Between the Sandman with the gas mask and gun and the Gothic, critically acclaimed one, there was the red and yellow superhero suit wearing Sandman created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in 1974. In a pair of stories, DC Comics creators both old and new show the imaginative potential of this superhero and his unwilling, monstrous assistants Brute and Glob. First, Dan Jurgens, Jon Bogdanove, and Madpencil tell a heartwarming story with a great twist ending about a young boy whose vivid dreams of monsters and superheroes threaten to break out of the dream world and into reality. Then, there is Steve Orlando, Rick Leonardi, Dan Green, and Steve Buccelato’s slightly wilder tale of the now adult Jed Walker, a supporting character in Sandman, battling his childhood nightmares with a cameo from basically the Grim Reaper. The comic is rounded out by a collection of two page “Strange Stories of the DNA Project” from Jack Kirby’s Fourth World stories.
What initially drew me to The Sandman Special was Jon Bogdanove’s uncanny ability to make his art look like Jack Kirby’s while using modern techniques like photo collages to show the surrealness of the young boy’s dream world. I wish DC Comics put him on more projects. There is weight to Sandman’s throws and punches, and Madpencil cooks up an old school color palette straight out of the 1970s, like a smooth orange take on the classic Kirby krackle. Even though it has banter, punching, a sick team-up move from Sandman and Brute, and a tentacle monster that gets handily defeated, Jurgens and Bogdanove’s story is more metafictional than a straight up superhero adventure ending in a final panel that may make you cry.
Through action and a couple heart rending Jurgens monologues towards the end, The Sandman Special looks at the important of embracing our fears and weaknesses through the dream monsters and then facing and defeating them as symbolized by the young boy’s superhero, who is an amalgamation of Kirby’s takes on Thor, Orion, and a little bit of Captain America. The battle between Sandman and the young boy’s nightmare monsters is also a wonderful tribute to Jack Kirby’s career where he would switch from drawing superheroes to monsters and vice versa from his first work at DC and Marvel in the early 1940s to his later work in the 1970s and 1980s. And sometimes monsters could be heroes, like the ever loving blue eyed Thing, which is why it’s nice to see Bogdanove homage Fantastic Four #1 in one of his panels and have the monster that Sandman fights talk and have feelings.
Unlike the lead story, which quickly establishes Sandman’s kooky status quo with a double page spread, Orlando, Leonardi, and Green rely on previous knowledge of the character of Jed Walker and his grandfather Ezra from Kirby’s Sandman. I vaguely remember Jed from the “Game of You” arc from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, but luckily the story kicks up a notch when Sandman, Brute, and Glob end up fighting the angel of death in cowboy form Psychopomp on train while looking for a dream about Jed’s grandfather to scare away his now adult nightmares.
Orlando doesn’t really establish Jed as a character except his constant nightmares and that he left his unwelcoming hometown and only returned for his grandfather’s funeral so the big emotional moment isn’t as powerful as it could be. But he does make a human connection to Jed’s nightmares, which are about the fact that he didn’t spend enough time with his grandfather while he was alive. On a more fun note, the banter between Sandman, Brute, and Glob keeps the story from getting too doom and gloom as they sneak and mess around with Psychopomp. Also, I liked that Dan Green used a grittier, inking style for Jed in the “real world” and his feelings of guilt and a cleaner one for Sandman and his more traditional punching and magic whistle blowing heroism. The design for Psychopomp is also a perfect bridge from Jack Kirby’s Sandman to Neil Gaiman’s.
The second story leans too much on previous reader knowledge, but Sandman Special is a fantastic tribute to the well-designed (Both Madpencil and Steve Buccelato make that red and yellow costume pop), filled to the brim with imagination Sandman of the 1970s. It also shows the literal power of dreams to craft limitless opportunities for storytelling
Story: Dan Jurgens, Steve Orlando Art: Jon Bogdanove, Rick Leonardi with Dan Green
Colors: Madpencil, Steve Buccelato
Story: 7.5 Art: 8.5 Overall: 8.0 Recommendation: Buy
DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review