Saturday, April 26, 2014

Sandman by Alex Toth

This wonderful and mysterious Sandman drawing is by Alex Toth.  I don't know if it took Toth more than six minutes to finish this image, but I love it!

While searching the Interwebs for more Sandman art, I came across this image by Colton Worley, done in the style of/as an homage to the above Toth drawing.

Check out the Official Alex Toth Website for more of his work, and Worley's blog for more pulp- and noir-inspired images, too!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Sandman Mystery Theatre #16 (July 1994)

Sandman Mystery Theatre #16: "The Vamp" Act Four
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.

When the final act of "The Vamp" begins, the Sandman has just been shot by the mysterious woman behind the grisly murders of several former fraternity brothers.  The vigilante staggers backward and falls to the floor.  The killer goes to inspect the semi-conscious body of Barry Smithers, one of the Phi Delta boys she's been targeting for death by exsanguination.

But while the Vamp is distracted with Barry, the Sandman draws enough strength to raise his gas gun and fire one desperate shot.

Damn, he cauterizes his gunshot wound with a fireplace poker--pretty hardcore for the masked crime fighter!

In a poorer, rougher part of New York, Dian Belmont continues her surveillance of her friend, Carol Swanson.  Last time we saw her follow Carol to someone's apartment, and whatever Carol did inside was quite shocking to Dian.

A few hours later, Dian spies Carol leaving the apartment.  Rather than follow her friend, Dian goes upstairs to confront the person inside.  Said person happens to be one of Carol's lesbian lovers, but whereas Carol's relationship with Madeline Giles seems more recent and emotionally unhealthy, Carol has been sleeping with this woman, in secret, for half her life.  The lover mistakes Dian for a jealous competitor come to fight over Carol when, in fact, Dian asks her if she thinks Carol might be involved or know something about the recent wave of murders.

The lover scoffs at the notion of Carol's involvement and says the only thing Carol is guilty of his trying to find a rich man to give her a better life.

Back in the cabin, the wounded Wesley Dodds wakes and interrogates the drugged Barry Smithers.  He asks him about "hell night" and Barry confirms what a clever reader would have already known, or at least suspected.  Back in college, the Phi Delta boys had a little too much fun with one of their sorority counterparts.  Possibly as many as thirty of the frat boys took turns raping the girl, who just so happens to be--not really a surprise at all--Madeline Giles.

Wesley calls Dian at home looking for a way to contact Maddy.  Thinking she's being rudely and obviously passed over for a sexier option, Dian bitterly refuses to help Wesley find her.  Thus, the Sandman must seek out someone else who knows Maddy Giles, which brings him to Carol Swanson. He rouses and questions her, all while he's dangerously close to going into shock or collapsing from blood loss.

Carol tells him that Maddy and her friends own land upstate and he hobbles away in agony.

The next morning, Police Lieutenant Burke catches up with Barry Smithers and asks where he was after he slipped his police tail last night.  Barry lies, claiming he was with a woman he met some time ago named Carmilla Jones.  Burke goes to follow up on the alibi, but when he knocks on Carmilla's door, he finds Maddy Giles.  Of course, Burke doesn't know her by that name, but he sure recognizes her as the Vamp he met at the Congo Club a few nights before, the same woman who scratched his face when he tried to arrest her.

Let's see if this encounter will go better for the lieutenant...

...Nope, the Vamp draws second blood on Burke and manages to bolt past him.  But a cursory canvas of her apartment reveals a picture of Maddy's sorority friends, including the Congo Club's manager, Sally Star.

Meanwhile, Dian has grown tired of Wesley ignoring her phone calls and the inexplicable distance he's kept from her, so she goes directly to see him, barging past Humphries the manservant and up to Wesley's bedroom.

Wesley barely has time to throw a robe over his bandaged abdomen before Dian gets in his face about his interest in Maddy.  The only way he can settle her down is by confessing to part of the truth: Wes tells Dian that in his spare time he dabbles in "amateur sleuthing".  Just as a mental exercise, he insists, and tells her that he's been investigating the  club murders and found their connection to the fraternity and to Madeline Giles.

Dian feels foolish for acting irrationally jealous and Wesley reassures her of his honest affection for her.  Then she springs on him.

Hiding his fierce physical pain and the bloody bandaging on his stomach, Wesley pleasures Dian until she falls asleep in his bed, freeing him up to sneak out and continue his search for Maddy.

In her hasty flight, Maddy went to Carol Swanson's apartment so Carol could join the sorority girls in their exodus to the upstate hideaway.  But Carol finally stands up to Maddy, saying she doesn't feel the same way and she doesn't want to leave with her.  Carol doesn't realize how dangerous Maddy is, but she learns pretty quickly.

