Saturday, July 5, 2014

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Sandman Mystery Theatre #20 (Nov 1994)

Sandman Mystery Theatre #20: "The Scorpion" Final Act
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.

Lieutenant Burke shows up at the hotel where Wesley Dodds arranged to meet with Stephen Cutler.  Burke is thrilled to be working with a new partner, Max Collins, someone he knows he can count on in a rough situation as opposed to the "limp dicks" he's been bogged down with recently.  In the hotel lobby, Burke asks the maitre d for Wesley Dodds' room number and, after threatening the man to keep quiet, the two detectives proceed upstairs.

Why is Burke looking for Wesley?  The same reason that District Attorney Larry Belmont is hurrying out of the house when Wesley's girlfriend, the D.A.'s daughter, Dian, comes home.  Dian pushes her father for details and he reveals that an anonymous phone call tipped the police to the Scorpion's next target, Stephen Cutler.  When the cops called Cutler's office, they learned that he was meeting with Wesley Dodds.

In the hotel room, Cutler isn't greeted by Wesley; instead, he finds a Wes-sized dummy sitting in the chair.  And then the Scorpion kicks in the door from the balcony.

The Scorpion is befuddled by the dummy in Wesley's chair, but nothing's more shocking than the sudden appearance of the Sandman from an inner room in the suite.  The Sandman gives Scorpion the chance to surrender before sucking down the sleeping gas from his gun, but that delay is enough for Burke and Collins to kick open the door and mess up the Sandman's whole plan.

Burke didn't expect to find two masked men in the room, but he's plenty happy about collaring the killer and the vigilante that keeps knocking him unconscious.  The Scorpion refuses to play along, though, and lashes out with his poison-tipped whip.  Burke opens fire and the Scorpion takes a hit, but soon realizes that Max was struck by the whip.

While Burke is distracted by his partner's violent poisoning, the Scorpion kicks the gun out of his hand and whips him.  Burke feels the venom agonizingly course through his veins as he tries to recover his weapon and stop the Scorpion.  He's interrupted when the Sandman throws down the gas canister from his gun, filling the room with the knockout mist.

Burke coughs and says it's not bad enough to die, but he has to die choking on the Sandman's foul gas.  The Scorpion and Cutler, too, choke on the gas, but while Cutler succumbs, the killer makes his escape to the balcony.

As the Sandman treats Burke with anti-venom, the Scorpion climbs down a grappling hook to a lower balcony and sets fire to the rope.  Upstairs, the Sandman is too late to save Burke's partner; and when he gets to the balcony, he's too late to catch the Scorpion.

At the police station, Ross O'Donald fills in the district attorney--and Dian--about the events at the hotel.  He reveals that Max Collins died but Burke somehow survived the Scorpion's sting.  Dian asks about Wesley Dodds and the captain tells her Wesley wasn't even there, that was part of a setup to lure Cutler into a trap.  Dian doesn't buy that theory, and she wonders about the anonymous tip.  Ross acknowledges her curiosity and detective's mind.  He also tells them that the Sandman was there, which further confounds and fascinates Dian.

She slips out of the office and calls Wesley's house.  She asks Humphries to put her boyfriend on the phone, but the butler tells her that Wesley went to Philadelphia on business.  That makes little sense to Dian as Wesley was terribly ill the day before (and she suspects he was attacked).  Humphries tells her he can't remember the name of the hotel Wesley was staying at so she'll have to wait until tomorrow to get in touch with him.  Dian hangs up, very suspicious of her boyfriend's deeds.

Elsewhere, Terry Stetson pulls his car into his parking garage and--no surprise at all--we learn that he is the Scorpion.  And he's suffering a bullet wound.  And he's being followed from the garage to his apartment.

Cassandra Cutler, daughter of Stephen and Terry's would-be love interest at the company, steps out of the shadows and joins Terry in the elevator up to his apartment.  She says she's acquiescing to his desire that they date, but Terry is in no mood or condition to take Cassandra out to dinner.  She very deliberately refuses to take the hint, though, telling him she has a special night planned for them.

Lieutenant Burke, still recovering from the scorpion poison, forces a patrolman to drive him toward Terry Stetson's apartment.  Burke is still in rough shape and vomits in a paper bag most of the way there.  At the station, Ross tells the D.A. and Dian that Burke is following a hunch that the killer is Terry Stetson.  Ross wants backup there for Burke and orders three cars full of uniformed cops to Terry's address.

