Welcome to Adapt This, where I write about the various comics and books I really, really want to see adapted, either in movie or television format. First up: Sandman Mystery Theatre by Matt Wagner and Guy Davis.
The year is 1938 and the world is on the brink of war. In New York, District Attorney Larry Belmot worries about his daughter, Dian, as socialites begin to disappear and die, kidnapped and killed by someone called “the Tarantula.” But someone else is also on the case, someone who has the means to stop this serial killer.
As the message he leaves on his victims states: “I am the Sandman. And none can escape my dark dreams.”
The Sandman is actually Wesley Dodds, a rich playboy who has come home due to the death of his father and is plagued by dreams of a white-skinned man with black eyes, dreams that push him to create a gas gun and put criminals to sleep. Soon after meeting Dian Belmot, however, he begins to fall in love, even as he faces more and more dangerous opponents, like the Brute, the Vamp, the Butcher, and the Mist.
The Sandman was actually a Golden Age superhero, first appearing in Adventure Comics #49 (July 1939) and created by Gardner Fox and Bert Christman. Unlike other superheroes, the Sandman was more of a pulp hero, wearing a trench coat and gas mask, even eschewing the normal secret identity — his love interest, Dian Belmot, knew exactly that he was the Sandman and even helped him out, since she was the D.A.’s daughter.
However, as the standard superhero gained more popularity, the Sandman was redesigned and put into yellow and purple spandex and even given a sidekick by the name of Sandy the Golden Boy. He had various adventures, fought with the JSA, and eventually hung up his costume to retire with Dian and fade into obscurity with the readership.
Until 1993, that is, when the popularity of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman prompted DC Comics to revitalize the Wesley Dodds Sandman. The writer they chose was Matt Wagner, well known at the time for creating the neo-noir crime thriller Grendel and neo-fantasy Mage: The Hero Within, and artist Guy Davis, who had done the alternate universe Sherlock comic Baker Street and would go on to have an excellent run as the main artist on B.P.R.D.
Wagner and Davis immediately discarded all of the superhero trappings that the Sandman had accumulated and returned him to his pulp fiction roots. The stories were about serial killers and rapists and human traffickers, all of them drenched in the late ‘30s New York setting. Wesley Dodds, however, was no Bruce Wayne — sure, he was a rich playboy, but he seemed chubby and out of shape and preferred much more to use his wits than to actually get into a fight. After all, that’s why he carried his gas gun, so that he wouldn’t have to fight any criminal he came across.
Another element added was Wesley’s dreams, an attempt to connect to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. They were a side effect of Dream of the Endless being held captive and there was actually an crossover, Sandman Midnight Theatre, where both Sandmen almost met each other. However, Sandman Mystery Theatre liked to keep its stories just on the “realistic” side of the comic divide, to hold onto it’s pulp roots, even as it told more stories from Dian’s perspective.
After the first five issues, other artists would draw each storyline. The book itself went on for seventy issues, a healthy run for such an obscure hero.
Honestly, I would love to see Sandman Mystery Theatre as a television show, a sort of cross between Agent Carter and Arrow. It’s setting might be its biggest draw, but also it’s biggest impediment — making a city look like 1930s New York is probably not an easy task. But if they can do it, I would absolutely love to see an adaptation of Sandman Mystery Theatre.