Sandman Mystery Theater series discussion (spoilers, spec.)

compound

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For discussion of the old series from the 90s, as well as the current relaunch by John Ney Reiber and Eric Nguyen, SMT: The Sleep of Reason.

First issue of the new series was promising, but not mind-blowingly great, and I suspect I'll probably end up tradewaiting it.

Dian Belmont and Wesley Dodds vacation in Afghansitan in 1997, meeting their (apparent) death at the hands of would-be kidnappers. American photojournalist Kieran Marshall ends up "embedded" in the same region, in 2007, hoping to interview an obvious Osama bin Laden analog. The interview goes horribly wrong, and Marshall ends up taking on the role of Sandman to save himself.

I'll start out with the negative points first, so you'll know whether this series is for you:

* The plotting is blandly straightforward. The cutting back and forth between time periods can't shake the feeling that it's a fairly ordinary "passing-on-of-a-superheroic-legacy" narrative. A very inriuiging one, mind you, but it feels a lot less, well, mysterious, than the title would lead one to believe.

* It's defintiely not for continuity sticklers -- the fate of Dodds depicted here is at odds with the one depicted in JSA in 1999, so it's not for you, if you're reading this as a JSA completist, stay well away. For that matter, I'm not even sure whether this is set in post-Infinite Crisis DCU.

Okay, now onto the good stuff...

* The exploration of the themes... and there are plenty!

- The role of war reportage. Comparisions between "shooting" with a camera, and shooting with a gun. The power of images to shape reality. A more surreal take on the same ideas being explored by Brian Wood in DMZ.

- "Culture clash". The protagonist is a (somewhat) idealistic American deployed in a Third World warzone. This aspect kinda reminded me of the first arc from Steven Seagle's American Virgin (which is somewhat appropriate, considering he co-wrote the previous version of SMT). Addressing the limits of cultural relativism. The best line is an off-hand quip about an incident where Dian scolds an Afghan man for condemning his son for watching Sesame Street. It's a perfect character moment, and a great reminder that the fiesty, independent Dian we know and love has not gotten any softer in her old age.

- The blurring of borders between dreams and reality. Most interestingly, this is addressed by Massad, the Osama bin Laden analog, whose idea of a "dream world" is not far off from the promised heavenly afterlife that motivates fundamentalist suicide bombers.

- The "sand" motif itself. Considering the dry, arcid setting, and the sand-related racist slurs often directed at people of Arab descent, this visual theme is very apropos, tying in the concerns of the present-day Sandman with the motifs of his predecessor.​

* Gorgeous art by Eric Nguyen (Strange Girl). Very cartoony; which adds an appropriately dream-like quality that makes the harsher, grimmer, down-to-earth subject matter appear all the more horrific.

* Accessibility. Even if you're not familiar with the prior (Vertigo) series, or who the characters are, you can easily follow this new story. The flashbacks are clearly written enough to give you a fundamental understanding of what the Sandman role is all about, and whatever remains unsaid just adds nicely to the "mystery" aspect.

I don't like assigning numerical grades, but that seems to be the convention with the reviews on this site, so if I must: 3.5/5

Anybody else pick this up?
 
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MoS

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Pick of the week:
Sandman Mystery Theater #1 (Rieber/Nguyen; WildStorm) Excellent first issue for this relaunch - very good script and great art. I'm a fan of Eric Nguyen's from his work on the first 8 issues or so of Strange Girl, and this series features a more restrained, serious style from him. No less complicated and detailed though, and his is the kind of work that I see something new in the panel each time I look at it. The first issue puts together two stories; the present story of a journalist embedded in a combat unit in Afghanistan and the second the story of the aged Wes and Dian of the original Sandman Mystery Theater. I'm sure the stories are going to collide head-on at some point. Definitely my pick of the week for such a strong debut.
 

compound

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I read in CSN that it was pretty good, though it was ending soon.
Perhaps you're mistaken -- the first issue of the new series (Sandman Mystery Theater: The Sleep of Reason) was just released this week.

Here's a preview of the series, for those who'd like to get a feel for how it looks:

http://comics.ign.com/articles/737/737002p1.html


I just might pick it up. I just have to wikipedia Sandman first.....
Make sure you look up Wesley Dodds, the Golden Age Sandman -- the previous series followed the detective/crime-solving exploits of Dodds and his love, Dian Belmont, the hard-living, free-spirited Distric Attorney's daughter, set in Depression-era America. It's fairly different in setting from the current series (obviously).

Yeah, a working familiarity with the character would probably help to appreciate what's going on in The Sleep of Reason.

However, as I noted in my review, it's really not necessary to have any prior knowledge, in order to appreciate the current series (at least, based on the first issue).
 
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