Saturday, March 29, 2014

Sandman Mystery Theatre #13 (April 1994)

Sandman Mystery Theatre #13: "The Vamp" Act One
Written by Matt Wagner & Steven T. Seagle
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.

The fourth story arc of Sandman Mystery Theatre, entitled "The Vamp" welcomes Guy Davis back to the book on art duty and brings Steven T. Seagle aboard as Matt Wagner's cowriter.

The story opens with a sex scene.  Or, the moments just before a sex scene, anyway.  A couple enters a bedroom, kissing and fondling each other.  The blonde woman is more than forward but aggressive.  After biting the man's lip, she demands he take his clothes off and invites him to touch her.

She also insists on being on top, but when she gets there, things take a turn for the young man...

The men dressed in black tie him down and gag him.  They tie off his arm, stick a needle in his arm, and begin draining his blood into glass jars.  But that's only the start of the horror for the young man. Before he loses consciousness from blood loss, the blonde pulls out a needle and thread.  What is she sewing?  We'll have to wait a couple pages to find out.

Across town in Harlem, Dian Belmont goes to a swinging jazz club called Voodoo to meet some of her girlfriends from college.  Dian narrates this story, something she did during the second arc, and begins by insinuating there are parts of her life--certain decisions and choices--that she keeps from her father, the district attorney, in order to protect him.  The girls ask about Dian's Chinese-American boyfriend, Jimmy Shan, and she tells them they broke up a while ago.  She tells them she has a new man in her life, but won't tell them anymore, like his name for example.

Dian's friend, Betsy invites the ladies out behind the club to try something "a little daring".

After the ladies have smoked up and gotten high, they return to the club.  Betsy dances the jitterbug, Trudy passes out at the table, and Dian and Carol laugh about ridiculous things and one of Carol's racist comments.

Naturally, after they do drugs, they kiss.  Carol leaves like it's no big deal, but Dian stays there to sober up a little before going home.

When she does get home, her father is on the way out, having been called out to deal with the crime we saw in the issue's opening scene.  He tells her the victim was named Trevor Barnes and he might have been a college classmate of Dian's.  She definitely recognizes the name.

At the police station, Ross and Lieutenant Burke brief the D.A. on the victim, who was drained of 90% of his blood and had his lips, nostrils and urethra sewn shut.  (Yikes... That hurts just thinking about it!)  Also in the office is a janitor... or maybe not!

Dian wakes up late the next day.  On her way out of the house, she meets Wesley Dodds who came to take her to lunch.  They walk the street for a while and she tells him about smoking marijuana the night before.  Wes admits to having tried it in the past.  Despite his insistence that he doesn't like to alter his mental state with drugs or alcohol, he says he has tried it; he just didn't like it.

Running late, Dian takes a raincheck on their lunch date so she can go see her friend Carol.  Dian wanted to discuss a fundraiser for the United Way, but when she arrives at Carol's apartment, her friend isn't alone.  Also there is another college acquaintance of theirs, a Madeline "Maddy" Giles.  Maddy gives off a creepy vibe that has nothing to do with homosexuality and everything to do with obsessive jealousy.  Every time Dian starts to suggest something for the fundraiser, Maddy criticizes the idea, even though she wanted no part in the conversation.

Eventually, much to Dian's relief, Maddy decides to leave.

In a much more affluent part of the city, Lt. Burke visits a private club frequented by Trevor Barnes.  He arrives in time for a careful reader to read the set-up to a punchline delivered ten pages earlier.  The gentlemen at the club Burke talks to are all rich society snobs who looked down at Barnes for being nouveau riche.  They likewise look down at Burke for his Sicilian ancestry and offer little in the way of factual help in the case.

Not used to being treated so dismissively, Burke takes his rage out on someone he can get away with hurting, like the manager of the hotel where Barnes died.  He slaps the guy around until he gives up that Barnes came in every week with a different girl, so he might have been targeted specifically by the killer.

Unbeknownst to Burke, the Sandman is on the building's roof, using a listening device to spy on the interrogation.

The Sandman jumps across the fire escape and enters the room adjacent to where Barnes was killed.  He searches the room and finds a box of matches from a joint called Club Congo.

At the same club, we see the familiar blonde woman from the opening scene sitting alone at the bar.  She's not alone for long, though, as a bold gentleman buys her a drink.  She wastes no time inviting him to go someplace close for sex.

Burke goes to interview a woman who Barnes used to sleep with regularly at the hotel.  At the mere suggestion of her involvement in his death, the woman throws her drink, missing Burke by a foot.  He instantly rules her out as a suspect, given how drunk and uncoordinated she is.

Back at Club Congo, Wesley Dodds treats Dian to a dinner at a place she never would have expected to see him.

Dian is charmed by his deflection, but before she can pry any deeper into his life, they're interrupted by the sudden appearance of Maddy Giles, the woman from Carol's apartment.

First thoughts right off the bat: damn, it's good to have Guy Davis back on this series.  Neither of the previous two artists were bad, but neither were they Davis.  Neither of them captured the beautiful-ugliness that he does so well.  His facial expressions are a hundred times more expressive than most artists working at the time or today.  His lines and shadows, along with Hornung's colors create a truly horrific opening scene where the sex scene becomes a torturous murder.

The "vamp" in the title would suggest a provocative woman, or part of a jazz song, but given the prominence of blood and stealing it away by the killers also suggests a vampire connection, whether literal or figurative.  I'm looking forward to seeing where that goes.

Finally, Matt Wagner is joined by Steven T. Seagle who would contribute to the storytelling for the rest of the series.  I have no idea how these guys worked together or what the division of writing labor may have been.  All I know is Wagner worked on the first sixty of the book's seventy issues, and Seagle worked with him and then wrote the last ten by himself.  In any event, they worked wonders together and made an already amazing comic unbeatable.

Come back next week for the second act of "The Vamp"...


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