The Sandman 1 – pulp version
The Sandman was yet another Gardner Fox creation, this time with artist Bert Christman, though the art was rapidly taken over by Craig Flessel, who is much more associated with the character’s early days. He debuted in Adventure 40 as financier and socialite Wesley Dodd (after four issues, Dodds) who, for no contemporaneously related reason, went out at night to fight crime.
To do so, Dodds adopted a heavily-pulp magazine aspect: dark green business suit, orange fedora, purple cape, blue and yellow gas mask: the man was clearly colourblind, but he was firmly in the pulp magazine tradition, down to his gas gun that put crooks to sleep.
The Sandman was chosen to represent Detective Comics in All-Star, as a founder member of the Justice Society, and appeared in issues 3-21, before being dropped to accommodate the shrinking page size. Like his fellow evictee, Doctor Fate, Sandman appeared only in the opening and closing chapters of All-Star 20, but was returned to action in issue 21, where his figure is clearly pasted in over the original star of his solo slot, presumably the Atom.
Dodds was initially assisted by his girlfriend, Dian Belmont, daughter of the DA and the only person who shared his secret identity. Despite his be-suited persona, the Sandman was all running, leaping, line-swinging and punch-throwing in proper superhero style, and within eighteen months his suit was replaced by a set of standard superhero skintights, in yellow with purple hood and eye-mask, trunks, gauntlets and boots. This redesign, which initially included a purple cape, is usually credited to the team of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, but was actually done by Mort Weisinger and artist Paul Norris
Simon and Kirby took the series over three months later, on leaving Timely Comics in a dispute over royalties, and applied their brand of vivid action to The Sandman. Out went Dian Belmont, the purple cape and the gas gun, in came teenage sidekick Sandy, the Golden Boy (aka Dodds’ ward, Sandy Hawkins) and a sub-theme that the Sandman and Sandy gave crooks bad dreams. Needless to say, no contemporary explanation was given for these changes. The new costume and approach made its way into All-Star with issue 10.
Sandman’s solo series in Adventure which usually granted him cover status, continued until issue 102, when he was cancelled.
The Sandman did not reappear in the Silver Age until the fourth JLA/JSA team-up, in 1966. Like Doctor Fate, he returned in his original costume, with no contemporary explanation, although instead of carrying the gas-gun, he wielded a new Sand-Gun, and carried heaps of sand in his pockets. When necessary, he would scatter a handful of sand at the foe and use the strange energies of the Sand-Gun to convert them into unbreakable glass, or concrete, or… unbreakable glass, or concrete…
To a young reader who knew nothing of any prior versions of the Sandman this was exceedingly worrying It was, however, the year of the Batman TV show…
The Sandman would make occasional appearances in team-ups – he was a favourite of Len Wein, who used him in all three team-ups that he wrote – and played a part in All-Star Squadron, but the only stories of any real significance were those that centred upon filling the gaps already mentioned. These were carried out haphazardly, with no attention to their chronology
Dodds’ origin was told last, by Roy Thomas in Secret Origins 7: Dodds got wind of an attack to be made upon the King and Queen of England on their visit to the New York World’s Fair by the Crimson Avenger, a gas-gun wielding figure. Dodds dressed up in his gas mask to pursue the Avenger, only to discover that the man was a) a hero not a villain b) his cousin, newspaper owner Lee Travis and c) was pursuing the real villain, the Phantom of the Fair. Between them, Dodds and Travis brought the Phantom in, and the Avenger handed Dodds his gas gun as he was about to go into superhero tights himself without it.
Dodds’ original change of costume was related by Thomas, in All-Star Squadron 18, in which Thomas also accounted for the uncanny similarity between Sandman’s second costume and that of the Tarantula, an obscure superhero known only to a handful of fans, whose one claim to fame was that someone had called him Spider-Man twenty years before the Marvel character was created.
So: writer Jonathan Law, doing a book on costumed mystery men, interviews Dian Belmost, companion of the Sandman. She shows him a yellow and purple costume she’s trying to get Sandman to wear, and makes a present of it to Law, who uses it to become the Tarantula. Tarantula follows up a report of Nazi sabotage at the docks only to witness Sandman being shot down. However, this is Dian who, with Dodds out of town, had put on his costume in the hope that the mere sight of Sandman might scare the Nazis off. Dodds then arrives in Dian’s costume, wallops the tar out of the Nazis and decides to adopt the yellow-and-purple outfit in tribute to his dead girlfriend. Sandy Hawkins, we later learn, is Dian’s orphaned nephew.
Thomas was also responsible for attributing Sandman’s retirement from the JSA to an early heart attack which, in the Eighties, has him near incapacitated after a stroke.
