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Comic Book / Sandman Mystery Theatre

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You cannot escape The Sandman's dark dream...

Dateline: New York City, 1938. America has seen off the worst of The Great Depression, but all is not well in the big city. In the midst of the towering skyscrapers, rowdy jazz clubs & high society glamour, crime, poverty & prejudice run rampant in the streets. One man follows his dark dreams, to take up arms against this sea of troubles.

By day, he is Wesley Dodds, reclusive industrial heir. By night, he becomes...

The Sandman!

Sandman Mystery Theatre is a comicbook written primarily by Matt Wagner and Steven Seagle from DC's noted Vertigo imprint, a Revival of the Golden Age Super Hero and founding member of the Justice Society of America, Sandman, a Badass Normal in the Batman tradition, who debuted around the same time, who fought crime using a gun that fired sleeping gas.

The revival title's genesis was Dodds' brief appearance in the opening issue of Neil Gaiman's celebrated series of the same title, only tangentially connected to Gaiman's work via Retcon.

Dream of The Endless' runaway success inspired a new series, focusing on the original character to bear the Sandman moniker, but heavily reworked to remove the original's less realistic elements (the yellow and purple costume, custom-made yellow and blue gasmask, Kid Sidekick, etc.). Wagner's Sandman goes back to the original Golden Age roots of the character. We have Wesley Dodds calling himself the Sandman, and fighting crime in a gasmask, with a gas gun.

Instead of Super Hero comics of the period, Wagner's work draws more heavily from detective stories and Two-Fisted Tales-style pulp fiction. It has a strong Noir vibe, brought to life by the various artists' dark visuals and period setpieces. The main character has also been heavily altered. Rather than the classic Millionaire Playboy persona affected by the likes of Bruce Wayne or Lamont Cranston, Dodds comes off as a bit of a short, podgy-faced, bespectacled geek, more in the style of Dan Dreiberg than anything. Were it not for occasional prophetic dreams he receives unconsciously through an ill-defined connection with the other Sandman, Morpheus, he would be the quintessential Badass Normal, just a guy in an army surplus gasmask with a fancy gun.

Much time is also given to the relationship between Dodds and his Love Interest, Dian Belmont, the daughter of the local DA and eventually his Margo Lane-esque sidekick. Many of the stories are told from her perspective and it could even be argued she's the real main character, not to mention the real Badass Normal.

Sandman Mystery Theatre is a wonderful read for anybody who loves classic pulp fiction, Film Noir, or costumed hero stories that stay towards the more realistic end of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism. The series lasted for 70 issues, from April, 1993 to January, 1999.

In 2023, DC revealed a new series titled Wesley Dodds The Sandman under The New Golden Age banner.


  • Accidental Murder: After gassing a hostage-taker/assassin, Wes is horrified when the man has a fatal allergic reaction and subsequently modifies his gas to be even more hypoallergenic than before.
  • Acquired Poison Immunity: Miriam Goldman, a severe alcoholic who has been constantly drinking throughout The Tarantula — to the point where she's shown to have blacked out at the dinner table in one scene — partially recovers from a shot of gas after a couple of minutes, and tries to attack Wesley from behind with an ax. He asks Celia about it afterward, suggesting that it's a known flaw in his formula.note 
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Arthur Reisling is a wicked old man, but it's hard not to feel a little sorry for him at the end when both his adult children are killed in front of him and collapses in a heap after shooting his business partner for killing his daughter, sobbing "That was my little girl..."
  • Alcohol-Induced Idiocy: A very grim example. In The Vamp, the Delta Phi fraternity had a tradition called "Hell Night" a a party wherein an (apparently willing?) member of the sorority linked to theirs would dance, strip, and fiddle around a bit with the graduating brothers. Unfortunately, one Hell Night, the girl, Madeline Giles, was late, and the brothers had gotten drunker and angrier than usual...
  • Always Murder: By the Doctor Death arc, Lt. Burke is getting really tired of every case turning out to the the work of a serial killer.
  • Amateur Sleuth: Over the course of the series, Dian finds herself becoming one.
  • Ambiguously Bi: While at a naturalist resort her friend, who confirms she is bisexual, attempts to seduce Dian. She simply replies that she's flattered and curious, but politely rejects her friend.
  • An Aesop: Most of the stories are themed around some social ill or other, for example racism, sexism, child abuse, etc. Usually handled subtly enough.
  • Antagonistic Offspring: Frank Bowman, a.k.a. Francis Beauvedere, crafted his identity as the Crone to commit murders so he could potentially pin the blame on his radio-hating mother if need be. It's made clear he resents her for never supporting his aspirations as an actor, though as she puts it while under Wesley's gas she never directly tried to stop him because she knew he wasn't as good an actor as his father was.
