Sunday, November 22, 2009

Hero of the Week #25: Sandman

Real Name: Wesley Dodds
First Appearance: Adventure Comics #40 (July, 1939)
Group Affiliation: Black Lantern Corps, Justice Society of America (former)
Gaming Credentials: DC Universe Online (TBA)
Infinite Wars Cumulative Ranking: #123

Last week's HOTW [Dr. Fate] was inspired by the Smallville two-parter set to feature the Golden Age heroes of the Justice Society of America, which has since taken on a life of it's own as a TV movie, Absolute Justice.

Written by fan-favourite reverend of reverence, Geoff Johns; the characters -- which were a vital part of solidifying his status as an A-list writer -- appeared to be in proven good hands, but 1up poster, Sune, raised the fair question of whether or not these colourful characters could reach the screen without becoming garrish parodies of their printed selves. As if to respond, a teaser trailer was released a couple of days later:

If you ask me, the brief glimpses featured immediately put to bed any concerns about the quality of treatment the classic characters will receive. It's difficult to gauge exactly how prominent the JSA will feature in their iconic forms, with an odd glow on shots of Dr. Fate and Sandman suggesting their costumed escapades might be relegated to flashbacks of better days -- a visually expressive interpretation of their golden age days. Not that I'm complaining! I'll take what ever I can get!

Through the course of the trailer we also get pretty clear glimpses of pseudo-Superman Clark Kent; Smallville regular, Green Arrow; the Golden Age Green Lantern's ring; and memorabilia from the JSA Brownstone, which includes a classic painted groupshot featuring; Star-Spangled Kid, Atom, The Spectre, Flash, Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Hourman, Mr. Terrific, and others. If you don't know who all of these characters are, then you'll have to take my word for this being a very cool detail.

Of particular personal note is the trailer spotlight on The Sandman.

Chances are you're more familiar with the Marvel villain of the same name who featured in the third Spider-man film, and a handful of recent related video games. Though more obscure, the Golden Age DC Sandman predates his grainy counterpart by almost thirty years, having officially debuted mere months after Batman, in the pages of the July 1939 issue of Adventure Comics.

Much like early Batman; The Sandman owed his origins much less to the superhero phenomenon being established by The Phantom and Superman, steeped moreso in the tradition of adventure and detective mysteries found in pulp magazines like those that starred The Shadow, or The Spider.

Sandman's early adventures dealt with an array of detective exploits that brought him into conflict with murderers and felons, whose fates were sealed through Wesley Dodds' sleuthing, sneaking, and clandestine operations, sponsored in part by his special sleeping gas administered through a gun. It was for this reason he donned the eerie visage of the gas mask that has become iconic to the character. It's interesting to see the unique early design of the character faithfully recaptured in the Smallville trailer, featuring the trademark face mask, rather than a more conventional WWI gasmask design found in stories like those told in the nineties adult reimagining, Sandman Mystery Theatre.

Despite the strength of his early pulp-inspired aesthetic; The Sandman actually only existed in this incarnation for a very short time. As superheroes gained momentum in the 1940s, Sandman was given a complete makeover after his first few years, retooled as a hideously indistinct yellow and purple caped crusader. The character borrowed further from the popular conventions of superheroes of the time, gaining a young sidekick, inspired by the likes of Robin and Bucky, called Sandy.

While many of the World War II heroes were granted sustained age in the comics, the Wesley Dodds Sandman was killed off earlier in the 2000s. Continuing a theme of legacy that has spiralled out of the influence of the Golden Age characters, Dodds' sidekick, Sandy, eventually replaced him as The Sandman. It's entirely plausible that the Sandy version of Sandman will be the character featured in Smallville, alongside other legacy characters (like Stargirl), but for the sake of my own fandom, let the Wesley Dodds original be our Hero of the Week!

For the best source of Sandman adventures, I would strongly recommend the first volume of the Golden Age Sandman DC Archive Edition, and the collected editions of the modern Vertigo retelling of the Sandman's early career, Sandman Mystery Theater. The character has also made a cameo return as one of the undead Black Lanterns featured in Blackest Night. An upcoming JSA Blackest Night mini-series seems reasonably likely to take a closer look at the zombified hero.

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