Double Dead Comics Weekend: Heroes in Crisis 9 and Doomsday Clock 10


So I was right when I predicted, maybe six months ago, that I’d see Heroes in Crisis 9 before Doomsday Clock 12, for here is the former appearing the same week as issue 10 of the latter, with the penultimate issue due in another three months time and the final issue in sight of no published schedule at all. Let’s put the two together and talk about which is the biggest bust.

For me, it’s got to be Heroes in Crisis. I was expecting something interesting, thought-provoking, original and ground-breaking. I was expecting it to enslave me. I was expecting it to be good. Doomsday Clock has done nothing but live down to my expectations.

Last issue, Heroes in Crisis revealed that its villain was neither Booster Gold nor Harley Quinn, as had been trailed from the start, but instead Wally West, the series’ most controversial and unwelcome victim. What was so bad, as well as just dumbfuck stupid, about it was that whilst the multiple deaths were a tragic accident, Wally’s actions in covering up, concealing and fabricating evidence and framing innocents, placed him at or below the level of the most evil of supervillains.

Worse still than that, was the choice of Wally as the villain: Wally West, the victim of the New52, the wellspring of Rebirth in 2016, the character whose reappearance was a deliberate beacon, a symbol of hope, and who less than three years later has been trashed beyond recovery. And in choosing to make Wally such a manipulator of evidence, Tom King destroyed his own story: literally everything in issues 1-7 has been a fake, a red herring, a lie. None of it meant anything, except seven months’ waste of paper, ink and colour. Did nobody at DC realise this in advance?

The series has made Wally West irredeemable. The character is poisoned beyond any hope, except as a villin or a madman, for at least two decades: that was how long in took to bring Hal Jordan back after Emerald Twilight, and that only tenuously possible by having him be possessed by Parallax, the Fear-Demon. In the late 2030’s, assuming the comic book industry hasn’t disappeared up its own backside at last, someone can try to rehabilitate Wally. It would be nice if someone could come up with something that isn’t as cheap and casuall, or as blatant a rip-off, as having him be possessed, and not in his right mind.

Was this what Tom King planned all along? There’s been rumour, and circumstantial evidence, of editorial interference by Interferer in Chief Dan Didio. Who is known to dislike Wally West almost as much as he does Dick Grayson. Who was the force behind the conceptual approaches of the New52, which was rejected by Geoff Johns in Rebirth. Who has come out on top in a power-strugle with Johns, who made wlly the Hope of Rebirth.

Would DiDio be so petty? Are you kidding? He works in comics, doesn’t he? The industry is littered with the petty, the obsessive, the maladjusted.

You may by now be wondering why I am going on at such length on what is essentially a reprise of my comments on issue 8, but this is the bar that the last issue has to overcome when it tries to present the Redemption of Wally West, by doing more or less the same thing issue 8 did, that is, to wipe out what has gone before, and render the worst parts of issue 8 non-existent. It doesn’t work, not even for a second.

What happens is that, amongst another slew of single panel trauma investigations at Sanctuary, which we later learn is the new, repaired, publicly-known Sanctuary, the Booster-Beetle-Harley-Batgirl team catches up with Wally five days in the future where/when he’s about to strangle Wally West for his crime and take him back to Day Zero for his body to be found. Wally has decided against using time travel to, you know, like, stop himself from killing all those people in the first place, because of Flashpoint.

So, in the least convincing of manners and most cheap of reverses, Wally and Wally talk Wally out of it, Booster scoots into the future to grab a clone of Wally + 5 so that can be dumped at Day Zero, everybody hightails it out of Day + 5 before the Justice League get there,  and Wally can go back to Day Zero and confess his crime and get therapy, and go on to his bright and bountiful future in the DC Universe. The fact that in doing so he has now changed time in contravention of his principles in not changing time is not allowed to cross the mind of anyone except awkward readers.

It’s bullshit, pure bullshit from start to finish. Worse than bullshit, it’s pathetic. The series has been dull, static and uninvolving, and it has undercut itself over and over to the point where it holds no reality whatsoever. And to prove this yet further, Poison Ivy is returned to life is issue 9.