  • Anti-Hero: The Crimson Avenger is shown in this series to be a Hot-Blooded vigilante whose violence and willingness to kill are held in sharp contrast to Wes's methods.
  • Arch-Enemy: Kind of a weird case with the Face, who is one of Wesley's only recurring foes...however, Wesley is rarely even aware of him, due to the Face's Master of Disguise nature, barely knows who the guy is and despite the series seemingly building to some deep rivalry with the two, it never quite pans out until decades later in James Robinson's Starman when they have one final match.
  • Asshole Victim: Quite a few. The Scorpion's victims stand out in this regard.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: Roger Goldman in The Tarantula was kicked out of a private school for killing a teacher's dog. He was kicked out of another one for beating up a girl.
  • The Bear: One of the Phantom of the Fair's victims is this.
  • Beneath the Mask: The Sandman is something like this for Wesley, bordering on a Split Personality.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Linda from The Crone, who passive aggressively drops information to get Patricia Honeywell fired so she can replace her. She later tries to throw another actor under the bus when she thinks it might save her job, but it gets her nowhere.
  • Break the Cutie: Happens to quite a few of Dian's friends. Also, poor, poor Emily...
  • Broad Strokes: Although the Vertigo imprint has a peculiar relationship with mainstream DC comics, the events of Mystery Theatre seem to have been made more-or-less canon. The main problem is the existence of Sandy Hawkins: while Mystery Theater claims he was only a fictional character, in mainstream continuity he's a prominent JSA member and eventually Wesley's successor as the Sandman.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Implied to be the origin of The Butcher.
  • Bury Your Gays: The Phantom of the Fair, which involves a serial killer who specializes solely in gay men. Including Wesley's friend Robert.
  • Butt-Monkey: Rocket Ramsey's life starts with his boxing career on the skids and goes down from there.
  • Calling Card:
    • The Sandman usually leaves clues in the form of poems written on bits of origami on the crooks he's gassed for the police to find.
    • The Scorpion leaves a brand in the shape of his namesake somewhere at his murder scenes.
    • In the crossover Sandman Midnight Theatre the English safecracker "The Cannon" leaves a card with a drawing of a cannon in the safes he's looted. A hint to his secret identity as a canon of the Church of England.
  • Chew Toy: The Sandman gets the drop on Burke enough for it to become a running gag.
  • Character Development: Lieutenant Burke softens up a bit. A little bit.
  • Church of Happyology: In some ways The Order of Ancient Mysteries comes off as a sort of pre-WWII version of this in Midnight Theatre, which is a bit odd considering Gaiman's upbringing...
  • Coat, Hat, Mask: Dodds' Sandman costume consists of a big, brown trenchcoat, his dad's old World War I gasmask, a fedora & whatever else he happens to be wearing.
  • Collective Identity: The Tarantula is actually Miriam and Roger Goldman. Miriam goads Roger into kidnapping and torturing women.
  • The Commissioner Gordon: Both DA Belmont and ME Klein.
  • Commune: In The Vamp, a number of Dian's friend Carol's old sorority friends plan on creating one for themselves free of men . Madeline, the leader, is killing the Delta Phi fraternity members who raped her in order to use their blood to "consecrate" it, and the others are helping.
  • Cops Need the Vigilante: Although their relationship gets off to a rocky start, DA Belmont quickly comes to realize that The Sandman is on the up-and-up.
  • The Coroner: Hubert Klein is the NYPD's coroner, who forges something of an alliance with The Sandman.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: A couple show up. Wesley has to pretend to be one of these a few times, in order to ferret out a crook.
    • Played with during The Scorpion. The Scorpion, a.k.a. Terry Stetson, has been killing off numerous oil executives because he blames them for the death of his father. While most of them are shown to be fairly unsavory individuals for various reasons, they technically aren't to blame for what happened to Terry's father. They paid the man fairly for the oil on his land. The problem is that Terry's family ended up being rejected for being Nouveau Riche and Terry's father drank himself to death. So while some of them are corrupt, Terry's reason for murdering them as the Scorpion is just simple revenge he's masking as moral righteousness against big business.
  • Creepy Child: The Goblin.
  • Crossover:
    • Sandman Midnight Theatre, written by Neil Gaiman, featuring a brief meeting between the two Sandmen.
    • Wes's father, who'd been in early dementia before he died, described Death coming for him as a beautiful woman, dressed in black, with eyes that could see right through him.
    • Also features a few with other JSA super people, despite not being in the same continuity as the main DCU. Maybe.
      • For instance, Wes is the one who first confronts the scientist who would become the Mist, one of Starman's bitterest rivals, and meets with Ted Knight in the same arc. This is confirmed as Canon in the Starman storyline "Sand and Stars".
