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"...


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