That leaves Roy Harper as the only prominent dead character, along with a bunch of neverwases, and that isn’t going to last.

I really had hopes for Heroes in Crisis but it disappointed from the outset. According to one of the spoilers that I’ve avoided until now, King, as the writer, submitted his outline story and had the characters to use dictated to him, but I’m still not going to let him off. That’s stupid nonsense. Look for a complete set on eBay from Sunday afternoon onwards.

As for Doomsday Clock 10, this armpit of a story has dragged on for so long that I no longer have the energy for any truly visceral commentary. At this late stage, on this attenuated schedule, you’d think that Johns and Frank would be making at least some effort to move the story towards its glacial conclusion, especially given that Doomsday Clock is meant to be the future of the DC Universe and nobody as yet has any idea what they have to do to get there, and that it supposed to be the springboard for the long overdue returns of The Justice Society of America and The Legion of Super-Heroes.

Issue 10 has been trailed for longer than prehistoric beasts have existed as heralding the return of the Justice Society, and it is true that we have some new dialogue from their first meeting, but in which version of reality that takes place is beyond determining. Essentially, Johns has decided to spend this issue in the head of Dr Manhattan, who does not perceive time in linear fashion, and using this to summarise what the Doc has been doing since departing the Watchmen Universe and arriving in DC’s.

It basically wanders about haphazardly whilst the Doc adjusts to the idea of being in a Multiverse in which time shifts at periodic intervals, until he realises that the DC Earth is actually not a Multiversal construct but a metaverse, whose history is constantly shifting.

I mean, ho-hum or what, so very rose by any other name. In the end, we get back to the same old conundrum we’ve had waved under our noses for about a year of real time, that Manhattan’s perception of the future ends with Superman throwing a punch at him, meaning that either Superman destroys him., or Manhattan destroys the metaverse. And aside from all other considerations, the odds of Manhattan destroying something Johns has only just named/defined this week are non-existent.

This latest instalment essentially writes the series off as a crossover series, as well as its already pronounced failure as a Watchmen fuck-with. We haven’t had any of that for an issue or two, so in one sense it’s cheering to see Johns flash back to Manhattan’s last conversation with Ozymandias in Watchmen 12, but really it’s not since Johns has to lie through his teeth about what Alan Moore had these two talk about, and invent something that never happened and which demeans the good Doctor yet more.

With Tom King’s run on Batman suddenly announced as ending twenty issues prior than we’d been led to believe, and the only other DC title I’m getting being The Terrifics, I foresee discarding the contents of each of these series asbeing beyond easy. I doubt I’ll even have to read anything in which they have consequences.

Will someone put this thing out of its misery? Before August and issue 11.

Normal Service Has Been Resumed…


Remember me telling you, just before Xmas, about my pre-ordered Justice Society of America Graphic Novel, that had had its publication date postponed three times since April 2016?

Today is the publication date last advertised. And I have duly received notification, literally minutes ago, that it has once again been postponed. to an unknown date.

Given that DC are now advertising a hardback Justice Society of America Graphic Novel that also included the earlier mini-series (which I have also pre-ordered), I am now convinced this book is never to be. So I’m cancelling my order and will content myself with the frustration of watching the more comprehensive edition miss multiple publication dates.

I can’t say this is unexpected…

Can I afford to wait?


Back in April 2016, I ordered a forthcoming DC Graphic Novel via Amazon. This was the collection of the 1992 ten-issue Justice Society of America series, written by Len Strazewski and pencilled by the late Mike Parobeck. I have the original issues still, but I am always in the market for an upgrade to Graphic Novel.

That was, as I have already said, April 2016. Twice, to date, publication has been set back about six months. Currently, it’s scheduled to appear on 2 January 2018. It hasn’t been postponed yet, and this is the closest we’ve got to an actual date without anything collapsing. Yet.

Of course, there’s still a week to go in which another postponement could be put in place, and you may therefore wonder why I am tempting fate by even opening my mouth about this.

I am doing so because, this week, I have read about another Graphic Novel collection of this ten issue series, except that this one is not only going to be in hardback, but it will also include the earlier eight-issue limited series Justice Society of America title, also written by Len Strazewski and pencilled by a variety of artists, which originally came into being as make-work project for the artists contracted to work on the delayed !mpact (sic) Comics project. For which I have those original issues still, and it would be even more attractive to collect both in one volume.

