Sandman Mystery Theatre took a longstanding DC hero from the Golden Age and gave him a modern look at his original adventures. Using noir stylings, this version of Wesley Dodds could look into the sorts of mature-themed stories that would have never appeared in the 1940s.
With that in mind, let’s look into the second volume, collecting three four-part storylines and an annual.
Here’s the thing: these stories as mysteries are often not overly mysterious. Writers Matt Wagner and Steven T. Seagle don’t exactly hide who the criminal the Sandman is looking for is (except for the annual). There are plenty of side scenes and, let’s face it, unless they reveal the criminal is some unseen character who just pops up, the villain of the piece is going to be someone in the story.
So, as mysteries, the reader should be able to solve things the mystery before Wesley Dodds does. The mysteries are almost beside the point. What matters is using the characters to explore the time period and the sorts of issues that couldn’t and wouldn’t have been explored when Dodds was a new character. For this one, Dodds’ dreams have him hunting a group of former sorority sisters, some of whom seem to be lesbians, tracking down, seducing, and murdering the former fraternity brothers who raped them; the Scorpion, a man who claims to be out to punish the rich with a poisoned bullwhip; and Doctor Death, a man giving out deadly prescriptions to older people. The annual deals with a central park mugger, and mostly deals with different viewpoints of people involved in the case in one way or another.
But aside from the mugger, none of these criminals should be hard to figure out. If anything, their motivation is what counts, and what the series really does well is not necessarily Wesley (who is a fun character), but his outgoing, forceful love interest Dian Belmont. Dian isn’t dumb, and has a knack for getting into trouble, but she is also not a damsel in distress type. By the book’s end, she knows Wesley’s secret dual life (even dreaming briefly herself of a captured Morpheus), and she didn’t get told: she figured it out herself. The book ends with the relationship between the two in an uncertain state, and the trip is worth it.
Aside from the annual, the artwork here is completely the province of Guy Davis. Giving the book a regular artist is a good idea, even if Davis’ admittedly good artwork doesn’t always make it easy to tell some characters apart. Still, I’d give this one a thumbs up. Eight and a half out of ten abused women making excuses.