Review by Win Wiacek
Joe Simon and Jack Kirby didn’t create the 1940s skintight yellow and purple costumed Sandman, but they propelled him to popularity, and this superb hardback collection reprints all their tales.
‘Riddle of the Slave Market’ begins with a sleek, dynamic pair of gleaming golden lions exploding across eleven pages of graphic fury as the Sandman crushes a white-collar criminal with a nasty line in illicit indentured servitude. Moreover, the character had overnight acquired his unique gimmick: Sandman’s crusades against crime were presaged by the perpetrator suffering nightmares of imminent retribution. This semi-supernatural element and fascination with the world of dreams added a conceptual punch to equal the kinetic fury of the art.
Eerie instant classic ‘The Man Who Knew All the Answers’ stars a small-town professor who artificially increases his intellect – but not his ethics. ‘The Villain From Valhalla!’ pits the galvanic heroes against a hammer-wielding Norse god in a cataclysmic Battle Royale, followed by an equally astounding clash with sinister floral villain Nightshade. Heavily emphasised foreboding oneiric elements reoccur in ‘Mr. Noah Raids the Town!’ as a soothsaying mastermind unleashes preposterously intelligent animals to steal and kill, ‘Dreams of Doom!’ finds an innocent man plagued by nightmares and compelled to solicit the aid of the Master of Dreams.
A sinister Swami is exposed in ‘The Miracle Maker!’ before the heavily exotic fantasy of ‘A Modern Arabian Nightmare’. Eerie temporal-trap mystery ‘Footprints in the Sands of Time!’ bangs the patriotic drum, and it’s thrill-a-minute crime mayhem in ‘The Man Who Couldn’t Sleep!’. ‘A Drama in Dreams’ presents a baffling conundrum for Sandy to solve alone, after which the creators indulge in the seasonal shocks of madcap Yule yarn ‘Santa Fronts for the Mob.’
Blockbusting boxing romance results when the heroes aid ‘The Lady and the Champ!’ Next comes a gloriously Grand Guignol saga – ‘Crime Carnival’ and delightfully wry romp ‘The Unholy Dreams of Gentleman Jack’, before returning to the theme of childhood poverty in ‘The Boy Who Was Too Big for his Breeches.’
Both Simon and Kirby would become full-time servicemen during World War II, so perhaps the increasingly humanistic tales of their latter run were only to be expected. The shift in emphasis certainly didn’t affect the quality of such gems as ‘I Hated the Sandman!’ wherein narcoleptic Silas Pettigrew learns a salutary lesson, or heartwarming, exuberant childhood fantasy ‘The Cruise of the Crescent’. Kidnap drama ‘Prisoner of his Dreams’ and the boisterous ‘Sleepy Time Crimes!’ proved that whatever else happened, action and excitement would always be watchwords.
Prior to their induction, Simon and Kirby built a reserve of inventory stories, but relentless publishing deadlines ate them up, and Sandman was absent from Adventure Comics for 18 months. The star creators returned in late 1945 with tempestuous crime caper ‘Sweets for Swag!’, and swansong drama ‘The Dream of Peter Green!’, as Sandman and Sandy expose shoddy dealings in city contracting.
Simon and Kirby eventually went their separate ways, but reunited for one last hurrah in 1974. The result was a re-imagined Sandman: now a fully fantastic scientific master of the metaphysical, policing the nightmares of humanity from a citadel deep in “The Dream-Stream.” ‘The Sandman’ (scripted by Joe, drawn/edited by Jack and inked by Mike Royer) is pure escapist delight, describing how villainous cybrid General Electric attempts to conquer the World of Our Dreams. When all hope seems exhausted, the omniscient Lord of Sleep and his ghastly assistants Brute and Glob save the day.
This magnificent collection of is a gigantic box of delights perfectly illustrating the depth, scope and sheer thundering joy of the early days of comics.