There’s just one thing. The publication date for this hardback is 1 January 2035.

To purchase this book (which I have placed on pre-order anyway), I would have to live to the age of eighty.

I’m not expecting to get the paperback much before then at this rate.

*UPDATE*

(29/12/17)

The publication date for the hardback has been brought forward to 15 May 2018. I have put it on pre-order.

I think I can last that long…

The Fall Season: Legends of Tomorrow season 2


And thus we complete the returning schedule.

Legends of Tomorrow didn’t really work last season. It was clumsy and clunky, ill-thought-out, the audience hated the Hawks, who are no longer with us (typically, I thought Fulk Hentschel worked really well as Hawkman). So an awful lot has been changed, to the extent that the producers are looking at this as a second go as a season 1.

In my spoiler-free world, I’ve managed to avoid anything but superficial hints about season 2’s changes. For instance, I knew that Nick Zano was joining the cast as Nate Heywood, aka Citizen Steel, but I did not know, until the end of this episode, that Arthur Darvill, as Rip Hunter, was leaving.

And I do know that the recurring villain this season is the Legion of Doom, which consists of a quartet of left-over baddies, Damien Dhark, the Reverse-Flash, Malcolm Merlin and – this one’s going to be tricky – Captain Cold.

And here we were, back to business. None of this Vandal Savage/Time Masters thing, in fact the Legends are the new, ad hoc Time Masters, playing time cops here and there, and spreading the joy of woman to woman love across the entirety of history (much as I love Caity Lotz, if the series is going to have her shagging every famous woman she meets, it will grow old very rapidly).

And straight away it’s pretty clearly more of the same, only different. It’s still clunky, and stiff, and kinda jerky in its transitions, and having Stephen Amell/Oliver Queen as guest isn’t designed to play to my prejudices at the moment. But it did the job, and I’ll happily keep watching it.

I’m sorry to see Arthur Darvill go, even though I can see how Nick Zano will make a better fit and can be more one-of-the-gang that the set-up ever allowed Rip Hunter to be. It’s unfortunate in that Zano’s character (who was created at the same time as Firestorm and by the same writer), Citizen Steel, has never been a character I’ve liked in any incarnation.

But at the end of the day, where Legends of Tomorrow scores for me is where it always did, misfire or not. It’s for the ten year old boy who’s always been a part of me, who grew up reading DC Comics, and who never imagined that he would ever see these obscure characters appearing regularly on his TV screens, in ‘real-life’ versions.

It’s like Doctor Johnson and that line about the dog walking on its hind legs: It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all. The part of me that goes back to Brigham Street, Openshaw, just sits and marvels that it is there.

And you know that season 2 will kick it for me by what happened in the final minute of this premiere. The Legends are about to shake the dust of 1942 off their backs when they’re ordered to stand where they are.

By the Justice Society of America.

Hooo-wah!

Fifty Years of Imagination


I don’t know the exact date, only that it was a Saturday, in March 1966. So only now can I say, without fear of inaccuracy, that the Fiftieth Anniversary has passed. The Fiftieth Anniversary of the most mind-blowing experience a ten year old boy ever had in reading.

I’ve written about it before, so forgive me for repeating myself, but a lifetime of experience flows on from this one tiny thing. Many are the consequences, including – not entirely fancifully – a marriage.

Fifty years ago, in March 1966, I was living in Brigham Street, Openshaw, in East Manchester, a working class area of terraced streets, between a local park and the Steel Wall, the wall enclosing the vast grounds of the English Steel Corporation. Though my eleventh birthday wouldn’t come until November, some ten weeks past the cut-off point of September 1, my Primary School Headmaster organised for me to sit the last Eleven-Plus exams, allowing me to go on to a Grammar School education that, a year later, would have been swept away by the Comprehensive System.

