I’ve mentioned many times that DC Comics loves its legacy heroes, passing a superhero name down to newer and younger versions of the same character. Not every old DC hero got a legacy character, but then there’s the case of a legacy who, in its own mythology, was the opposite of a legacy.
Let’s look at the original Sandman.
So, let’s get this out of the way first…when we mention the name of Sandman, this time we’re not talking about either the one who messes with Spider-Man or this guy:
Yes, that’s Morpheus, Dream of the Endless, who carried on in a deservedly celebrated Vertigo series by Neil Gaiman titled Sandman. But this wasn’t the original DC Sandman. That guy, a member of the old Justice Society, was Wesley Dodds. He fought crime wearing a nice suit complete with a fedora hat, an opera cape, and a gas mask. He carried a gun that shot gas pellets that could put people to sleep. That’s about it in terms of a description.
Dodds’ gimmick was he learned of crimes being committed from his dreams. He’d go to sleep, dream of a crime, and then be compelled to go out and do something about it. He was originally more of a pulp hero than a superhero. Heck, the guy occasionally got shot. But, as time went on, he went out and did like every Batman wannabe did and acquired a sidekick named Sandy the Golden Boy. Sometimes it was just Sandy. Of course, unlike most superheroes, Sandy opted not to take a codename different from his real name. His name really was Sandy after all.
Wesley also eventually got a girlfriend named Dian Belmont. Now, as it turns out, Dian is fairly interesting in her own right. Dian and Wesley, unlike many of the original JSA couples, never married. More recent stories portrayed Dian as an early feminist, an author, and someone who was often as competent at solving crimes and injustice as her longtime paramour. In point of fact, when James Robinson’s Starman series did a meeting between youthful Jack Knight and his father’s old friend Wesley, Jack was more excited to be meeting Dian than Wesley.
But with a girlfriend and a sidekick, Sandman became a more conventional superhero. He even dropped his incredibly cool gas mask and opera cape look for a more traditional superhero suit that is, in a word or two, utterly forgettable.
Apparently, that costume was Sandy’s idea. By that point, the character had been taken on by the team of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.
But what did Morpheus have to do with Wesley Dodds? Well, in the pages of Gaiman’s Sandman, Morpheus, a legacy character, was actually the in-universe inspiration for Dodds. When Morpheus was captured by a low rent sorcerer in the first issue of the Vertigo series, among the side effects of his absence as the Lord of Dreams was that Wesley Dodds, sensitive to Morpheus’ disappearance, interpreted the lose as best he could and became the crime-fighting Sandman. Dodds and Morpheus never actually met during the course of Gaiman’s series, but Dodds was always somehow lurking as a plot point in the background, finally getting a speaking role in the final storyline as one of the speakers at Morpheus’ funeral.
In fact, the success of Gaiman’s work led to Dodds getting his own Vertigo series. Set in the 30s, Sandman Mystery Theater was a noir re-examination of Dodds’ Golden Age adventures with Dian as a prominent co-star.
Dodds aged rapidly like most of the original JSA during Zero Hour and later died shortly after losing Dian to cancer at the hands of the sorcerer Mordru in a final act of heroism. His prophetic dreams also kicked off Kingdom Come, but the New 52 whipped up a secret agent version of Dodds that doesn’t seem particularly memorable. But really, what we have here is a guy who inspired a character that supposedly inspired the original guy.
Try not to think too hard about that one.