      • At one point, a Dr. McNider (aka Doctor Mid-Nite) is mentioned.
      • Jim Corrigan shows up prior to his death during the "Phantom of the Fair" arc.
      • There's also an entire four-issue story arc where he teams up with Rex Tyler, the Hourman. However at the time he simply calls himself the Man of the Hour, with Wesley being the one to name him Hourman.
  • Daddy's Girl: Dian at times. Then there's Cassandra from The Scorpion, who realizes who the killer is and sends an anonymous tip to the police before confronting the killer herself all in an effort to protect her father.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Lt. Burke.
    • While he's questioning club members being targeted by a killer:
    Barry Smithers: Lt. Burke? I've been thinking.
    Lt. Burke: Did it hurt?
    • And in a later arc while they're following a possible suspect:
    Lt. Burke: Fire escape.
    Shephard: You want me to climb it?
    Lt. Burke: No, I want you to fuck it. Of course I want you to climb it.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Social values and issues of the 1930's come up quite a bit.
  • Determinator: Being whipped, poisoned, gassed and shot with an antivenom that's leaving him incredibly ill isn't going to stop Burke from getting his man.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: While the Scorpion's targets mostly fall under Asshole Victim, it later becomes established that they paid his father a fair price for the oil on his land. The problem is that his family wasn't accepted for being nouveau riche and it broke them apart. The Scorpion still blames the oil executives who gave them the money, rather than the people who shunned his father.
  • Domestic Abuser: Ray Kessler is the boyfriend of Dian's cousin, and a despicable human being who neglects her, mistreats her in bed, cheats on her and finally rapes her when she stands up to him.
  • Downer Ending: Some of the bleaker runs end on an extremely downbeat note.
    • In The Brute, the only characters who survive are Arthur Reisling and Emily Ramsey, but he goes to prison after watching BOTH his children killed in front of him and she has most likely been permanently traumatized after first being raped by Wilbur Schenk and then watching her father (and several other people) killed in front of her, and will most likely never recover.
  • Drama Queen: Patricia Honeywell from The Crone, though it seems rather justified when she has to deal with an abortion and lowering herself to giving oral sex to her boss in order to keep her job. She later seems to become a Defrosting Ice Queen when she is legitimately touched by Frank Bowman's concern for her, and comes to Farley Wells' defense when he's fired.
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Miriam Goldman, a heavy, heavy drinker, has a skin tone just a shade darker than white, and is pressuring her son to kidnap and kill women, so that he can eventually kill his sister.
  • Establishing Character Moment:
    • During her first meeting with Wesley at a party, Dian notes that rather than being captivated by Joe DiMaggio like everyone else at the time, he's quietly writing a bit of poetry in his notebook. Later on, she (and we) also see him shed a tear and become overwhelmed after hearing the details of what happens to the Tarantula's kidnap victims.
    • Dian gets hers a few scenes earlier. When she hears that the Tarantula has kidnapped two women, one of them being her friend Catherine, and one of the bodies has been found, she insists on personally identifying the body to see if it's Catherine to spare her parents the pain. All the braver because only minutes earlier, we saw her nearly fainting upon a run-in with "the kidnapper" (actually Wesley on the job) in the ladies' room.
    • One of Lt. Burke's first scenes has him talking with a fellow cop at a bar. When the cop asks if he has a family, Burke replies that he had a sister, but she married a black man. Uh, except he doesn't say "black man".
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: A very tragic example in The Brute. Albert Reisling neglected his illegitimate children, uses his mentally handicapped daughter as an assassin, runs violent underground fight rings and will happily murder those who cross him. He also did nothing to help his hideously deformed daughter after she was locked in the closet for three years, but when his Mafia business partner shoots her, Reisling lets out a Big "NO!" and kills the partner, sobbing "That was my little girl...."
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas:
    • During the Dr. Death storyline Ray Kessler is poisoning aged people, due to the resentment he feels from having to deal with his invalid mother. When Dian asks why he killed other people if he was so bitter about her, he's shocked at the notion.
    • In Return of the Scarlet Ghost, Colm and Peter Petty, while both are utter sociopaths, threatened their cousin Sean when they learned that he got Peter's mother (Colm and Sean's aunt) badly frazzled for no reason. Colm states "that woman's been a fucking saint to us".
  • Fainting: In the first storyline, after Dian's friend is kidnapped, she encounters someone who she believes to be the kidnapper in the ladies' restroom at the police station, who strikes her flashlight our of her hand and tosses her to the ground in his escape. She manages to get to her feet and get back to her father, but hearing details about the mutilation of the (one of) the Tarantula's victims overwhelms her and she passes out. When she wakes up she invokes the notion of "swooning females" by name and mentions being deeply embarrassed.
  • Family-Unfriendly Death: The cover for #58 has been dubbed by Dial B for Blog as the sickest comic book cover for depicting a mob hit.