The Eleven-Plus consisted of half a dozen exams in basic subjects such as Maths and English, held at Varna Street School, a thirty minute walk away from home, and on the far side of Ashton Old Road, the major traffic route nearest to our backwater terrace. At first, my cautious mother escorted me there and back, but by the time of the last exam, on a sunny March Friday afternoon, she had enough confidence in me to trust me to get there and back without being knocked down and killed crossing the Old Road. Her confidence was not misplaced, given that I’ve lasted long enough to type this.

It was Friday afternoon. I was only allowed to cross the Old Road at Zebra crossings, and circumstances dictated that I should cross at the one just below the bridge over the canal branch, and turn right into Victoria Street to get through to the little warren of streets Back o’th’Park.

Our newsagents was on that side of the Old Road, further down, and they had American comics (exclusively DC) in their windows. So, being a dutiful child, I couldn’t go past Victoria Street to look, but I would get round it by carying on down the Old Road to the Zebra just above the Vicarage, and walking back up, past the newsagents window.

I had been reading American comics for, at best, a couple of years before this time. My parents didn’t approve of them, didn’t think they were worth the shilling they’d recently gone up to, but every now and then I was able to talk them into letting me have one, and with a naive cynicism way beyond my years, I figured that completing my first set of Exams was a good opportunity to argue for a reward.

It was no more than a general thought, but when I arrived at the window, it became an urgent and specific desire for Justice League of America 37.

There wasn’t a single Justice League member on the cover. It even boasted, incredulously, that there wasn’t. Instead, it featured five members of the Justice Society of America. I gaped in amazement. I’d never heard of the Justice Society and I seriously wanted to know. And what fuelled that desire was the incredible fact that the JSA had a Flash, Green Lantern and Atom, but they were completely different in costume and, in Green Lantern’s case, hair-colour!

I had to have it. I mentioned it to my mother as soon as I got home, to my father as soon as he got home, and again during the evening, and yet again on Saturday morning, in case they’d forgotten overnight, and one more time for good luck before we set out at 12.30pm to go to Granny and Grandad’s in Droylsden for dinner (this was the proper Northern Dinner: the evening meal was Tea).

And Dad parked round the corner and let me lead him to the newsagents where I pointed out the (thankfully unsold) comic, and we went in and the newsagent got it out of the window for me and I held it in my hands all the way to Droylsden.

I wasn’t allowed to look at it in the car – reading in the car ruined your eyes – and I couldn’t start then because we always arrived at 12.55pm for a one o’clock mealtime, and what with all in all, it was gone two o’clock before I was allowed to leave the table, scoop up my comic and race into the parlour to read it in peace and quiet.

Forgive me again, but I need to relish the memories. First I was introduced to the idea of Earth-2, a separate but parallel Earth, where things were not as they were in our reality, despite its familiarity. The strangeness of the idea, the concept of a place where things were different from how they were around me, took hold of me immediately, and it has been a lifelong fascination. Even before I met them, I fell for the sheer concept of the Justice Society. They were something magical, set against the ‘mundane’ reality of the Justice League that appeared every day, everywhere.

I was immediately hungry to know more, ever more, about these alternate figures, even though at first I could only see Johnny Thunder, the JSA’s equivalent to Snapper Carr as comic relief (as I’ve said before, when mentioning Snapper, don’t ask. DON’T ask.)

But before I even got to see the Justice Society, to see more of those strange Flash, GL, and Atom characters (plus a Hawkman in a cloth hood), we and the story got diverted to Earth-1, and its Johnny Thunder. And the bad Thunder knocked out the good Johnny and took over his Magic Thunderbolt and sent him out to rob a payroll. But The Flash stopped him, our Flash, the one I knew, I mean. So Thunder came up with the most mind-blowing idea of all time.

No matter how often I describe it, I’ve still not to my mind established how awesome what came next was. Nothing I’ve ever read in my life has had a comparable effect upon me. It expanded my mind more than any other thing has ever done, it opened up my imagination to a vastness of possibility.

Because Bad Thunder instructed his Magic Bolt to zip back in time and interfere with the origins of the Justice League, to change history, to undo what had been done and turn the world, the very earth on which we set out feet every day, into something incredibly strange. The very idea that such things could happen, a possibility that had never ever occurred to me beforehand, could have scared me to death. Instead, it encouraged, taught me to dream that things need not be as we see them, that to everything there was always an alternative, that for every path taken there was always a path, multitudes of paths untaken, and worlds that did not exist but which might have, in which we can see ourselves from angles undreamt of.