Cassandra points a gun at Terry and demands to know why he killed two of her father's partners.  He confesses and says those men deserve what they got, just like her father will deserve what he gets.  She can't believe it; her father treated him like a son, she says, to which Terry reveals that Cutler and his partners drove his father to an early grave.

Cassandra Cutler slumps to the floor and dies.  Terry steps over her body, admitting that he liked her, but in the end she was just as bad and deserving of this death as the rest of the greedy company people like the Scorpion's victims.

Dian Belmont managed to get a taxi to take her to Terry Stetson's apartment before the police backup arrived.  When she gets there, Burke and the patrolman have already discovered Cassandra Cutler dead and Terry missing.  Dian tells Burke her theory that the Sandman orchestrated the meeting at the hotel that night to catch the Scorpion.  Burke reminds her about the anonymous tip; Sandman wouldn't have called it in to spoil his own setup.  Dian figures that it was Casssandra who called in the tip after suspecting Terry was going after her father.

They both figure that a desperate Scorpion might go attack Lane, Cutler's last partner, and Dian says she will drive the lieutenant there.  She persists, reminding Burke that his backup hasn't arrived and the patrolman must stay to secure the scene.  Dian is the only one who can drive Burke there on time since he cannot do it himself.

Emmanuel Lane enjoys a bath in his luxury apartment, unaware that the Scorpion has come to kill him.  Across the street, the detective in charge of surveillance for Lane's place is asleep on the job, and doesn't see the Scorpion brand the wall and enter through the window.

Lane finishes his bath and calls out to his houseboy, but he's greeted by the Scorpion who threatens to kill him.  Lane offers to pay him anything which only enrages the killer.  Scorpion rips off his mask showing his identity to Lane.  He explains that his last name isn't Stetson, it's Pritchard.  His father wasn't in the railroad but rather a Texas farmer.  Lane, Cutler and their whole firm bought up Terry's father's land for their oil companies.  Lane protests that Pritchard was paid handsomely for the land, but Terry says the money cost his father his soul, that he turned to gambling and drinking and both of his parents were ruined and killed because of the deal.

The logic of Terry's vendetta isn't exactly sound, but at this point he doesn't seem entirely sane.  He raises the whip to kill Lane when the Sandman appears.

After taking a face full of gas, Terry charges the Sandman and tries to rip his mask off.  The Sandman is able to fight him off long enough for the gas to kick in, and a wild, raging Terry passes out on the floor.

When Dian and Burke arrive at the scene, the Sandman has gone.  Lane is curled up against the wall in shock, reliving a traumatic molestation from his past, while Terry Stetson/Pritchard appears to have suffered a stroke.  Burke knows the Sandman was there because the odor of his gas is still in the room and he left an origami folding of a scorpion.

Finally, after a bit of a hiatus, we get the crafty amateur detective Dian Belmont back.  She witnesses enough suspicious behavior and finds enough clues to know that Wesley Dodds is keeping some real secrets from her, and that it's all tied in to the Sandman.  Finally, she's confronted by the missing piece of intelligence she didn't have--that the Sandman leaves origami at the scene of his activities.  The only other man she's known to do origami is Wesley, and it appears that she has finally discovered the truth of his secret identity just as Wesley decides to tell her the truth.

My favorite moment in this issue and maybe the whole story arc is when Dian convinces Burke to let her accompany him to the final crime scene.  She uses unarguable facts and just the right amount of manipulation to press him into letting her tag along, and that's how she learns the final clue in the puzzle of her boyfriend.

As for the identity of the Scorpion, I'm a little disappointed.  Terry Stetson was the obvious candidate from the beginning.  Wagner and Seagle tried to misdirect us for about five minutes with Buster Calhoun, but really the only one the killer could have been all along was Terry.  The only mystery was his motive, which was kept hidden until this final showdown.  And then, when you scrutinize his motive, you learn it doesn't make a damn bit of sense and that he's actually crazy.  But that doesn't make sense either and it undercuts what the character has been working toward for 80% of the story line.

I love the look of the Scorpion in these issues and I love the poisoned bull whip gimmick and I love that the Sandman faces another masked character.  But the reveal of the killer's identity and reason for killing in this final chapter feels extremely lazy and out of character.

