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Sandman (Wesley Dodds), a pulp hero in the DC Universe

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Long before Neil Gaiman introduced his version of the Sandman in the DC Universe, another Sandman haunted the pages of comic books. For a long time, I mean 60 years. The original Sandman was one of the first “superheroes,” a DC Golden Age superhero.

Really, this Sandman was more of a pulp hero. Created by writer Gardner Fox and artist Bert Christman for Adventure Comics #40—but he appeared a bit earlier in the New York World’s Fair Comics #1 (April 1939), a book published on the occasion of the 1939 World’s Fair—, The Sandman was one of the one original mystery men, a vigilante wearing a green business suit, a fedora, and a World War I gas mask, who used a gun emitting a sleeping gas to incapacitate criminals.

Wesley Dodds Is the Sandman

Behind the mask was Wesley Dodds who is fighting crime with his girlfriend, Dian Belmont. Dian is a rarity to this day, as she not only knew of Wesley’s dual identity, but she also helped him, and they stayed together all their lives, even if they never married.

Of course, Wesley Dodds’s story as the Sandman went through some creative changes as the costumed superheroes became more dominant. In 1942, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby left Marvel for a while and joined DC (it was not called DC at that time, though).

Their first assignment was to revamp The Sandman. Wesley Dodds got a new yellow-and-purple costume and a kid sidekick, Sandy the Golden Boy—the nephew of Dian Belmont. Also, he stopped using his sleeping gas and started leaving poems behind him.

The other big change was the type of criminals Wesley and Sandy had to fight. No more gangsters or basic criminal masterminds, the Sandman had to jump into the Sandmobile to go against magically charged, mystically inspired, and colorful enemies.

The Sandman, a Team Player

As the Sandman, Wesley Dodds was not only a vigilante, he also became—with Doctor Fate, Hourman, The Spectre, Atom, Flash, Green Lantern (Alan Scott), and Hawkman—a founding member of the JSA, the Justice Society of America, the first superhero team. He stayed with the team for a few years, up until the House of Un-American Activities Commission announced that the members of the JSA would have to reveal their secret identities to the general public. 

This and a tragic incident involving Sandy the Golden Boy forced Wesley Dodds to retire.

As you may know, during the Silver Age, it was established that the original JSA were in fact heroes from Earth-II. In 1981, DC Comics launched All-Star Squadron, a series about the Earth-Two mystery men during WWII. Sandman was not one of the regular members of the team, but the series did explore his history. We got an explanation for the costume change (it was Sandy’s suggestion to make the Sandman more appealing to the public) and we learned that Dian died, but this was retconned later.

In fact, a lot was revisited later in what is considered the definitive Sandman series.

Sandman Mystery Theatre

Following the success of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman reimagination, DC/Vertigo decided to launch a crime series following the early years of The Sandman/Wesley Dodds. A thin link was introduced to make Sandman Mystery Theatre a semi-spin-off of Sandman, but the two are not similar.

In fact, Sandman Mystery Theatre is a crime noir series written by Matt Wagner and (mostly) drawn by Guy Davis that is set during the 1930s. It follows Wesley Dodds as he starts fighting crimes. Introduced as the son of a recently deceased rich businessman, Wesley is a man with money, a difficult family history, and plagued with dreams that led him to put on a mask and use a gas that puts his opponent to sleep or makes them tell the truth.

The series is grounded in reality and directed to a mature audience. Themes like racism, abortion, political corruption, and, of course, the anti-semitism that was going with the rise of the Nazis and the looming World War II are explored. The tone is serious and the world-building is adding an authentic feel to Welsey’s adventures and moral conflicts.

Also, the relationship between Wesley and his girlfriend Dian Belmont (daughter of the District Attorney) played a central part in the story. At one point, she learned about Wesley’s secret identity and has to deal with helping him but also living with that dark and dangerous part of him.

Sandman Mystery Theatre retconned some of the Golden Age elements of the Sandman, but also introduced with its own style other founding members of the JSA, establishing a more grounded way to look at those old characters.

The series was set prior to the JSA, but James Robinson’s Starman explored the legacy of the team. In one story arc, we met retired couple Welsey and Dian, learning what became of them (other members of the team appeared throughout the series). Dodds also played a role in the famous Kingdom Come miniseries.

Reading Wesley Dodds’s Sandman

Sandman/Wesley Dodd’s stories from the different eras are available in collected editions (available is maybe a bit of a strong word for some books):

Sandman Mystery Theatre

DC Comics recently announced a new Compendium collection of the Sandman Mystery Theatre.

The series was previously collected (not entirely) that way:

Wesley Dodds: The Sandman of the New Golden Age

During the “Dawn of DC” initiative, DC Comics decided to bring back Wesley Dodds, reintroducing the character during the Knight Terrors event before integrating him into the New Golden Age–Geoff Johns’ new stories featuring the Justice Society of America–with a tie-in miniseries.

Last Updated on May 28, 2024.

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