But the earliest retcon was the last chronological missing link, and that was related by Len Wein as early as 1974, in the only one issue JLA/JSA team up. The two teams find themselves defending York City against a raging silicon-based monster, causing havoc, but, it appears, absorbing the vibrations preceding a massive earthquake: the monster is Sandy.
Dodds relates a guilty secret that he’s nursed for decades: he had developed a new crime-fighting weapon, the Silicoid Gun, which back-fired. The explosion changed Sandy into a silicon based monster with world-dominating intentions, but Dodds put Sandy to sleep and has kept him sedated ever since, trying secretly to restore him, too ashamed to seek help. The irony is that Sandy’s megalomania was only a temporary side-effect and he has been no danger – but has been too sedated to communicate this.
There was a follow-up story that had Sandy restored to human form, years later but that was it.
All of this has related to the Sandman 1, but a second, different Sandman was created, briefly, in the Seventies.
The Sandman 2 was the last, belated collaboration between Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, who had gone their separate ways in the Fifties, but who were both at National in 1974. Their idea was originally intended as a one-off, but was extended by other hands into a six issue series, cancelled with one issue unpublished. This Sandman was a colourful character, wearing a caped costume similar in design to that of Sandman 1, with red substituting for purple. He occupied the Dream Dome from where he issued to protect humanity from nightmares and unpleasant dreams. In this, he was assisted by the monstrous, and somewhat silly, Brute and Glob, and usually involved the young boy Jed Walker. He could venture into real life, but only for one hour every week. It was an amiable curiosity that, like so many series in that period of National’s history, went nowhere. In this instance, the main complaint as that the series was too juvenile.
Roy Thomas, needless to say, picked him up as an Earth-2 related character, including him in Wonder Woman 300 and defining him as Dr Garrett Sandford who, after saving an important but unnamed man’s life, had been projected into the Dream Dome. In direct contrast to the juvenile nature of Sandman 2’s series, this appearance had uncomfortably sexual undertones,with it being strongly implied that Sandford was trying to slip into Diana’s more intimate dreams.
This Sandman’s next appearance was in Thomas’s Infinity Inc 49, haunting Lyta (The Fury) Trevor. Lyta was then six months pregnant by Hector Hall, Hawkman’s son and a former hero under the name of The Silver Scarab. Hector had been revealed to be under a curse, to be used as a weapon against his parents, but had died resisting. Now, he had returned, as the Sandman 3.
Apparently, Sandford had cracked, due to loneliness and isolation, and killed himself. So Brute and Glob had seized Hall’s soul and melded it to Sandford’s body, to replace him. The outcome was that Lyta, overjoyed that Hector still lived, returned with him to live in the Dream Dome, reunited.
Such was the status at Crisis on Infinite Earths. Afterwards, Sandman 1, mystically rejuvenated, went to limbo with the Justice Society. He would return in the open-ended Justice Society of America series, although he was struck down by a stroke in the opening pages. Nevertheless, he was there for the JSA’s last battle, the defeat by Extant, where all that remained of his rejuvenations were stripped away.
I’ve leaped ahead somewhat, just to tie up this thread for the moment. But, post-Crisis, DC came up with its most famous Sandman of all, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, technically Sandman 4 although, as we will now see, the thread of continuity between the various Sandman characters, stretched by Sandman 2/3, was cast entirely aside by the introduction of, not a new character, nor a new costume, but an entire mythology.
Gaiman’s Sandman series featured a character that never once called himself Sandman, nor was addressed as such. He was instead Dream, Morpheus, Oneiros, the Shaper: Dream of the Endless, of an order of seven siblings who were set to rule seven realms of experience that jointly comprised all that humanity existed within: Destiny, Death, Dream, Destruction, Desire, Despair and Delirium, who was once Delight and who may yet change again.
Dream could not have been furthered removed from the spheres established about Sandman. The series was a mammoth success: by the time of its final issue, when the series ended because Gaiman had completed the story he’d begun in 1988, it was DC’s top seller. It’s a big enough subject that it would swamp everything else in this article.
Naturally, Gaiman was savvy enough to incorporate both the previous Sandman traditions within his narrative. Wesley Dodds’s fussy origin is swept smooth: Dream, imprisoned for most of the 20th Century, has a fragment of himself caught in Dodds, who is tormented by dreams until he starts going out at night with his gas mask. Brute and Glob become rebellious servants of Dream, who have created the Dream Dome out of the dreamscape of young Jed, intent on carving out a dream realm of their own. Dream sends Hall on to his long-overdue death (although his spirit is later reincarnated as Doctor Fate 5, as we’ve seen). Lyta, still six-months pregnant after two years, is told that her baby, gestated for so long in dreams, belongs to Dream.