One last note, I'm not sure if there's a significance to the character of Detective Max Collins, but there is a crime and mystery writer named Max Allan Collins, whose most famous work is the graphic novel Road to Perdition.  Maybe Wagner or Seagle were friends or fans of Collins and named the ill-fated detective in this issue as an homage.

Come back next week for Act One of "Dr. Death"...


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Sandman Mystery Theatre #19 (Oct 1994)

Sandman Mystery Theatre #19: "The Scorpion" 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.

Judge Thomas Schaffer visits District Attorney Belmont's home, only to find the D.A. is away while his daughter, Dian, is home reading Chaucer.  Dian and the Judge chat about their mutual friend, Wesley Dodds, with Dian assuring Schaffer that her boyfriend is a perfectly normal person.

At the same time, Perfectly Normal Wesley Dodds is ambushed in his bedroom by the masked murderer known as The Scorpion!

While the Scorpion continues to monologue about why Wesley deserves this awful death, Wes makes a desperate run for the secret door leading to his lair.  Alas, he's too slow the the Scorpion's poison-tipped whip lashes over Wesley's shoulder and tears into his chest.

The Scorpion bids his latest victim "happy trails" and escapes out the window.  Wesley collapses to the floor as the fast-acting toxin works through his system.  He frantically fumbles with his jacket, feeling the pain and fear of encroaching death.  He regrets not telling Dian the truth about everything while scrambling for a vial of the scorpion venom antidote we saw him create last issue.  He manages to inject the antidote into his arm just as his faithful manservant Humphries enters the room.

The next day, Cassandra Cutler goes to the office to speak to her father.  She's suitably concerned for her father after two of his business partners have been murdered in the last week, and because the deal they worked so hard to lock down seems to be falling apart with Wesley Dodds' investment.  At that point, Cassandra's partner and suitor, the Texas-born Terry Stetson, joins the meeting.  Terry had stormed off the night before, furious that Dodds pulled out on them.  When he comes back the next day, he says he met with Dodds later the night before and considers him a "dead end".  Hmm... that's a little suspicious.

Before they can decide on a new course of action, Police Lieutenant Burke comes in to ask Cutler some questions about his company regarding the dead partners.  Picking up on the western theme of the killer, he's looking into the company's oil fields in the southwest--the same area that Terry hails from coincidentally.  Burke asks them about the Scorpion brand on the wall, and Terry seems a bit disdainful of the lieutenant.

Wesley makes up yet another lame story for his infirmity, this time blaming it on indigestion from bad oysters.  But when Dian notices the dressing covering wounded chest, he doubles down on the lie, saying the oysters made him pass out in the shower and he cut himself on the faucet.  I would expect Dian to be a lot less credulous than she is in this scene; I guess, perhaps, because she is in love with him she's more willing to believe a ludicrous story.  But lest we forget Dian's fierce curiosity and budding detective skills, she does notice the brand of the Scorpion on the windowsill.

At the Cutler business offices, Terry Stetson stops by Cassandra's office to ask for another date.  She says she's way too busy in light of the murders and Wesley pulling out of their deal, but then her assistant tells her that Wesley called her office.  Terry is quite surprised by Wesley's call.

Cassandra returns the call and hears Wesley say that he wants another meeting with her father.  He'll arrange the time and place later when he comes back from Philadelphia. As Cassandra relates all of this back to Terry, the Texan's displeasure grows more visible.  Other than Wesley's apparent flakiness, why would Terry object to Wesley and Cutler taking another meeting?  Unless something else is bothering Terry.

Elsewhere, Dian Belmont goes home and finds her father, the D.A., asleep on the couch.  To pass the time, she reads the newspaper and learns about the murders of Dechert and Rummel, two of the businessmen she met a few nights earlier at the fundraising benefit featuring Wild West star Buster Calhoun.  Dian's father wakes up and joins her in the kitchen, filling in some of the details about the murder mystery, but the mention of the Scorpion piques her interest.

Lieutenant Burke returns to where his men are running surveillance on the last of Cutler's partners.  They overhear a drunken Buster Calhoun calling and threatening Lane.

Meanwhile, Dian calls Wesley only to have Humphries tell her that her boyfriend has gone to bed.  She's a lot more incredulous now that's heard about the Scorpion.