  • Fat Bastard: Most of The Python's victims, though his actual motive wasn't the bastard part so much, as he was driven criminally insane when his obese mother molested him. And even then, one of his victims was his black foster mother, and she did nothing to him. Burke, a moderate racist, calls him an animal because of it.
  • Follow That Car: Dian gives this order to a cabbie who's thrilled to oblige. ("Really? Wow!")
  • Forced to Watch: One of the cruelties The Tarantula inflicts upon Dian's friend Catherine is to torture people to death in front of her.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Depending on how you look at it. After Wesley's guilt over Dian's abortion leads to him sobbing in her arms, she reassures him by saying they could have another child someday. In mainstream DC continuity, this doesn't happen (at least as far as we know, barring yet another retcon), but since this is a Vertigo title and thus technically an alternate universe, it's a possibility.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Wesley's dreams are meant to provide this.
    • Terry's gift of a cactus to Cassandra Cutler looks nice but ends up pricking her finger. Her feelings for him put her off her guard and he ends up killing her.
    • In The Scorpion Hubert Klein mentions that the Sandman's gas might not harm someone unless they have a heart condition or allergy. The Scorpion has a stroke after being exposed, and in a later arc, a killer dies from an allergic reaction. This leads Wesley to further refine his formula.
  • Freudian Excuse:
    • Celia Goldman grew up being molested by her father, and as an adult she uses his sexual obsession with her to manipulate him.
    • Her brother Roger is implied to have been aware of this, but unable to to stop it (possibly also jealous?), and his relationship with his mother is unhealthy in its own way, as she deliberately eggs on his Sadist tendencies.
  • Friend on the Force:
    • Sandman forges alliances with Hubert Klein, the NYPD's coroner/medical examiner, and DA Belmont.
    • Dian being the daughter of the district attorney allows her to snoop and get information her father can't give The Sandman.
  • Funetik Aksent: Most of the "Cherman" characters who appear sound like they learned English from The Katzenjammer Kids.
  • Gas Mask, Longcoat: Guess.
  • Gentleman Thief: The Cannon.
  • Gender Reveal: The Brute is actually a woman, the daughter of the story arc's main villain. Her monstrous size and stunted mind is the result of horrific child abuse she suffered at the hands of her insane mother during the years her father had abandoned the family
  • Good Bad Girl: Dian doesn't have a cruel bone in her body, but loves partying and enjoys being sexually active, often the more aggressive in bed between her and Wesley.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: The Phantom of the Fair storyline hints that the reason Wesley is running into so many serial killers has something to do with the Corinthian.
  • Harmful to Minors: Poor Emily Ramsey has a lung condition, gets molested, then watches as the shoddy gun her father's using to get revenge explodes in his hand and The Brute breaks his neck, as well as a couple more shootings after that. The kid is traumatized beyond words by the end of the arc, and even though Wesley sets up a trust fund for her, it's clear that she'll never be the same again.
  • Heroic Build: Averted. Wes is actually a bit pudgy as depicted by most artists, although some make him more conventionally buff-looking, resembling the character design from the Golden Age comics. He also seems to slim down a bit as the series goes on, probably due to all the exercise he gets at night.
  • Honest Corporate Executive: Wesley has inherited his father's wealth and business holdings and attempts to keep the business on the straight and narrow as much as possible. He refuses to profit on the unrest in Europe, for example.
  • Hypocrite:
    • In The Vamp Madeline Giles, the titular murderess, who plans to create a retreat where she and her like-minded sorority friends may live safely free of abusive men, has been killing the fraternity members who gang-raped her and plans to use their blood to "consecrate" the place. Dian's friend Carol (her fellow sorority member) refuses to go along with her plans, swearing not to tell anyone, but infuriating Madeline nonetheless. The Sandman later discovers Carol tied to a bed, severely bruised and nude (implying sexual abuse in addition to physical) as well as badly exsanguinated.
    • In The Scorpion Terry claims his killings are motivated by the upper crust rejecting his nouveau riche father, but he also tries to kill Wesley Dodds for backing out of an important business deal and kills the innocent Cassandra Cutler when she finds out about his crimes. In the end he's just another serial killer out for satisfaction.
  • Human Resources: Like Ed Gein, The Butcher does things such as using the top of a skull as a bowl.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: When Ramsey in The Brute catches up with Schenk, who raped his young daughter, Schenk immediately says that 'the girl was lying,' prompting Ramsey to coldly ask "Who said this was about Emily?" and makes Schenk realizes he's incriminated himself from the get go.