When the Sandman returns to Carol's place, she is tied naked to her bed, having been partially drained of blood.  She's far from lucid and speaking to the Sandman as if he's Maddy still in the room, which is convenient for him because she spills the details of Maddy's escape plan.

At the same time, Dian wakes up alone in Wesley's bed.  Finding him no longer at home, she dresses and races to Carol's apartment to check on her friend.  She arrives to find the Sandman lurking over her blood-drained friend.

Dian protests but Carol tells her to let him go so he can stop Maddy.

But the Sandman might not get the first crack at catching the Vamp...

As Lieutenant Burke is about to arrest Maddy, however, another sorority girl, Debra, steps out from the shadows and puts a gun to Burke's head.  She makes him drop the gun, and Maddy picks it up.  Before the Vamp kills Burke with his own weapon, though, the Sandman arrives and blasts Debra and Burke with his gas gun.

Debra gets a full-face full and passes out instantly.  Burke gets a partial dose; enough to knock him back and make him groggy and imbalanced, but not enough to render him unconscious.  Maddy shoots at the Sandman, who dives behind the car for cover.  Burke picks up Debra's gun and despite his diminished senses, manages to get off a shot that strikes Maddy, killing her.

As Madeline Giles dies, she asks Sally to take the blood they drained from her victims to consecrate their land upstate.  Burke recovers, but by the time he's up on his feet the Sandman is gone.

The next morning, District Attorney Belmont wakes Dian and tells her Wesley Dodds called for her.  She calls him back, telling him she's been thinking about last night.

All told, "The Vamp" was a really enjoyable arc, but this last issue sort of let it down.  A significant and delightful element of this series has been the growth of Dian Belmont, especially when she chooses to be proactive and a little reckless.  It seemed like this was going to be the story where she really puts on her detective cap and makes a big case herself.

However, in this issue, she pretty much abandons her detective work to obsess over her boyfriend.  She gets jealous and then throws herself at him when he sugar talks her, but she isn't even keen-eyed enough to realize that he's been grievously wounded.  And she hardly responds to his confession about being an amateur detective; that's what she's been doing and she doesn't even react to him sharing that bit of himself.  I was a little disappointed to see her going from independent private investigator to leading man's love-interest so quickly and anti-climactically.

Well, erm, I guess there was a climax for her...

On the other hand, it was a refreshing change to see Burke actually do some detective work and crack the case on his own.  True, he would have been dead were it not for the Sandman's intervention, but he found the killer once and then set a trap for her.  He got his woman, and then of course things wen't awful, but he still ended up gunning her down when the time came.  Good on him, I guess.

One final thing that I found clever of Wagner's script: Barry identifies the Vamp to Lieutenant Burke by the alias of Carmilla Jones.  Carmilla is the name of a vampire story by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, and Maddy's mode of killing her victims involves draining all of their blood, much like a vampire.  Even the name "vamp" ties into it.  It's a nice little touch for a well-read reader.

Come back in two weeks for the first act of "The Scorpion"...


Saturday, April 12, 2014

Sandman Mystery Theatre #15 (June 1994)

Sandman Mystery Theatre #15: "The Vamp" Act Three
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 third part of "The Vamp" opens with Dian Belmont waking up and coming down to breakfast served by her father's maid.  Again Dian is confronted by an overwhelming feeling of indirection and misplaced talents.  She hates watching the world pass by without her involvement.  She craves action.

As she's longing for something to pique her interest, her father, the district attorney, is called away to investigate the murder.  And the victim is another young, former frat boy with a club connection to the previous victims.

Dian calls her college friend, Carol, who doesn't answer the phone because she's out meeting her friend, Madeline Giles.  Maddy, though, isn't alone; she's hosting a whole group of her old sorority sisters, all friends of Carol's.

Maddy isn't only sleeping with Carol, but with Sally and the rest of the women in their group.  And they're buying some property upstate to separate from men's rules and society.  Amazons, perhaps?

Across town, Lieutenant Burke visits the Delta Phi boys at their club to ask them once again what they know about the murders of their brothers.  Burke gets little cooperation from the snobbish pricks.  One of the boys, Barry, starts to cooperate with the questions, but the other brothers cut him off.  They throw their money and society status around until Burke gets annoyed and storms out.

Once Burke leaves, the brothers start fighting with each other.  Barry posits the question that the murders may have something to do with an event he calls "Hell Night".