At the Cutler offices, Cassandra advises her father to sound less pushy and desperate when he meets Wesley than Terry Stetson did when they met.  Cutler and Cassandra exchange enough little notes about Terry to reveal that he's actively trying to learn the time and place of the Dodds meeting, despite being all-but told not to get involved.

Across town, Lieutenant Burke and one of his detectives follow Buster Calhoun to his apartment.  Burke tells his man to climb up the fire escape and find out what's going on.  The detective sees the shadow of Buster whipping someone inside and they spring into action.  Burke races up the stairs and kicks in the door.

In his secret lair, Wesley uses his audio surveillance to listen in on the cops at Calhoun's place.  They realize he's got some problems but he's not the Scorpion.  As he prepares his Sandman costume, he agonizes over the lies he must tell Dian to keep this part of his life secret.  He doesn't think he can maintain the facade for much longer.

Cassandra Cutler finds Terry Stetson coming out of her father's office.  He makes up a story about dropping off some reports, but she doesn't look like she's buying it.  When she leaves to speak with her receptionist, she bumps into Dian Belmont waiting outside her office.

Without saying more to compromise her position in the company, Cassandra does admit to Dian that she has some suspicions about the murders.

That night, the elder Cutler is met outside his office by Humphries, who drives him to the hotel to meet Wesley.  Cutler pours himself a drink and tells Wes all about the day's annoyances, including Burke's questions.

This issue seems to eliminate Buster Calhoun as a suspect while doing anything and everything to make Terry Stetson look shifty and suspicious.  If he's not the Scorpion--and I don't know who else could be that won't be completely out of nowhere--he's definitely got some skeletons in his closet.

Wesley is feeling the guilt and weight of lying to Dian, which is good because she's seeing through his deceptions.  The collision course of her sleuthing and his vigilantism is coming to a boil and hopefully, the climactic chapter of this story arc will bring their relationship to a new level, both as lovers, and as crime fighters.

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


Saturday, June 14, 2014

Sandman Mystery Theatre #18 (Sep 1994)

Sandman Mystery Theatre #18: "The Scorpion" 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.

Helmet Rummel is terrorized in his home by "The Scorpion", a cowboy with a mask and bullwhip.  Rummel attempts to bribe the intruder to let him live, and when that fails he reaches for a gun in his desk.  The Scorpion kicks him repeatedly, cursing the rich man for keeping the rest of the world on its knees while he profits.  All this happens as Rummel's servant Dominick looks on helpless.  As he leaves, the Scorpion cracks his whip, striking Rummel in the face and in no time, the same poison that killed Karl Dechert kills Rummel.

When the police come to investigate, the medical examiner Hubert Klein confirms for Lieutenant Burke that Rummel was killed the same way as Dechert.

Klein also notes the abnormal shape of the bruising on Rummel's stomach from the killer's boots and an unusual pattern of blood drip/stain on the carpet leading away from the body.

We find Wesley Dodds working in his lab, thinking about how insects and spiders terrified him as a child.  After finding the image of a scorpion branded on the windowsill outside Dechert's home, Wesley researches scorpions and begins to cook up vials of some potion.

Is he trying to duplicate scorpion venom?  Or produce an antidote?

That night, Wesley's dreams are filled with images of the American southwest, as a cactus and gas pump take on the fearful images of death.

The next day, Wesley goes to Stephen Cutler's office, his mind fixed on the inequities he sees in the rich and poor of society.  Cutler, his daughter Cassandra, and his protege, Terry Stetson, sweeten their pitch as much as they can, but Wes remains disinterested in a business venture that he says "exploits the European situation to make a fast profit off the oil industry."  Terry argues that the war in Europe will soon reach America's shores and this deal will put them in place to do good for the nation.  That, at least, rings true with Wes and agrees to give the matter some more thought before giving a final answer.

While Wesley is tied up in meetings, Dian Belmont brings a gift to his home.  Wesley's butler, Humphries, lets her into the study with the package and a personalized note.  She wants to make sure Wes notices the note right away, and sets it in the lap of Wesley's doll.  Humphries is uncomfortable at her handling of the doll, but while she's amused at the thing's appearance, she fails to recognize the doll's similarity to the Sandman.