  • Idiot Ball: Played with regarding Cassandra in The Scorpion. She realizes who the killer is and tips off the police that her father may be in danger, though the "idiot" part comes into play when she confronts the killer by herself. Of course, Cassandra didn't have enough tangible proof to show the police who the killer was, confronted him with a gun, and only let her guard down because she's been falling in love with him and he took her by surprise.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: The Butcher kills and eats people
  • Inspector Javert: Burke, at first, though after he find out the Sandman had his office bugged he decides he'd rather just kill him than arrest him.
  • Instant Sedation: Averted. In most cases, The Sandman's gas causes this within seconds, but some people are more resistant than others, and people who are allergic or who have breathing/cardiac problems are at risk of dying from exposure.
  • Intangible Man: In The Mist the titular villain ends up this way after his encounter with The Sandman. Obviously, he gets more control over his powers by the time he confronts Starman.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Mr. Ricketts from The Goblin. He seems to insult just about every adult he deals with and he doesn't seem like the type of person who should be in charge of a place for children. However, Ricketts quickly reveals his disdain and contempt are justifiable as he's disgusted by the hypocrisy of people who claim they care about children yet are willing to dump "less desirable ones" in institutions like Standard House until they age out of the system. His bitterness stems from having to care for sick, disfigured, disabled, and non-white children because no one else believes they're worth taking care of. He even calls out Dian and Etta by showing them the children under his care and asking if either of them would help kids like these instead of the "prettier" ones. Dian takes Ricketts' calling out to heart and decides to volunteer at Standard House. To further prove Ricketts' empathy is genuine, he gets extremely angry when Burke calls his kids "monsters."
  • Karma Houdini: The Face always escapes, albeit his pride is rarely intact.
  • Knockout Gas: One of the Sandman's signature weapons.
  • Lady Looks Like a Dude: The Brute.
  • Leatherman: The Phantom of the Fair, a homosexual man in denial (though possibly also suffering from either schizophrenia or a Split Personality) who captures, tortures, and kills other homosexuals and dumps their bodies at the World's Fair.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: The tramp Wilbur Schenk is a scumbag who rapes a little girl. Hard to blame her father when he tracks him down and beats his brains out (literally) with a pipe.
  • Let's You and Him Fight: (The Face's murders are an attempt to incite this among the Chinatown gangs.)
  • Littlest Cancer Patient: Poor Rocket Ramsey is an honest boxer trying to make a good living. His little girl, Emily, has a bronchial infection, forcing him to try to get her medicine so she can live. And then he comes back to find a seemingly kindly old tramp he trusted to watch out for Emily raped her when he was away at work.
  • Love Makes You Evil: The Crone.
  • Mad Scientist: The Mist.
  • Madness Mantra:
    • "No more medicine, daddy." From poor little Emily Ramsey after her rape by Wilbur Schenk, who told her it was 'medicine.'
    • After The Scorpion tries to kill him, Lane is reduced to huddling in a corner, mumbling about the way his father sexually abused him as a child.
  • Master of Disguise: The Face. He needs it too, he's The Grotesque without makeup.
  • May–December Romance: Ray Kessler, a man old enough to have a grown child in medical school, hooks up with Dian's young cousin.
  • Mercy Kill: 'Doctor Death' thinks he's doing this, murdering people who show the health decline that comes with age.
  • Mistaken for Cheating: After Wesley runs into Madeline Giles during The Vamp arc, Dian thinks he may have taken an interest in her. He's actually investigating a number of exsanguination-related deaths, and noted that there was blood on her cheek when they met.
  • Mistaken for Gay: Wesley in The Phantom Of The Fair.
  • My Beloved Smother: The villain of The Crone was trying to frame his mother, a literary professor and avid hater of the radio by dressing up like an old woman and leaving behind books which he had taken from her personal library. He did so because she never supported his desire to become a radio star, however, he was also doing it in order to rise up in the show's cast and to win the affection of the female lead. His mother claims, however, that she never directly disapproved of his aspirations because he wasn't even as good an actor as his late father.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: After one torture session, Roger Goldman/The Tarantula is horrified by what he did and shows signs of being sick of the whole thing. His mother, however, simply mocks him by pointing out how sexually aroused it made him.
  • My God, You Are Serious!: DA Belmont initially has some difficulty believing Burke when he says that The Butcher may be eating his victims.
  • Mythology Gag: During the Hourman arc, Wes attends a costume party in a ridiculous looking getup resembling a costume he wore for a while in the original comics.
    • "The Phantom Of the Fair" is possibly a reference to the superhero of the same name, originally published by the long-defunct Centaur Comics, who debuted the same month as the original Sandman back in the 30's.
  • Never Split the Party: After discovering The Butcher's underground lair, Lt. Burke decides to get some heavy backup to find the guy, and sends a cop to notify the others. The cop is reluctant to go alone, and rightly so, as it turns out. One meathook to the chest and cleaver to the back later, that backup ain't comin'.