Dian stops Carol in front of her apartment.  Carol, expecting or dreading Maddy, is flustered by Dian's sudden appearance and the news she brings that one of her old college friends was murdered.  Carol gets in the elevator, leaving Dian with a lot of questions and suspicions about what her friend may be hiding.

Amateur sleuth Dian goes to the Congo Club to see Sally Starr, the manager and one of Carol's sorority sisters.  Dian asks about the both the club and the sorority's connection to the Delta Phi boys who have been getting bumped off.  When her questions start hitting a little too close for comfort, Sally makes an excuse to leave.

Dian leaves, not noticing Lt. Burke sitting at the bar.  Acting on information he got from the bartender last time, Burke is staking out the bar looking for the "Vamp".  He doesn't wait long before a familiar blonde comes around, and it doesn't take much more than a hello before she's dragging him outside.

The Vamp feels him up in the alley, and then Burke pull out his badge.  Naturally, she's not going down that easily.

So the Vamp isn't a natural blonde?  Hmm...

Meanwhile, Dian goes to Wesley Dodd's house to tell him what she knows and what she suspects about the murders.  He tells her to be cautious and give the information to her father, but also shows real encouragement and understanding of her desire to get involved.  This understanding is enough of a turn-on that Dian throws herself right at Wesley.

Surprisingly, Wesley resists her, making up lame excuses they shouldn't go to bed this night and then he brushes her out of his house.  Immediately, Wesley slips off into the secret lair of the Sandman, but Dian comes back only  a few minutes later to retrieve the purse she forgot.  Wesley's butler answers the door and tells her Wesley isn't at home.

Dian knows Wesley was just there and then left the house as soon as she went away.  She's more confused and frustrated with the man than ever before, and wonders if he blew her off to go be with someone else, someone like Maddy Giles.

The next day, Dian Belmont, Lady Detective, starts to tail Carol herself.  She follows her friend around the city, shopping at stores, dyeing her hair blonde, getting lunch.  Dian gets a taxi to follow Carol to the Lower East Side, a neighborhood she wouldn't imagine Carol ever being caught dead in. But Carol goes to an apartment building, knocks on a door, and goes inside.  Dian can't see who her friend went inside to meet, so she starts climbing around the outside of the apartment.

Whatever Dian sees inside the room is quite shocking, but we'll have to wait until next issue to find out what.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Burke goes back to the office where his boss tells him that one of the Delta Phi brothers slipped the police surveillance that was following him.

The man in question is Barry Smithers, the same guy who wanted to tell Burke about Hell Night.  Barry has hidden himself away at a cabin upstate.  He's started a fire to fight the cold while he waits for a visitor, but he's not expecting the Sandman.

The Sandman asks about Hell Night, but Barry doesn't want to answer now.

Are there no natural blondes in this story?  The Vamp wears a wig and Carol colors her hair.  It was already pretty obvious that there was something dark and shifty about Madeline Giles.  Should we suspect her now, knowing that the Vamp isn't a real blonde?

What is Hell Night?  What did the Delta Phi brothers do that they believe was "tradition" that some of them are now paying the ultimate price for?  Did they victimize one of the women in their sister sorority, who now stalks them and punishes them mercilessly for the crime committed years ago?

Lastly, what did Dian see through that window and how will it change her life?  She may not have a badge, but she is a detective?  Her character is a bit of an adrenaline junky.  She lives for the excitement, the thrill of danger that comes with tracking killers and maniacs.  And every case she involves herself on brings her closer to the identity of the Sandman.  How long will it take before she learns the truth about the man she loves?

Come back next week for the fourth and final act of "The Vamp"...


Saturday, April 5, 2014

Sandman Mystery Theatre #14 (May 1994)

Sandman Mystery Theatre #14: "The Vamp" Act Two
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 Vamp" story arc picks up with Wesley Dodds and Dian Belmont having a dinner at the Congo Club so Wesley can investigate the place's connection to the a murder wherein the victim was drained of his blood and had certain orifices sewn shut.  Wesley and Dian's dinner is interrupted by the appearance of Maddy Giles, an alumna of Dian's old college and the lover of Dian's friend, Carol.

Wesley seems charmed by Maddy, which doesn't please Dian at all.  Wesley excuses himself to use the bathroom but actually goes into the adjoining hotel to find out about its management.

When Wesley returns to the table, Dian calls him on being gone for so long.  The bathroom wasn't that far away, so she knows he's lying about something.

Meanwhile, upstairs in the hotel, the police find the latest gruesome corpse, who suffered from dozens of piercings by what the coroner suspects was a catheter pin.

