Writer: John Ney Rieber
Artist: Eric Nguyen
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo
In my five-bullet review of the first issue of Sandman Mystery Theatre: The Sleep of Reason, I noted that the subtitle of the series factors into the meaning of John Ney Rieber’s story. It is an allusion to Francisco Goya’s “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters” from The Caprices. I’m happy to report that there’s nothing in the second issue that indicates that I should back off from my comments about the first issue.
In The Caprices, Goya revealed his disgust at the social mores of his time as he depicted Spanish secular and spiritual leaders as monstrous supernatural figures. In Sandman Mystery Theatre: The Sleep of Reason #2, Rieber has Kieran Marshall (the man who found Wesley Dodds’s mask and gas gun in Afghanistan) transform into a monstrous, supernatual figure in two ways. First, he is horrifically scarred after being severely burned in a flamethrower attack at the end of the first issue. An Afghan woman who finds him lying in the sand as his skin still smolders says, “He looks more like a monster than a hero.” (I should point out that this Afghan woman has prophetic dreams, which is how she knew where to look for Marshall in the sand though in her dream he was wearing Wesley Dodds’s Sandman mask.) Second, Marshall later dons Dodd’s mask, which makes him look like a monster in another way. More to the point, though, is that he is seemingly transformed into a supernatural entity when he puts on the mask.
In a flashback scene set in the same region of Afghanistan but at the time when Diane Belmont was kidnapped, Wesley Dodds is similarly transformed when he puts on the mask and seems to be supernaturally rejuvenated, suddenly capable of incredible physical feats despite being a frail man in his 70s when he isn’t wearing the mask.
The 1995 graphic novel Sandman Midnight Theatre revealed that Dodds became the Golden Age Sandman as a result of the imprisonment of Morpheus during the first half of the twentieth century. The absence of the god from his dream realm required the universe to balance itself by transferring an aspect of the mystical dream realm to Dodds. The result was that Dodds experienced prophetic dreams and became The Sandman. Now this supernatural ability appears to have been transferred to Marshall as the new Sandman. In addition to being capable of great physical feats when he wears the mask, Marshall is also experiencing prophetic dreams as does a villain who attacks Marshall in a dream.
The final page of this issue has Marshall (as the new Sandman) taking out several U.S. Government-sponsored mercenaries with his gas gun and heightened physical abilities. The Afghan woman who found Marshall smoldering in the sand (and whom he saved from the U.S.-sponsored mercenaries) stops him from inflicting further violence on the men: “No! Please—this is not the face I dreamed. I saw a hero under this mask. A man who brought peace—not a monster.” The Afghan woman’s words recall the transition that was used in the first issue between the third and fourth pages: “There is a word for a hero without a heart. Monster.”
Indeed, it appears that Marshall must find his “heart” (his capacity for love) if he is to become a hero as the new Sandman rather than a monster. His problem, though, continues to be that he is battling monsters, which leads us again to aphorism 146 of Friedrich Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil: “He who fights with monsters should see to it that he does not become a monster himself. For when you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”
All I can say by the end of this second issue is what I said at the end of the first: Rieber is writing an action-packed story that contains believable dialog, that is set in a world of great verisimilitude, and that continues to hint at great intellectual depth. To that description I’ll add that Rieber’s work is an example of what all such stories should be.
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