  • Next Tier Powerup: Over the course of the series, Wesley switches to a less cumbersome mask which is easier to see out of, appears to contain some means of enhancing his hearing (lessening the need for bugs) and upon which he can attach a rebreather, fashions a less unwieldy rig and smaller canisters for his gas gun, (permitting him to reload more often and more quickly), and creates a hypoallergenic (and apparently more effective) version of his gas. (Although the former two vary somewhat Depending on the Artist). After he encounters Dream himself face-to-face, Wes's prophetic dreams get somewhat less obscure, as well.
  • Nice Girl: Dian may be a party girl, but she is dedicated, kind, nonjudgmental, and a very, very moral woman.
  • Noble Bigot with a Badge:
    • Detective Burke, most notably. Gets a taste of his own medicine in The Vamp when questioning suspects at an exclusive club who look down on his Sicilian heritage. Eventually, to his own surprise, he falls in love with a Jewish woman.
    • DA Belmont has mild shades of this, having firmly disapproved of Jimmy Shan's relationship with Dian. On the other hand, Shan was sleeping with her, and let her smoke opium a few times. He also wishes the Tongs had kept their conflicts in China instead of bringing them to New York, which isn't entirely unfair.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Rocket Ramsey, a boxer on the way down, gets offered a chance to fight in shady underground matches by Arthur Reisling. He tries to do the right thing and inform on him, but it didn't occur to him that Reisling might have had him followed. The Sandman saves him from the subsequent murder attempt, but he and his daughter still have to flee their home. Things only get worse form there...
  • No Peripheral Vision: Wes, at least in the first story, has a very bad habit of not noticing people sneaking up on him. He eventually creates a device to alert him to this. Justified since part of his costume is a large, unwieldy gas mask.
  • N-Word Privileges: Expect lots of uncensored N-bombs in the dialogue, as per the time period.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Handled just a touch more realistically than most. Though Wesley is often visibly pained by the various injuries he suffers on the job, they ultimately don't impact his performance too much. The man somehow manages to get shot in the gut with a revolver, fend the attacker off with his gas gun, cauterize the wound with a red hot poker & he's up and about the next day with only some minor first aid.
  • Orphanage of Fear: Standard House, albeit not out of malice but mostly due to a lack of resources and expertize, as it's a dumping ground for children with developmental and/or physical disorders, used more like an asylum than an orphanage. And considering that even the best funded mental institutions back then were horrible...
  • Papa Wolf: In The Brute, Ramsey beats to death the homeless man who molested his young daughter.
  • Parental Incest:
    • Drives the plot of the first story, wherein Celia Goldman, after years of being molested by her father turned the tables and essentially enslaved him in order to get his money and holdings for herself. Her mother and brother adopt the identity of The Tarantula to avenge themselves on her.
    • Also featured in The Python, where the villain was traumatized from being molested by his obese mother as a child.
  • Parental Neglect:
    • Thanks in part to his PTSD, Wesley's father wasn't a very loving man, and he's often reflecting on how his life may have turned out had his father been different.
    • In The Brute Arthur Reisling prefers making kids to actually taking care of them, expecting his lovers to take care of his children while he jaunted off on expeditions. This drove his wife insane, causing her to abuse her children and leading to hi daughter's condition. He also expects his alcoholic son to raise the twins his deceased lover left him.
    • Also featured in Doctor Death.
  • Pet the Dog: Ray Kessler is a true scumbag who abuses, cheats on and rapes his young girlfriend, treats his son like dirt and murders people to 'euthanize' them but he hates racism and is disgusted when a waitress tries to ignore his black friend, demanding she serve him "or answer to me!"
  • Poisoned Weapons: The Scorpion uses a bullwhip tipped with a poison that kills in seconds.
  • Politically Correct History: Mainly averted. The series does a decent job of showing the casual racism of the times, though the protagonists' attitudes are still somewhat anachronistic. May be justified by their characterization, though, as Wesley traveled a lot in his youth & got to know people from many different backgrounds, while Dian is noted to be a very progressive sort of person.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Averted, or perhaps subverted. Ray Kessler is insane and kills people out of a seriously misplaced drive for euthanasia. He is also a terrible father and ends up raping his younger girlfriend, who he tends to treat like shit. He is also implied to go through a string of younger women. He is, however, always perfecting polite and kind to blacks and is good friends with a black doctor whom he sticks up for.
  • Precision F-Strike: Wesley is generally very calm and collected in both his civilian and Sandman identities. His learning of Arthur Reisling's attempted rape of Dian is the first time we see him not only angry, but furious:
    Wesley: Why, that...that SONUVABITCH!!!
  • Psychic Dreams for Everyone: Besides Wesley, Dian has a couple of prophetic dreams—even catching a glimpse of Dream himself at one point.