An officer shows Lieutenant Burke some blood-covered towels and tells him the killer took a shower after the murder.  As Burke leaves the hotel, Dian and Wesley catch him.  Dian, being the snoop that she is, asks about the police presence.  Burke tells them about the murder and that he has to go interview the bartender from the Congo Club.

After Burke leaves, Wesley tells Dian he needs to work and ends their date.  He gets her a taxi and makes a halfhearted excuse for blowing her off.  She's none too thrilled about his sudden lack of interest in her.

The bartender eventually remembers the murder victim and tells Lieutenant Burke that the victim was buying drinks for "the Vamp".  He describes the woman in general-but-attractive terms, but emphasizes her smile--"a smile that kinda sucks you in."

Wesley eavesdrops on the bartender's questioning with some of the Sandman's surveillance equipment, but when the bouncer of the Congo Club spots him in the alley, Wesley has to make an abrupt exit.

Dian's father, District Attorney Larry Belmont, is surprised to see her home so early from her date.  She tells her dad about Wesley blowing her off and about the latest murder she learned about from Burke.  Belmont goes to call in about the case while offering consolation to his daughter, saying he always found Wesley a bit strange.  She agrees.

The next day, Dian and her friend Carol go shopping.  Dian tries to talk about her charity work with the United Way but Carol seems only interested in the discounts at Bloomingdales.  They're met by two more of Carol's sorority sisters, Debbie and Sally.

Not only does Sally manage the Congo Club, but she's got some insanely fierce green eyes.  Is every woman in this comic but Dian terrifying?

The ladies go for a drink and gossip about Maddy Giles.  Dian feels shut out by their cliquishness and cattiness.  This is the second time she's felt ignored in the last day, so she decides to go right to Wesley's house and confront the problem.  She tells Wesley about some of her discomfort around Carol's friends.

As she talks, she notices his origami foldings... and then the doll...

That night, Burke goes to consult with the coroner, who confirms that the latest victim was killed by the same woman as whoever killed Trevor Barnes.  The two enter the coroner's office, only to discover the Sandman there leafing through the crime report.

The Sandman knocks out the light, plunging the room into darkness.  Burke shoves the coroner out into the hallway and tells him to go for help.  No stranger to the Sandman's knockout gases, Burke covers his mouth and ducks low.  The Sandman turns on a desk fan and Burke opens fire.  The Sandman tries to spray him but Burke dodges.

The Sandman throws Burke hard to the floor, grabs the coroner's report, and runs out of the burning room.  Cursing the masked vigilante, Burke grabs the fire extinguisher to put out the blaze.

Elsewhere, Carol comes home when she's met by Maddy Giles who engages her in a deep kiss that takes them all the way up to Carol's bed.  After they make love, Maddy leaves for a mysterious kind of work that she doesn't specify.

Dian goes to her dad's office but the D.A. isn't there.  She sits at his desk and starts flipping through the file on Barnes and the new victim.  Burke comes in and takes the report, scolding her for bugging into police business and "men's business affairs".

Later, in Central Park, a young man is having a pleasant and passionate night with a blonde woman.  They leave the horse drawn carriage and she leads him to a secluded park bench.

And, of course, it's a trap!

This chapter has a few really exciting moments.  The first is the fight between The Sandman and Lieutenant Burke in the coroner's office.

I've lost count how many times Burke has been gassed by the mystery man, but it's really nice to see him anticipate the Sandman's attack and avoid being sprayed by the gas-gun.  Throughout the series, we've seen Burke be racist, sexist, homophobic, and violent; pretty much every despicable characteristic for an authority figure who isn't outright villainous.  But I think this is the first time we've seen Burke look really smart and competent.  True, the Sandman gets the best of him in this latest confrontation, but not without resorting to some desperate tricks and leaving his jacket and hat behind.

Guy Davis' art in the fight scene is incredible.  He really captures the confinement and clumsiness of fighting in such an enclosed space with obstacles like desks, chairs, fans, and trashcans.  On the other hand, I don't think David Hornung's colors work as well for this fight.  The lighting doesn't really change after the Sandman busts the lightbulb, so it's a little confusing at first that Burke doesn't see the Sandman hiding.

The second great moment is when Dian Belmont finds Wesley Dodds' doll, the totem he puts in his bed when he goes out as the Sandman.  She recognizes its similarity but cannot remember the masked face of the Sandman.  But it's there, and she will make the connection soon.  Throughout the issue, she is confronted by Wesley's lies, his secretiveness, and his strangeness.  Dian is no dummy and this feels like the beginning of her discovery that Wesley Dodds is the Sandman.  Will it happen in this story arc?  There are still two more chapters to see.

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