(As I don’t have the clear head to do any writing on my aliens book right now, here’s another repost from my own blog).
Everyone nerdy enough to read our blog here has probably read Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. If not, you’ve certainly heard of him.
You’re probably also aware of Wesley Dodds, the Golden Age Sandman, either because of the Joe Simon/Jack Kirby reboot that breathed life into the character (but see the comments about that) —— or Matt Wagner’s Sandman Mystery Theatre, which made the first incarnation with the business suit and gas mark interesting.
The Bronze Age Sandman, by contrast, is an obscure book (though it is in a Kirby omnibus) and for good reason. Despite being another Simon and Kirby work, nobody has ever written a column suggesting this is a Comic You Should Own.
This Sandman debuted in 1974 in a one-shot by Simon and Kirby. General Electric, a Japanese WW II veteran with an electronic head, is secretly plotting revenge on the US of A. His weapons are animatronic dolls he designed for a Japanese toy-maker; American families have snapped them up for kids, unaware they’re programmed to kill, kill and kill again!
Jed, a young orphan living with his fisherman grandfather, owns one of the dolls so he’s in deadly danger. Fortunately the Sandman — apparently the Sandman of folklore, though they don’t spell it out — intervenes to stop General Electric’s evil plans, ultimately taking the villain down with his hypersonic magic whistle (think the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver amped up by a factor of 50).
It was a silly, goofy tale, typical of Joe Simon’s writing in this era: the Green Team and the Outsiders in 1st Issue Special, Brother Power the Geek and of course Prez. For whatever reason — Kirby’s art? The Golden Age Simon and Kirby team reunited? Curiosity about a new hero? — Sandman sold well enough to launch a series the following year. Michael Fleisher and Ernie Chan took over the writing and art respectively but kept the one as much like Simon & Kirby as they could (Kirby returned to art duties with #4). The Sandman, accompanied by the living nightmares Brute and Glob, battled various oddball threats intruding on people’s dreams, with Jed invariably dragged into peril at some point. Whatever the terrible threat, the magic whistle could always banish it or blow it up so there was never any serious obstacle to victory.
I’d bought the first issue out of curiosity, and went on to buy the entire run. This probably reflects me being such a completist in my teen years; I don’t remember liking it much and rereading recently didn’t reveal any hidden depths or special charm. If I’d been about a decade younger, I suspect I’d have loved it, so perhaps that was the market they were shooting for.
Judging by the letter column, that wasn’t the readership they were getting, which may explain why they tried shaking things up. First Jed’s grandfather dies and Jed moves in with his bullying, abusive relatives and their fat, bullying son. Swear to god, I’d suggest this book was inspiration for the Dursleys in Harry Potter but I think the chance J.K. Rowling stumbled across this is pretty slim. And it’s not as if orphans haven’t been enduring brutal caregivers since the Victorian age.
By the sixth and final issue, DC had acknowledged more change was needed: the magic whistle was too much of a deus ex machina so they were going to work harder on putting the Sandman in real peril. They never got the chance. The final issue does have one funny moment in which arch-foe Dr. Spider notifies the White House that if they don’t submit, he’ll blow up Washington with the Sandman’s magic whistle. Instead of panic, everyone laughs at the obvious crank caller.
That would have been the end of this incarnation if Roy Thomas hadn’t worked General Electric and Sandman into his run on Wonder Woman with Gene Colan. Up to that point there’d been no reason to think the Master of Dreams had any ties with the DC Universe. Wonder Woman #300 revealed he was Garrett Sandford, an Earth-One psychologist tossed into the dream dimension to save the president from mind-wrecking nightmares. Unable to return to reality except for brief periods, he set up shop as the Sandman.The character returns in Thomas’ Infinity, Inc. but under the mask he was deceased Infinity member Hector Hall, whose soul entered the Dream Stream prior to his death. By that point, Sanford had killed himself so Hall’s spirit became the new Sandman. As he can only live on Earth for one hour a day, the story ends with him taking his wife Lyta, AKA Fury, into the Dream Stream with him.Neil Gaiman eventually eliminated this pretender to Morpheus’ throne. It turns out Glob and Brute were two of Morpheus’ dream-creatures who’d gone rogue, setting up their own pocket dream universe and creating their own Sandman (I could never figure out why). Morpheus sent Hector’s soul into the afterlife; Lyta gave birth to Daniel, who inherited the mantle of Dream from Morpheus. Hector would later go on to become the umpteenth incarnation of Dr. Fate while Lyta never got to do much but be Mrs. Hector Hall.
General Electric appeared a couple of years back in DC’s Young Animals imprint so who knows? Maybe even the forgotten Sandman will put in an appearance some day. But I won’t shed any tears if he doesn’t
#SFWApro. Covers by Dave McKean, Gavin Wilson, Jack Kirby, Kirby, Kirby and Vince Argondezzi