It was two pages of open-mouthed awe. A stormy night over Central City, a lightning bolt intercepted, Barry Allen goes home, still a slowpoke. Krypton’s unstable uranium core converted to lead, no planetary destruction, no rocket to Earth for baby Kal-El. A blast of yellow radiation intercepted, Abin Sur’s spacecraft undamaged, no power ring for Hal Jordan. A fragment of white dwarf star matter smashed, no discovery of size and weight controls for Ray Palmer. Dr Erdel’s Robot Brain shorts out, the Martian Manhunter is never teleported from Mars.

And, in the re-drawing of a panel drawn by Bob Kane twenty-six years earlier, the first appearance of Batman, the Bolt helps two anonymous thugs beat the crap – and the idea of being a crimefighter  – out of Bruce Wayne.

It was a lesson that, despite its instant impact, took me decades to understand fully. At the time, I just marveled at the way in which an established fictional world had just been turned over. Later, I would see what I had not understood at the time, that had almost certainly never been intended by Messrs Julius Schwartz, Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky and Bernard Sachs: that life itself, the inevitability of everything around us, depends on infinitessimal influences, that everything we are and do could be undone by the most minute of changes, and that it need not be the life-changing moments that need to be changed to change our lives, but the most common, most insignificant that can have the longest shadows.

I used to be married. I don’t talk about it here, because marriage involves two people and I respect her privacy. But it is at least fifty percent true that, if this comic had not been in the newsagents’ window on that day fifty years ago, I would almost certainly never have met her. It’s only fifty percent, because there is a later point which is absolutely crucial to that seemingly trivial chain of events, that depends on my having discovered the Justice Society, and there were other opportunities after Justice League of America 37 where I could have done that, where I would probably – but only probably – been just as fascinated by them.

But maybe not. Those later comics, fantastic though they were on both senses, lacked the scope of this particular issue. Maybe, if my introduction had come a year later, the same sense of mind-expansion may not have followed it, may not have resulted in the same degree of interest, might have meant that that later point was no point at all.

It’s an extreme example, but all of our lives are based in an unending sequence of such things. What we see and do at every moment – which in itself is influenced by what others, endlessly removed from you, have done – shifts your life this way and that. A man living fifty miles away from you oversleeps by five minutes. As a result, leaving for work three minutes later than he might otherwise means that he misses his train. Instead, he drives. The extra car on the road subtly changes traffic patterns. Someone misses a green light, is held up thirty seconds, loses more time on their journey. As a result, they take a short cut to work. By not stopping for a coffee at their usual shop, they don’t end up next to you at the counter. You don’t exchange sarky comments about the service. The meeting that would have led to your marriage, to the birth of your three children, never happens, because you never bump into each other again.

The world is made up of such things. We are all connected because we all affect each other in ways we can barely imagine, in ways most of us would never recognise. Understanding this affects your philosophies of life, your beliefs, your politics.

A comic. In a window, fifty years ago this month just passed. If someone had bought that comic, five minutes before I passed, on the way home from Varna Street, the deliberate long way round, what might those fifty years have been instead?

Nothing is insignificant. Thanks for that comic, Messrs Schwartz, Fox, Sekowsky and Sachs. Fifty years is too little a time to have enjoyed that moment.

Theatre Nights: possibility of repeats


During the nearly five year experiment with the New 52, which looks to be coming to an end with the forthcoming not-another-reboot Rebirth, DC Comics have pretty much cancelled Graphic Novel collections of stories from their old Universe(s). However, that might be about to exchange.

I’ve recently found out that the short-lived 1992 Justice Society of America series, cancelled in controversial circumstances after ten issues, is being collected, but the best news of all is that on 30 June, Sandman Mystery Theatre is being re-collected. And this time Volume 1 collects the first three performances: 12 issues under the same covers.

I have already pre-ordered it.