After convincing Wesley to reconsider the deal, Terry Stetson is brimming with confidence and goes to see Cassandra Cutler.  He brings her a potted cactus and asks her out to dinner.  Cassandra puts up the usual protests about not getting involved with someone at the company and needing to work harder to be taken seriously as a woman in a man's job.  Terry brushes off her defenses and insists she get out of the office tonight... with him.  He already has reservations for dinner.  At last, she accepts.  After he leaves her office, she pricks her finger on the cactus.

When Wesley comes home, he finds Dian's note and the gift she brought: a record player and a record of Louis Armstrong.  He plays the music and tells Humphries he enjoys the gift, but he can't thank Dian in person tonight.

Wes goes down into his secret lab through, where Guy Davis shows us a set of masks adoring the wall of the stairwell.  Clearly visible among the masks are the helm of Morpheus from Neil Gaiman's Sandman series, and something more like the classic mask designed by Bert Christman for the Sandman's Golden Age tales.

Wesley uses his surveillance equipment to eavesdrop on Lieutenant Burke's office.  But while Burke might ignore the medical examiner's theories, the Sandman is very interested.  That night, when Hubert Klein goes home, the Sandman is waiting for him.

Klein begs his visitor not to fire his gas gun because he has allergies and a heart condition, and while the chemical cocktail is usually non-fatal, there is a risk for Klein.  The Sandman promises he won't use the gas gun if Klein gives him answers about the Dechert killer.  Klein tells him the poison that killed Dechert and Rummel was derived from scorpion venom, something the Sandman probably already knew.  But Klein does provide some new intelligence: the bruising and blood stains at the Rummel crime scene indicate the killer wore cowboy boots.  According to the M.E. the killer may be from the Southwest... or wants them to believe he is.

Klein confronts the Sandman with his own similarity to vigilantes in pulp magazines.  This bit of fourth-wall-breaking and meta-commentary upsets the Sandman who scoffs that the magazine like it's childish fantasy whereas he is very real and very serious.  He recites his oath and his spiel about making evil-doers face his dark dreams.  But in this context, it comes off as indignant posturing and a little insecure.

Dian calls Wesley at home but only reaches Humphries.  She's disappointed that her gift didn't net her a personalized thanks from Wes.  Meanwhile, Terry takes Cassandra out to dinner where he reveals a little of his backstory and formative years growing up in Texas.  Terry came from poor humble roots and his family worked their way up to a position where he could go to college and then come to New York to make his fortune.  At the restaurant, Buster Calhoun, the cowboy movie star makes a scene when he's ejected for not wearing the proper attire.

After dinner, Cassandra invites Terry up to her place for a drink, but when they arrive, her father is there and drunk.  Cutler tells them that Wesley Dodds declined their offer, which means they won't have the funding for the deal.  Terry is outraged and curses Wesley.  He storms out saying he won't let all their hard work go to waste.

Elsewhere, Cutler's third partner, Emmanuel Lang is under police surveillance.  Burke's team discover Lang's homosexual proclivities, but no sign of the Scorpion killer.

After spying on the surveillance team yields nothing, the Sandman calls it a night.

Wesley Dodds returns to his home and gets ready for bed.  He fails to notice an intruder, however, until it might be too late.  The issue ends with Wes stepping out of the bathroom and coming face to face with the Scorpion.

Wagner and Seagle's script sure makes it clear that they want us to suspect Terry Stetson is the Scorpion.  He's from the Southwest.  We wears a western tie similar to the Scorpion.  He comes from a poor background and the Scorpion seems to have a hatred for the privileged.  His last name is Stetson.  And Terry as much as threatened Wesley Dodds shortly before the Scorpion breaks into his home.

But is that too obvious?  Would killing Wes actually help Terry accomplish his goal of closing this business deal?  Terry seems to legitimately want to become part of the wealthy elite that the Scorpion preys upon.  Maybe he's too obvious a suspect.  And Hubert Klein did say, after all, the killer may only want the police to think he's from the southwest.

What suspects does that leave?  Stephen Cutler had the same motive as Terry, but he seems too old.  What about the actor, Buster Calhoun?  He's appeared in both parts of this story so far, but not really as a character so much as a bit of background dressing.  While being escorted from the restaurant, however, he does mention both "poison" and "kicking", and those are two pretty loaded words.  Plus, there's the obvious cowboy garb he wears.  We don't know anything about his background or his motivations, but we'd be fool to exclude him as a suspect at this point.

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


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"...


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"...