The baby is named Daniel, and his kidnapping later by Puck and Loki initiates the course of events that lead ultimately to Dream’s ‘death’ and his reincarnation – Sandman 5? – is in a form built upon Daniel Hall.
Before that point, we had had the unique sight of the original spinning off in a spin-off series. Sandman was so popular that a proposal was accepted from writer/artist Matt Wagner to revive Wesley Dodds in a series called Sandman Mystery Theatre, published under DC’s mature readers brand, Vertigo.
As such, Mystery Theatre does not strictly exist in the continuity of the DC Universe,although its power and effect was such that all subsequent canon stories have been produced in its shadow.
Sandman Mystery Theatre performed four act (issue) stories, drawn by artists who specialised in a period feel, with Guy Davis drawing two such stories every year. Wagner, and his writing collaborator Steven T. Seigle, reset the original Sandman in the late Thirties, adopting a very realistic pulp noir stance to new and retold stories from Wesley Dodds’s history, as Dodds pursues crimes spurred on by his racking dreams.
Mystery Theatre, which would run for 70 issues, was a fascinating series, narrated in alternating arcs by Dodds and Dian Belmont. It tackled serious social subjects, like racism, oppression, child abuse and abortion.. Dodds, redrawn as short, slightly plump, wearing glasses, used a trench cot and a World War 1 gasmask rather than the flamboyant pulp costume of his comics past. It was a fascinating series, over half of which has so far been collected into Graphic Novels, but it died, deliberately in mid-story, on the eve of war, through lack of sales. Even Dodds’ change into yellow and purple skintights has been re-explained in the psychological terms of Mystery Theatre.
Sandman Mystery Theatre – Sandman 1 re-defined
The Daniel Hall/Sandman 5 has been little seen since the end of Gaiman’s series, and there was indeed a reluctance initially to use the name, DC having taken the unexpected step of ceding some degree of ownership to Gaiman. But you can’t keep Sandman out of the JSA.
James Robinson included an adventure between his new Starman and the aged but still mentally active Wesley Dodds, which prompted Dodds and his lifelong companion, Dian Belmont (who has no longer been shot in 1942) to retire to the far east of Dodds’ childhood. There, as told in JSA Secret Files 1, Dian died of natural causes and Dodds, who had learned of the impending birth of the new Doctor Fate via a prophetic dream, sent the news back to America but stayed to confront the Dark Lord and to go to his death willingly and peacefully. This sparked the JSA revival, but Dodds’ own mantle was passed to Sanderson (Sandy) Hawkins, who took it up as Sand, but was Sandman 6 by any count.
Though Dodds’s prophetic dreams were supposed to be passed on to Sand, these were never explored, Instead, the focus was on Sand’s powers, as a silicon based creature despite his human appearance, to pass through glass and concrete, and sense and manipulate geological fault lines. Hawkins funded the new JSA at the outset and was its first Chairman, but after the first two years, a clash over leadership with the resurrected Hawkman 1, resulted in an election that brought in the new Mister Terrific as Chair. Later, Hawkins disappeared, eventually turning up in Sandman 2/3’s costume in a new Dream Dome, manipulated by Brute and Glob: that phase lasted less than two issues.
Come the post Infinite Crisis Justice Society of America, Sand was once again Sandman, in an up-dated version of Dodds original business suit. This reclamation of the name was a result of former Publisher Paul Levitz stepping down to make way for a management that did not have the personal relationships he’d built up over many years with writers and artists who, at the time, DC had regarded as creative partners. Instead, Managing Editor Dan DiDio seized upon the chance to reinstate the heavily editorial driven approach that now dominates, which has seen many characters whose individual courses had taken them far afield being dragged back into the DC Universe.
The prime example is the recent, highly controversial Before Watchmen series of comics, but the reinstatement of the Sandman name was one of the first steps, Not that DC ever got to any real grips with Sandy Hawkins as an updated original Sandman.
There is an anomaly to mention. In 2004, DC published a five issue Sandman Mystery Theatre mini-series, set in contemporary times, and featuring cameraman/journalist Kieron Marshall crossing Dodds’ tracks in the Middle East, and temporarily taking up his gas mask and gun, but this Sandman, which ought fairly to be recorded as Sandman 7, exists at a tangent to every other tradition, and may easily be ignored.
The New 52 removed all of this. Instead, we have Commander Wesley Dodds and his Sandmen paramilitary force, about which I wish to know nothing. Neil Gaiman has agreed to write the story that preceded his Sandman 1, which is eagerly awaited, and no-one gives a damn about where it fits in to any continuity except that of Gaiman’s series. We should all be so lucky.