Tag Archives: Guy Davis

Today’s Super Comic — Sandman Mystery Theatre #20 (1994)

Comics have a different kind of “will they/won’t they?” – will the hero’s significant other learn his/her secret identity?

In Sandman Mystery Theatre, that scenario is performed by Wesley Dodds (the Sandman) and Dian Belmont. It’s a fitting venue for secret-identity tension, since it is a mystery series and all, but what’s especially great is that it’s two-sided. Wesley is grappling with whether to tell her, but Dian is piecing together clues on her own. Both characters demonstrate independent agency.

Of course, that’s an ongoing subplot that gains momentum in #20. The main plot, naturally, involves a murderer the Sandman must defeat. But the relationship between the two main characters is the series’ true selling point in the issues I’ve read. A masked mystery man isn’t enough—we need to know the man behind the mask. And a love interest isn’t enough either—we need to get to know her as her own person, too.

So apparently, if you take 1930s pulp mystery and inject a strong dosage of characterization, you get something incredibly compelling. What a shocker.

Writers: Matt Wagner and Steven T. Seagle

Artist: Guy Davis

Cover: Gavin Wilson and Richard Bruning

Publisher: DC Comics (Vertigo)

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Sandman Mystery Theatre (Book 4): The Scorpion (TPB)

Appropriate For: ADULTS ONLY

Today’s Super Comic — Sandman Mystery Theatre #1 (1993)

Correcting another oversight of mine…I had never read Matt Wagner’s Sandman Mystery Theatre, but I just picked up a few of the early issues to sample it. Judging by #1, I might have to pick up a lot more.

This is a Vertigo series from the heyday of the imprint, so keep the kids away. But for adults, the first issue gets us off to a compelling start. Set in 1938 New York City, the book stars the original Sandman, Wesley Dodds, early in his crimefighting career. (No relation whatsoever to the Neil Gaiman version.)

The book predates the advent of DC’s superheroes, so a mystery man with a gas mask and strange sleeping-gas gun rates as highly bizarre and downright creepy in the context of this world. However, we see only a little of the Sandman in action and spend far more time with Wes Dodds as he meets his future wife, Dian Belmont, for the first time at a benefit function. Dian isn’t just a romantic interest, though—Wagner writes her as co-lead.

We get a sense of Wesley as a driven, sober man and Dian as a lively, curious woman. They already display some initial chemistry and stand on their own as distinct characters. Wagner takes his time introducing them, giving them time to breathe while still making sure important developments happen in the issue.

The plot of this initial arc involves a criminal named Tarantula who kidnaps a friend of Dian’s, and this will inevitably put her on a path to meet Wes’s other identity.

I’ll have to read more.

Writer: Matt Wagner

Artist: Guy Davis

Cover: Gavin Wilson

Publisher: DC Comics (Vertigo)

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Sandman Mystery Theatre Book One (TPB)

Appropriate For: ADULTS ONLY

Today’s Super Comics — Fantastic Four: Unstable Molecules #1-4 (2003)

Fantastic_Four_Unstable_Molecules_Vol_1_1Fantastic Four: Unstable Molecules is not a typical Marvel comic, nor is it even a superhero story.

The covers bill it as “The True Story of Comics’ Greatest Foursome,” but it’s based on a true story in the same way the movie Fargo is based on a true story—not actually, but it commits to pretending it is.

So this miniseries pretends that the members of the Fantastic Four are based on real people from 1950s America, and it presents them in all their dysfunctional glory. We meet a Reed who’s trying to stretch his mind to achieve a scientific breakthrough, a Sue who feels invisible, a Johnny who’s a hotheaded angry kid, and a Ben who can be a bit of a jerk. Each one corresponds to their FF counterpart, but none are heroes. They’re just deeply flawed people going about their lives and getting caught up with the Cold War, societal expectations, Beatniks, or their own worst impulses.

And it’s all fascinating, particularly the second part, which focuses primarily on Sue. She’s 26, orphaned, struggling to raise her teenage brother, dating a much older scientist who’s too wrapped up in his work to notice her, and subjected to the judgment of the older women in her neighborhood. A comic within the comic that Johnny reads depicts a ‘50s-style super-heroine, and its panels convey Sue’s state of mind as she endures a rough day in a generally unhappy life.

James Sturm, the founder of the Center for Cartoon Studies, has written a truly unique Fantastic Four book, one that feels much more indie than Marvel. And it’s a nice change of pace indeed.

This is a comic that has things to say, and it’s worth a look even if you couldn’t care less about the Fantastic Four.

Writer/Layouts: James Sturm

Artist: Guy Davis

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Fantastic Four: Unstable Molecules (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 17 and up