It’s very early days yet, but if fingers are crossed long enough, we may yet see the remaining uncollected stories made available in GN form. If this is the format of choice, it needs only five more volumes to bring everything together, including Sandman Midnight Theatre.

And maybe we might finally see the seventh and last Crisis on Multiple Earths GN appear. I have an incomplete series just waiting for the chance to get my hands on the last three team-ups.

Incidentally, having just bought the first two Madame Xanadu GNs, I’d like to draw to your attention the appearance our our favourite pair of New York socialites, Dian Belmont and Wesley Dodds in the second of these, ‘Dark Exodus’. It’s a good book in its own right, but spiced with a flavouring of the Golden Age Sandman…

Theatre Nights: Night of the Butcher


Sandman Mystery Theatre  25-28. Dramatis personae: Matt Wagner (plotter), Steven T. Seagle (scripter), Guy Davis (artist).
The curtain rises, the stage lights glow into life, an expectant audience hushes, its chatter diminished to a mere mumble.
We begin upon a dream, as we did two years previously, when the Mystery Theatre first opened its doors for the enlightenment and entertainment of its audience. Indeed, our newest play, Night of the Butcher, is more prone to the depiction of dream than any since that debut affair.
But though these dreams wrack Wesley Dodds no less than any have to date, it is interesting that they torment him with no monsters, that they do not lead him to another menace that he must pursue and overcome to gain relief. No, Wesley’s dreams are about Wesley, and the Sandman – both his own, local version, and that unknown and unseen be-helmeted being whose imprisonment is the source of all that drives our hero.
Because Wesley – and this has been designed deliberately,so that we are privy to his inner voice, just as in the last play we listened to Dian Belmont – isn’t functioning at all well. Dian holds his secret and has walked away from him. Wes is a man in love, faced with the worse possible scenario: the simultaneous need and inability to do nothing.
I’m speaking from experience here, experience I tried, in vain, to pass on to a friend who ended up lodging with me for several months after his marriage broke down. When things go wrong, sometimes you have to sit on your hands, bite your tongue, stifle every instinctive urge you have: you hurt the one who matters and you want to put it right, to do what’s needed to demonstrate that you’ve changed and it will be different, but what they want is time, and space, and solitude, to come to terms with things as they are now.
But you’re a man: you don’t do doing nothing, you’re in the wrong and you want to get out of it, you can’t change the past so it is imperative to change the future, now. And there’s also a strong element of fear that inaction will cost you your ability to change the future in your direction, because she’ll take a decision based on your not being part of the picture.
That’s Wesley Dodds in this play, and like most men in this situation, he’s not doing a very good job of it (my poor mate blew it completely).
It’s a good thing then that the Sandman is not dealing with the usual kind of calculating, twisted, repellent evil we are used to in the Theatre. Not that the deaths, of ordinary people, hacked to death and half their body removed, is not repellent, especially when Hubert Klein introduces the idea that the killer may well be eating what he takes – a notion that falls true in the end.
No, the villain requires little detection. He’s a weird, grossly obese, barely human man, barely able to speak intelligibly, living in the sewers, and indeed is eating his victims, and enough hints are dropped to suggest that he is the product of several-generation inbreeding. All that’s needed by way of investigation is to firstly imegine him, and secondly track which sewer he hides in. As much of the latter is done by Burke – Tony Burke, as we learn, partway – as by the Sandman.
Indeed, we see more of Burke, of what lies behind the stereotype of the hard-boiled detective, in this story than we have before, as Wagner and Seigle begin to open out everyone’s favourite, foul-mouthed anti-hero. That christian name is spoken by Gina, a woman Burke visits at the height of the case, when he’s having to come to terms with the cannibalism aspect, which has gone deeper than Burke usually allows things to get.
We know nothing more of Gina than that she’s very comfortable with him, that their relationship is  sexual – not at first, Burke’s too tense – and that he’s not in the least aggressive in his conversation with her.
Which is more than we can say for his accelerating anger towards the Sandman. It’s bad enough that he’s been gassed nearly half-a-dozen times already, but with Wesley in this strange, blundering state without Dian, there are more direct encounters in Night of the Butcher than in every play so far.
