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"...


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