Saturday, June 7, 2014

Sandman Mystery Theatre #17 (Aug 1994)

Sandman Mystery Theatre #17: "The Scorpion" 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.

Guy Davis is back to illustrate his second consecutive story arc coming off "The Vamp", and when Davis draws this book you knows there's going to be a freaky dream sequence.  In fact, that's how the first part of "The Scorpion" begins, with Wesley Dodds dreaming about beauty and dangerous secrets as the image of a rose metamorphoses into a truly sexualized tongue and then into the barbed tail of a scorpion.  Out of context, this first page could belong in an issue of Dark Horse Comics' Aliens.

After the dream Wesley meets his girlfriend, Dian Belmont, for breakfast at an outdoor cafe overlooking New York's Central Park.  They speak briefly about the last story arc's murder spree and their amateur detective work on the case, but mostly the dialogue centers around the night before when Wesley performed oral sex for Dian, and her enthusiasm to reciprocate and escalate their activities.

Wesley gives Dian and her father tickets to a charity gala.  His inner monologue focuses on the irony of how much money is spent lavish fundraisers, money that ought to provide food and housing for the poorest elements of society.

That night, Dian and her father, District Attorney Larry Belmont, attend the charity concert of Buster Calhoun, a famous western film star.

Larry bumps into the mayor, who jokes about paying the district attorney too much if he can afford tickets to an event like this.  Larry explains that Wesley Dodds gave him his ticket as a gift, and the mayor introduces Larry and Dian to the wealthy elite who financed the fundraiser and Buster Calhoun's appearance.

The rich stiffs are disappointed that Wesley didn't show up and they don't even try to hide their displeasure.  One of the partners, Stephen Cutler, tries to smooth the waters and converse with the D.A. and his daughter.  Cutler introduces them to his daughter and business protege, Cassandra, and one of his advertising executives, Terry Stetson.

While Terry talks up a marketing campaign with the mayor, fathers and daughters chat.  Larry seems fascinated that Cutler's daughter takes an active decision-making role in her father's company.  Cutler reveals that he hoped Wesley Dodds would attend so they could discuss a business deal.  Dian makes an excuse that her boyfriend is always working...

...but when we find Wesley again, he is meditating at home.  His mind is full of questions and concerns about the growing horrors of the world abroad and at home.  He also worries about his personal security and solitude as Dian Belmont becomes a larger part of his private life.

That night, Karl Dechert, one of Cutler's partners from the Buster Calhoun gala, returns to his mansion with a young woman.  Dechert undresses, takes out his dentures, and lights up a pipe to smoke, all the while chastising his young concubine, Sabina, for flirting with another man.  Sabina, meanwhile, puts on a sexy outfit and engages in Dechert's sexy baby-talk where he treats her like a little girl in need of a spanking.  This gets him hot and as he begins to have sex with her, a shadowy figure sneaks into the room...

Our old friend, Lieutenant Burke investigates Dechert's death, but when he questions Sabina, he rules her out as a suspect.  They cops find a deep laceration on Dechert's lower back, but the girl doesn't have any blood on her nails.  Burke talks up the details of the case with his chief and says the coroner ruled the cause of death as fast-acting poison.  Neither Burke nor Ross, however, is away that the debriefing is being overheard by the Sandman.

The next day, Dechert's partners meet in their corporate high-rise building.  After a moment of silence, Terry Stetson tells the group that the fundraising gala was a huge success.  They lined up a number of backers for a project called the Foreign Oil Refinery Depository--F.O.R.D. Terry calls it.  They still need one more investor, though, and everyone believes they need Wesley Dodds.

Stephen Cutler assigns his daughter and Terry the job of bringing Wesley into the project, but Terry doesn't seem too thrilled about working with a woman.  For her part, Cassandra doesn't seem all that happy about working with Terry either.

Wesley brings Dian on his dinner meeting with Cassandra and Terry.  He gives them the courtesy of listening to their pitch, but his mind is far, far from business.  He's still thinking about the inequities of the system in how the poor seem to be getting poorer while the rich--himself included--take little notice.  After dinner, he makes up an excuse about an early work day and sends Dian home alone.

Terry Stetson drives Cassandra home and shows a softer more considerate side.  She gives him a kiss on the cheek and seems to have softened on him a little, too.

Later, the Sandman investigates the home of Karl Dechert.  Out on the balcony, he finds a symbol branded into the windowsill.

Later, Helmet Rummel, another member of Dechert's group, returns home to verbally abuse is hispanic servant.  After shooting heroin, he makes the servant poor him coffee and rub his feet, but when the coffee spills he begins to beat the man.  Beat him... until something lashes out and strikes his hand.

Who is the Scorpion--who is never called such in this issue, but still?  He uses a whip and wears a western-themed outfit, which could point to the actor Buster Calhoun.  On the other hand, there's Terry Stetson, whose surname is a kind of hat frequented by cowboys, and who wears western bola-style ties throughout the issue, just like the one worn by the Scorpion?  Or is it possible there is another suspect, someone we haven't thought of or seen yet?  I guess we'll find out.

Every issue with Guy Davis on the art is a visual treat.  His design for the Scorpion is period appropriate and simplistically awesome.  Meanwhile, the real bad guys of the story, like Rummel and Dechert are characteristically ugly in their wicked behavior.  Dechert, in particular, looks gruesome in death.

Wesley's inner thoughts seem a little scattered and unfocused in this issue.  I suppose that might be Wagner and Seagle's intention, but more likely I think it's because they as writers and we as readers been having so much more fun getting into Dian Belmont's head that Wesley Dodds seems a little boring by comparison.  Hopefully that will pick up as the Sandman has a new costumed enemy to pursue.

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


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