First, Burke is driven into a towering rage when he accidentally discovers the microphone the Sandman has had taped to the underside of his desk for several months. Then he catches sight of the gas-masked crimefighter at an outdoor crime scene and starts peppering him with bullets. Then, he catches the Sandman at the Hall of Records and proceeds to administer a serious beat-down, or, to be more English about it, a bloody good kicking, before he’s interrupted by the equivalent of the librarian, who won’t let him kicks Dodds to death.
But even that pales into insignificance in the climactic scenes in the sewers, when Burke, facing down the ‘ozark’ who has decapitated one of his two men, and has a meathook stuck into the chest of the other, knowing that the only chance any of them have is for he and the Sandman to work together, starts firing at Wes, not the killer!
Even when the Sandman has brought the killer down, literally seconds before parting Burke’s hair at the neck, the Lieutenant is so enraged at the vigilante who he considers to be every bit as much a villain as the rest that he still tries to shoot him dead – until the inevitable gas claims him again.
Yet despite an ingratitude that’s way sharper than a serpent’s tooth, that’s not Wesley’s worst moment in the story. Despite nearly being knocked to his death – twice – courtesy of Burke in the sewers, despite a monster hangover brought on by a night of actual drinking at Robert Li’s insistence (leading to the story’s best laugh, a ‘dream-page’ of nine identical blank white panels showing only a centre panel caption of ‘For the first time in nearly two years, I sleep without incident’), Wes’s lowest point comes in the nightclub to which Robert has led him when, already out of sorts, having had to bribe the doormen to overcome their racist attitude to Robert, he bumps into Dian.
And her date.
It’s in no way serious: I mean, the guy may be taller, more athletic and more handsome than Wesley, but Dian needs only that to remind herself that it’s far from what she wants. But Wes starts to getting more begging in his desperate need to have Dian back, to be able to function properly.
Of course, the moment she decides to follow up her concern about him is when Humphries is treating the Sandman’s heavily-bruised, post-Burke ribs, which leads to a flare-up of her feelings at the time of her discovery. But it provokes Wes into an unexpected flare-up in return, based on how she has not, for one second, attempted to understand his side of things.
The two part, rapidly, but Wes’s words have struck a chord that Dian can’t ignore. She not only says as much, when she phones Wes to put him on Burke’s tail. She’s not changed her mind about anything she’s said, but equally she admits that she can’t stop thinking about Wes, as much as what he does.
The end, when it comes, is rapid: too rapid to be an end to this interplay of feelings. Wes’s confusion, his uncertainty, his musings about the senility that runs in his family, and which he clearly fears, resolve themselves abruptly after the Butcher is brought down, demonstrating that although everything has been confused and impossible to interpret, it is still the dream that drives him.
And the restless Dian, confined with a parent who’s clearly more interested in the radio than her, goes for a drive, ‘somehow’ ending up where she directed the Sandman, and in time to offer him a lift home. Wes’s interior monologue has been quoting Proust: We do not succeed in changing things according to our desire, but gradually our desire changes. Dian pulls up alongside Wes and, with her old lightness, offers him a lift. They are once again in accord.
It is a beginning.
Before we prepare for the end of the play, which is in truth but an episode in a longer drama that has many more turnings to follow, we should add to our list of observations that Wesley is actually hurt so badly by Burke that it is beyond Humphries’ skill to deal with his injuries. That necessitates a Doctor, though none appears in the story. Wesley’s doctor, it appears, is McNider: Charles McNider, one assumes, who one day in the future will be blinded by a bomb, only to learn that he can then see, perfectly, in the dark.
From its first opening, the Mystery Theatre offered us a different Sandman. In this Theatre, the Justice Society could not exist: it was impossible to have this Wesley Dodds/Sandman exist in the same kind of Universe as speedsters, magicians, ghosts and wielders of magic weapons. And if we’re being strict, Ted Grant never owned a gym before becoming Wildcat, whilst Charles McNider was a surgeon, not a ‘GP’.
The Mystery Theatre doesn’t do, nor could it do, Superheroes. Or could it?
The lights dim. The curtain falls. The actors retreat beyond the proscenium arch, to await their next call to performance, in a play entitled The Hourman.
Break a leg.