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1x10c: Enter Sandman

A gas mask and a business suit. This is the costume that the Golden Age Sandman wore to fight crime. A gas mask and a business suit. Sounds absurd, right? So why is the character so memorable and interesting?

The Sandman was a second-rate character for most of his existence. First appearing in New York World’s Fair Comics in 1939 in a story by Gardner Fox and Bert Christman, Wesley Dodds was a millionaire inventor who invented a gas gun that would force those exposed to the gas to tell the truth. Donning his gas mask and business suit, essentially street clothes, the Sandman faced and defeated mainly ordinary criminals in this phase of his career, albeit unusually sadistic and cruel criminals.

One of the first costumed characters to emerge from DC Comics after the success of Superman, the Sandman seems as much a pulp magazine character as a super-hero as we think of them. Seen in this light, the idea of wearing a gas mask and a business suit to fight crime makes sense. He’s a transitional character between pulp heroes like Doc Savage, The Shadow and The Spider, and costumed crime-fighters such as Batman and Captain America. After the World’s Fair one-shot, Sandman began appearing in Adventure Comics beginning in issue 40 from that same year.

The Sandman briefly was popular when comics were new, appearing as a charter member of the Justice Society in 1940 and appearing in the following 29 issues of Adventure Comics in his unusual costume. However, as new and more colorful characters continued to appear, The Sandman seemed more and more like a relic of times past. It was decided that the character should be revamped, and in Adventure Comics #69, 1941, at the hands of artist Chad Grothkopf, he donned a rather garish yellow and purple costume, was given a teen sidekick, called Sandy, and even gave up his gas gun, replacing it with a "wirepoon."

In late 1941, the team supreme of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby were assigned to the strip, and the transition from its pulp roots was complete.

Instead of dark and mysterious crime fiction, Sandman became a classic Simon and Kirby all-action strip. This transition helped the comic to survive the World War II era by embracing many of the fashions of the day.

By 1946, however, as the comics industry evolved away from super-heroes, Sandman disappeared from sight. He left the Justice Society in 1945, and appeared his last in Adventure Comics, one year later, with issue #102.

The Sandman appeared again over twenty years later, with the rest of his pals from the Justice Society, in Justice League of America #46, 1966. That story found The Sandman back in his original outfit of a gas mask and business suit. He was an intriguing character because of his unique look, but always seemed to keep pretty much to the background. In JLA #113, he did step to the forefront as the fate of his partner Sandy was resolved, but despite his unique look, the Golden Age Sandman was always a secondary player in the JLA/JSA team-ups.

When the JSA stepped into their own series with All-Star Comics #57 in 1976, The Sandman wasn’t one of the featured players. The writing was on the wall and Wesley Dodds looked to be headed to the limbo of forgotten comics characters.

Forgotten, that is, until a new, or rather very old, character called The Sandman began appearing in his own series beginning in 1988. You may have heard of this series – written by Neil Gaiman, The Sandman was one of the most critically-acclaimed and popular comics of the 1990s. One of the key points of the series was that Morpheus, Dream of legend, had been imprisoned for 70 years in a crystal by an Aleister Crowley analogue who actually was trying to trap Dream’s sister Death. In Dream’s absence, the horrors of the 20th century were unleashed. World War I, the Holocaust, Vietnam – these horrific events occurred because dreams were out of control since they had lost their master.

One other side effect was that some dreams leaked out to minds that were sensitive to the vibrations of the Dreaming. One of those men was millionaire Wesley Dodds, who in the 1930s dreamed of horrific crimes and was compelled to fight them. Donning a gas mask, an analogue to Morpheus’s battle mask, and carrying a gas that forces those who breathe it to tell the truth, Dodds was compelled to fight evil acts that occur in and around New York City.

Emerging in 1939 to fight the serial murderer The Tarantula, Dodds was a crimefighter driven by his own nightmares to end the nightmares of others. He simply had no choice but to fight crime. It was either that, or go crazy...

For the full article, go to Once Upon A Dime!

Jason Sacks

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