Only a handful of masked mystery men came before him, but what do you really know about The Sandman? Your Major Spoilers Retro Review of Adventure Comics #40 awaits!
ADVENTURE COMICS #40
Writer: Gardner Fox
Penciler: Bert Christman
Inker: Bert Christman
Editor: Vin Sullivan
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: 10 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $102,000.00
Release Date: June 10, 1936
Previously in Adventure Comics: My intention with today’s Retro Review was to share the first appearance of Wesley Dodds as the Golden Age Sandman. But, like so many moments in those Wild West days of publishing, this one comes with an asterisk. Though this issue contains the origin of The Sandman character and is generally believed to have been plotted first, Sandman appeared in a ten-page story in New York World’s Fair Comics #1, a volume sold only at the 1939 World’s Fair, which opened on April 30th. I can’t confirm the print run or availability of that story, but I can tell you that it was reprinted in 2005 in a book claiming to collect DC Comics’ historical rarities, which helps ameliorate my surprise at discovering its existence. As for this comic, we turn our attention to a masked madman known as …The Tarantula!
As his friend Tom rants on about masterminds, detectives, and how they need a master sleuth, Wesley calmly responds that, just maybe, a master sleuth is already on the case. When Tom leaves, Wes retires to his room, making a big show of it for his manservant before opening a hidden door.
Wes’s supposition that The Tarantula didn’t actually sneak the kidnapped heiress out of the mansion at all drives him to load his gas guns and set off into the night to test the theory.
It’s interesting to see that he calls himself “Mister Sandman” in that first panel, as I honestly think that’s a better, stronger nom de guerre in general. (For those wondering, the classic song, as heard in Back To The Future and elsewhere, wouldn’t debut until 1954, some fifteen years after this comic hit the stands.) This story is scripted by Gardner Fox, whose writing is economical and precise, which makes this relatively short tale unfold in an unexpectedly entertaining fashion, with Wesley silently watching the hooded villain sneak out of a hidden door to deliver another message to the police.
Bert Christman’s art in this story is remarkably detailed stuff, especially given the printing processes of 1939. The shadowy corners of the mansion are as creepy as anything in modern Vertigo, though it is interesting to see Sandman in an orange suit rather than the traditional green color. (He’s also wearing orange on this issue’s cover, drawn by Creig Flessel, who is sometimes mistaken credited as Sandman’s co-creator for that reason.) The Tarantula’s mooks are quickly dispatched by our hero’s gas gun, but as he sneaks into the room of one Mr. Crossart, he suddenly realizes who is behind the entire plot. Moments later, The Tarantula slips in, sees the shadowy figure and opens fire!
But the Sandman is, as always, one step ahead. It’s interesting to see our man Dodds as the traditional, square-jawed, rich-guy-with-no-day-job in a silk dressing gown, especially given the retcon of Dodds as a doughy, nebbishy guy in the pages of Sandman Mystery Theatre decades later. (That same series actually adapted and expanded this Tarantula story, with more grit and axe murders.) The pages of Adventure Comics #40 also include adventures of The Federal Men, Skip Schuyler, Don Coyote, and other characters lost to the mists of yellowing newsprint, but it’s Wesley’s debut that drives the more-than-hundred-thousand-dollar price tag,
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ADVENTURE COMICS #40
Fox's plotting combines with Christman's detailed art to make a nice little story in an issue that otherwise isn't particularly memorable.