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Sandman (Early Golden Age)


The Sandman series would undergo huge changes in this period, and it’s an oddity of comics history that the fondly remembered costume, and the fondly remembered stories, do not correspond at all.

Wesley Dodds continues to fight crime in his suit, cape and gasmask, most often dealing with kidnappings and jewel robberies as he moves through his high society life.  In Adventure Comics 47 he encounters a female safe cracker, The Lady in Evening Clothes, who winds up helping him take down her gang.  Although she gives her name as Diana Ware, by the end of the story she learns that she is really Dian Belmont, the long-missing daughter of District Attorney Belmont.

With no hesitation, Wesley reveals his identity to her, and they become a couple both in romantic terms and crime fighting ones, though most often Dian is relegated to driving the car and getting information.  Adventure Comics 56 gives her her best story, as Wesley gets kidnapped and she disguises herself as the Sandman to free him.

The gas gun is used less frequently as the series progresses, and Wes invents a new weapon in issue 61, the wire-poon gun, which he uses to scale buildings and get from rooftop to rooftop.

Although he gets no recurring villains, Sandman does fight an impressive array of foes in this period, who easily could have returned.  Borloff has a metal dissolving ray and a flying cylindricraft, one thief uses invisibility paint, another a hypnotic ruby.  Professor Doobie commits crimes using a shrinking serum in issue 67, then shrinks Sandman and Dian when they try to apprehend him.

The big change in the series comes with Adventure Comics 69, as Wes gets a new costume and sidekick, but these changes are not reflected at first in his stories in World’s Finest Comics, meaning Dian has her final appearance in World’s Finest 5.  There is no explanation for her disappearance or the costume change, though Roy Thomas would provide answers for both in All-Star Squadron in the 80s.  He has Dian die in a car accident at this time, but as she is later shown to have become an elderly woman, the car accident must not have been fatal.

Sandy debuts in issue 69, in a costume he claims he patterned after Sandman’s.  This is curious, as his costume does match that of Sandman, but it matches the costume he has just started wearing, a skin-tight gold and purple outfit, with a purple cape.  Sandy is in gold and red, with a red cape.  He is an orphan, staying at a farmhouse where the owner has experimented with creating giant bees, not thinking about the deadly giant stingers that would come with them.  Wes apparently adopts Sandy at the end of the story, as they live together from this point on.  Sandy’s last name is given as McGann in issue 71, but Hawkins in issue 73, and from then on.

Incidentally, Sandy’s full superhero name is Sandy the Golden Boy.  I believe this would win not only gayest superhero name, but also least likely to make a villain scared of you.

They wear the caped version of the costume until issue 71, but when Jack Kirby takes over the art the capes are abandoned.  It takes a few more issues for Sandy to get a red collar, and Sandman to get the purple scallopy thing that goes down to his shoulders.

Simon and Kirby take the reins of this series with Adventure Comics 72, and the series quickly excels virtually everything else coming from DC at this time.  The trademark of leaving sand behind had pretty much fallen by the wayside when Simon and Kirby replace it with the “calling card” that reads

There is no place beyond the law

Where tyrants rule with unshakable power

It’s a dream from which the evil wake

To face their fate…their terrifying hour

The Sandman

But more importantly, they begin playing with the concept of dreams, right from the get-go.  In their first story, a human slaver has a nightmare about being caught by the Sandman.  It turns out he is already in jail, the dream reflects events that have occurred, but it quickly becomes a theme in the series that the bad guys have nightmares about the Sandman before actually encountering him.

And though the costumes are somewhat tired and generic, even for this early era, the overall art is astounding.  Kirby gives an art deco feel to everything, and the action is far more dynamic than in other artists works.

Two of the villains the Sandman faces at this time would be resurrected in the pages of All-Star Squadron.  Nightshade, who has a great mask and a bunch of fake plants and traps in his “magic forest” debuts in World’s Finest 6, while Adventure Comics 75 introduces Fairytales Fenton, “The Villain from Valhalla,” who pretends to be the Norse god Thor.  This is, I believe, the first time Kirby would render a Thor character, but obviously not the last!  This story also has a beautiful full-page panel of Sandman and the police fighting “Thor” and his viking henchmen.

Sandman deals with an insomniac who turns to crime in issue 80’s “The Man Who Couldn’t Sleep,” and a narcoleptic framed for murder in 87’s “I Hate the Sandman.”  The idea of wedding cake dreams foretelling the person you will marry is tidily worked into issue 83’s “The Lady and the Champ.”

I am restraining myself from detailing every single Simon and Kirby issue, though it is tempting to do so.  Even their weaker stories are so above the mass of other tales being released at this time, but I will limit myself to only talking about three more.

Sandy gets a starring role in issue 81’s “A Drama in Dreams.”  He is surprised to discover Wes having a nightmare about the Sandman, and realizes Wes has been kidnapped and impersonated.  Sandy tracks him down and once Wes gets free he takes out his impersonator, and pretends to be him to get to the guy behind it all.

“Santa Fronts for the Mob,” in issue 82, begins with a hilarious nightmare of department store owner P.P. Miller, who imagines that without a good store Santa people will picket and boycott his establishment.  The man he hires has mob ties, but grows to love the job and the kids so much, when the time comes to rob the store he helps the Sandman take down the bad guys.  Somehow this story manages to capture much the same feeling as movies like “Miracle on 34th Street” and “Holiday Affair,” both also 1940s department store-based Christmas tales.

In my eyes, the crowning glory of this run is Adventure Comics 85, “The Unholy Dreams of Gentleman Jack.”  This opens with a prisoner dreaming of being waited on hand and foot by the guards, and Sandman bursting into his cell.  Once he is released from prison, he has his apartment made up to resemble a jail, and his servants dressed as guards.  He lures Sandman to his place, so we get the visual from the dream a second time, but just shows him around and gets him off his guard, so his men can capture him.  Gentleman Jack has Sandman put into a gas chamber to kill him, and goes to bed, unaware that Sandy has been following him.  Sandy frees Sandman as Jack dreams that his servants are now acting like actual prison guards, and just as Sandman appears in his nightmare (the third time for the same visual) he wakes, discovering Sandman in his room, as well as police, playing that same visual for the fourth time in 10 pages!  Each time we see Jack, the Sandman, the cell and the guards it is from a different perspective, and it is shown from another angle on the cover as well.  This story could easily be muddled or repetitive, but instead is a thorough delight.

Simon and Kirby were drafted before the end of the war.  A few stories were kept aside, but other artists and writers were put onto the series with issue 91.  The art is not terrible, but has none of Kirby’s inspiration or skill, and the stories drop Simon’s dream motif entirely.

Sandman continues in the Late Golden Age

Sandman:  Adventure Comics 46 – 92  (Jan 40 – July 44)

New York World’s Fair 1940

All-Star Comics 1 – 2  (Summer – Fall 40)

World’s Finest Comics  3 – 7  (Fall 41 – Fall 42)

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