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"...


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