling Hoon, who may in fact be a mercenary capable of changing his facial appearance.  A killer known as "The Face".

Anyway, the Face swings his powerful axe right into the Sandman's back, bringing the vigilante down to his knees.  But luckily, Wesley Dodds wore a plate of metal under his trench coat which functioned as a shield and saved his spine.  He throws the metal at the axeman, creating enough of a distraction to get his gas gun out.

The Sandman grabs his jacket and slips out of the house through the window he came in.  He jumps in his car and drives off.

Meanwhile, in the same house he was sneaking around in, the heads of the Lei Feng have met to discuss their declaration of war against the Huo Yibai for killing two of their people.  The Lei Feng want blood, demanding counterattacks to salvage their pride and honor and maintain the appearance of strength and order.

The only dissenting opinion is Zhang Chai Lao, the lawyer better known as Jimmy Shan to people outside Chinatown.  He cautions the Lei Feng not to strike at the Huo Yibai, that the attacks might be the work of a third force trying to reignite old Tong rivalries and plunge them into war.

Any words of caution that might have gotten through to the group are muted, however, when one of the lord's servants--the axeman who might be the Face--informs them that an intruder was discovered trying to spy on their meeting.  The Lei Feng assume the spy was of the Huo Yibai and their bloodlust returns.

After being blown off by Jimmy Shan and then Wesley Dodds, Dian Belmont finally finds a friend to spend the evening with.  She and a girlfriend go to the Palais Royale club, where they watch a group of teenagers dancing to the Jitterbug.  In her narration, Dian comments about witnessing this kind of music and dancing in Harlem and it seeming so free and natural, but in this part of town with these kids, it seems "desperate."  Is this Matt Wagner commenting on how mainstream (white) culture tries to emulate and/ore steal the styles of black culture?

Dian confides that she is still attracted to Jimmy, but is it something specific about him that appeals to her?  Something he represents or something he gives her?

Across town, Wesley Dodds gets home, strips off his Sandman garb and examines the metal body armor that saved his life.

The next day, the Mayor calls Chief Ross O'Donald and DA Larry Belmont into his office.  He's worried that the murders in Chinatown will erupt into full-scale war amongst the Tongs and wants some unruly Chinese arrested as a show of law and order.  Belmont's prejudices against the Asian community make themselves well known, the but Mayor quashes his attitude in the office.  (Say, the Mayor looks a little bit like the rich guy who met the Face in a limousine back in issue #5.  He's even smoking a cigar, too...)

Later, Dian makes a date with Jimmy, which just pisses her father off all the more.  He warns Dian that Jimmy might be involved in some of the beheading crimes, then leaves in a huff, knowing that if Jimmy is dangerous, that would probably just excite Dian.  Despite her anger with her father, the idea is not so ridiculous to Dian.  She thinks she saw the head of Ling Hoon delivered in a package to Jimmy's door.  She's making plans with him because she wants to know how deeply involved in these bloody events.

During her dinner with Jimmy, she is prevented from directly confronting him about his involvement, first by Herman Ross, the philanthropist, and then by Wesley Dodds, who makes up some excuse to be there even though he's clearly spying on Jimmy or Dian.

Outside the Cotton Club, a young paperboy is accosted by a homeless dreg wanting a paper.  A bouncer outside the club makes the paperboy give the homeless what he wants and then kicks him back into an alley.  As the seemingly drunken homeless man shuffles off, he opens the paper to a page with a personal message for The Face demanding another kill.

Donning another appearance, the Face returns to the prostitute he brutalized last issue.  She tells him she won't service him, but that's not what he has in mind.

Jimmy brings Dian home, but their goodnight kiss is interrupted by DA Belmont.

Belmont is rushing out of the house because the Tong have killed a prostitute, he says.  He asks Dian to call off her date and go back inside.  Jimmy says goodnight and walks back to his car.

But inside, he is greeted by the Sandman who calls him Zhang Chai Lao.

The Sandman gasses Jimmy and leaves him unconscious in the car.

This chapter ends with the Face returning to his apartment.  We see that he has a whole array of false teeth, false noses, false mustaches, beards, wigs, eyebrows, as well as scalpels and other tools.  He begins to shed his current disguise, which distorts his speech as he has no real teeth.  His actual face is obscured by shadow, but it must look dreadful.

Of the six issues of Sandman Mystery Theatre up to this point, this issue might be the weakest.  It's not a bad issue by any means, but it's the first chapter that doesn't really advance the story.  We know that someone is paying the Face to incite a war between two Chinese factions, but we don't have any better clue as to who is paying the Face or who he is.

Seeing Wesley meditating after his fight with the Face was a nice touch.  It cements his time spent in Easter Asia and serves as a simple pain-management technique for a vigilante in a physical job.  On the other hand, this story arc is getting rough for Larry Belmont.  His concern for his daughter is kind of negated by his racism which makes it impossible to find sympathy for him.

Methinks Dian Belmont is an adrenaline junkie.  After coming so close to danger in "The Tarantula" story arc, she is actively seeking it out, using her previous fling with Jimmy as an excuse to get inside a Chinese gang war.

This was a solid issue, and I actually liked John Watkiss' art better this time than last issue, but the characters and story seem to be treading water.  Maybe it's because Wagner put so much information into last issue, that now we must let the story simmer before it really starts to boil.

Come back next week for Act Three of "The Face"...


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