  • Psycho Lesbian: The title character of The Vamp is a textbook example (with something of an excuse), but they at least try to balance it out with some more positive lesbian characters, namely Carol, who manages to be sympathetic despite being rather promiscuous & flighty, as well as her girlfriend, who, though something of a Love Martyr, is an even more realistic character (and thus not interesting enough to feature for very long...).
  • Psychopathic Manchild: The Brute, though it's actually more of a Psychopathic Womanchild.
  • Rape and Revenge:
    • In The Brute Emily Ramsey is raped by the vagrant she and her father had been sheltering with. After beating said vagrant to death, her father gets a rusty gun and goes after the man who ruined their lives and put them in that situation.
    • The titular character of The Vamp arc was gang-raped by a fraternity and is getting revenge.
  • Rape as Drama:
    • Poor little Emily Ramsey is raped by a seemingly kindly old tramp when her father is away.
    • Madeleine in The Vamp was gang-raped by the members of a fraternity during a hazing incident that got out of hand.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: In The Goblin, Dian starts joining Humphrey's daughter Etta in doing some charity work at an orphanage. However, the two are sent to run an errand at another orphanage called Standard House, and it looks more like an asylum. The manager of the building, Mr. Ricketts, calls the two out on their "desire to help children" by showing them the children who get sent to Standard House: malformed, ill, developmentally disabled, simply too old or not white. Basically, children that aren't able to get adopted because they aren't "pretty" enough. Dian decides to devote more time at Standard House because she realizes these children are the ones who need help.
  • Rebellious Prince: Wesley admits he'd be a fool to deny the advantages of his money, but he finds the extravagances of the wealthy disgusting and only engages with them for the sake of his business/investigations or to help others.
  • Revenge by Proxy:
    • Miriam Goldman and her son Roger during the Tarantula arc are kidnapping and torturing beautiful women to death. In her case, she's infuriated over her husband's affairs, particularly the one she's all but certain he's having with their daughter. In his case he's frustrated with both that, and his own uncontrollable sadism. The two of them are more willing to take it out on Celia than they are on Albert.
    • A variant in the Doctor Death arc. Ray Kessler deeply resents his elderly, bed-bound mother, but can't bring himself to Mercy Kill her. Rather, he kills other people who show the signs of aging. He says he's doing it for their own sake, but that seems unlikely.
  • Rogues Gallery: The Sandman has a few recurring nemeses, most notably The Face.
  • Romantic False Lead: During her law clerk days, Dian hooked up with a fellow clerk by the the name of Jimmy Shan/Zhang Chai Lo. They happen to run into each other while she's dining in Chinatown, and start to rekindle things...Events during the arc conspire to separate them for good, however.
  • Sadist:
    • Roger Goldman in the first arc, who is disgusted by the things he does as the Tarantula, but driven on by his dark desires and his mother's manipulation.
    • The Face messes up a prostitute so badly she can only do work on her knees afterwards. Not that she has to worry too long because he kills her a bit later.
  • Samaritan Syndrome: Wesley describes the compulsion to solve the crimes in his dreams as a droning voice, demanding he pay it heed.
  • Scary Scorpions: The Scorpion uses scorpion venom to poison his bullwhip, and uses a brand of one as a Calling Card. Unfortunately for him, his exclusive devotion to his theme made it possible for Wesley to cook up an antivenom.
  • Screw Politeness, I'm a Senior!: Dr. Estelle Beauvedere from The Crone lacks patience when dealing with people she considers to be idiots, which usually consists of anyone who disagrees with her. Though her responses sometimes are limited to a simple Death Glare.
  • Secret-Keeper: Dian Belmont and Wesley's butler Humphries, both of whom occasionally help him out.
  • Secret Secret-Keeper:
    • Dian figures out that Wesley is the Sandman fairly early on, but doesn't tell him so for a while.
    • The last issue reveals that Lieutenant Burke either knows or strongly suspects that The Sandman is Wesley Dodds. How or when he figured this out is never explained.
  • Shur Fine Guns: The rusty old pistol Rocket Ramsey uses to take revenge on the gangsters who ruined his life blows up in his hand after a few shots.
  • Split Personality: In some respects, The Sandman is one for Wesley. He occasionally alludes to the Sandman knowing things he doesn't, and says that he feels like a similar-but-different person while wearing the mask. He's also shown to have a small ritual of putting a straw doll of himself in bed and bidding it good-night by his name before setting out.
  • Start of Darkness: The ending of The Mist. This is a subversion though, as he never actually appears in the book after this arc.
  • Story Within a Story:
    • Hubert compares The Sandman to Dickie Bones, a pulp hero. Sandman is a bit offended by this. Eventually someone starts writing pulp stories based on him as well.
    • Return of the Scarlet Ghost features snippets of a pulp magazine and comic book renditions of the Sandman's fictional exploits against the Scarlet Ghost. The comic is credited towards Joe Simon as the writer.
  • Straw Character: Estelle Beauvedere in "The Crone" is a literary professor who spends the whole arc proclaiming radio is evil incarnate, going as far as to liken it to the danger Hitler represents for Europe. She refuses to acknowledge the benefits broadcasting will bring to the world by making communication far easier, seeing it only as a means for cheap entertainment that will rot minds and threaten literacy. She doesn't take it well when people disagree with her, but shows more self restraint rather than aimlessly lashing out at those around her.
  • Super Serum: Hourman's Miracle Pills.
  • Talking to Themself: The Face does this. (e.g. "So they think they can capture us, eh, sweetheart?" or "It hurts our face! It hurts our eyes!")
  • Tarot Motifs: During a period where Wesley is coming into conflict with Dian over his Sandman identity, one of his dreams has him in the upside-down leg-tucked-behind-another pose of The Hanged Man card.
  • The Brute: The title character of the third story arc.
  • The Mafia: Italian gangsters make a few appearances, though they're usually not the main focus. Many other organized crime outfits feature more prominently. For example, the gangsters in the Tarantula arc were Jewish.
  • The Sandman: Created originally based on the original folklore, in this series is retconned to be based on the 80s series by Neil Gaiman.
  • There Are No Therapists: Rather than get the help he needed for his violent tendencies (such as was available in the early 1900's), Roger Goldman got a black-sheep inheritance and his early crimes were covered up.
  • The Summation: Wesley, Dian & sometimes her father & others usually sum up the plot at the end of each arc, in case you missed anything.
  • The Teetotaler: Wesley doesn't drink or do drugs, although he mentions having tried marijuana in his youth and disliking it.
  • The Vamp: The title character of another story arc.
  • Third-Person Person: Lenny from the Hourman crossover.
  • Tragic Monster: The Brute of the titular storyline is a mentally damaged woman named Maria who was locked in a closet by her insane mother for three years after she and her brother were abandoned by her father. Now she's an insane beast of a human being who serves as her father's attack dog and has no possible conception of a normal life.
  • Tricked-Out Shoes: Mildly. Wes as Sandman wears a shoe with a hollowed-out heel that has a breakable capsule of sleeping gas within.
  • Truth Serum: One of the side effects of the gas is to make those under its sway highly suggestible, which The Sandman uses to gain information from them.
  • Two-Person Love Triangle: Averted. Dian likes Wesley. The Sandman scares the hell out of her, at least at first.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Although not ugly, people note a contrast between Wesley, who tends to look dour and owlish, and Dian who's effusively vibrant.
  • Ultimate Job Security: The Face is so good at what he does that he has no qualms about insulting the people who hire him.
  • Unwanted Assistance: Hourman was originally hired by a woman to talk some sense into her husband, who was spending all his hanging out with low-level mafia goombas. Each one of Hourman's attempts at trying to talk some sense into the guy and providing a way out of the criminal life end disastrously (for his wife, at least, who is on the receiving end of her husband's anger) because the guy is too stupid and too proud to actually listen.
  • Vomiting Vigilante: As a very empathetic person, Wesley has a very weak stomach, and quickly gets squeamish around blood and violence. He can handle it somewhat better as the Sandman, though even his alternate self has limits.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Terry in The Scorpion starts pleading with his deceased father about how he's not incompetent after he fails to kill Dodds and Cutler.
  • When She Smiles: The Vamp is mentioned as having good looks and everything, but her smile has something inexplicably captivating that hooks men like fish.
  • Workaholic: Rather than a Millionaire Playboy, Wesley pretends to be one of these in order to deflect suspicion about his activities.
  • Would Hurt a Child: The Brute revolves around the prevalence of this trope and how most people simply accepted horrible child abuse as the most common form of child-rearing. And the disastrous consequences it can have.
  • Wouldn't Hit a Girl: Once when Burke manages to catch Sandman, he starts dealing him a severe beating, only to be stopped when a female bystander cracked him in the back with a piece of wood, yelling that she wouldn't stand by while he beats someone to death. When Sandman gets his hands on his gas gun, Burke grabs her and quickly pulls her away from the scene. Furious, Burke berates her and raises his hand...then the frustrated cop decides to just let the matter go. He apparently doesn't even report her.
  • Yellow Peril: Invoked, but mostly subverted in The Face. The Tongs are real, but the main villain is a white businessman trying to cover up the fact that he has an Asian ancestor by getting a crimelord who knows the truth killed.
  • You Killed My Father: The killer in The Scorpion blames the oil executives for the death of his father. He doesn't think his father was cheated out of his oil, he hates that his dad was rejected by the upper class which led to their family's dissolution as he drank himself to death.