The Early Sandman

Adventure Comics #72<
Adventure #72 (March 1942) “Riddle Of The Slave Market”, art by Jack Kirby

Joe Simon has said that when, along with Jack, he arrived at DC their first jobs was ghosting for others. In the past Joe had shown he could be pretty good at mimicking comic artists, some of his Fox covers have been attributed to Lou Fine by comic book experts despite the presence of Joe’s signature. Joe and Jack both worked on a Captain Marvel special which on a whole is a pretty good job of ghosting. However careful attention reveals Jack’s touch on the Captain Marvel job despite the simplicity of the art work. So far no one has identified any of the ghosting jobs that Simon and Kirby did for DC. The first Simon and Kirby piece that we do know about was a Sandman story that appeared in Adventure Comics #72 (March 1942). No question of ghosting here, Simon and Kirby not only signed the piece they infused it with the exciting art and dynamic story telling that characterized all their creations. The only thing is Sandman was not their creation, not even the version with the new purple and yellow costume and a young sidekick named Sandy. This updated Sandman started a couple of issues before. Unfortunately I have never had the opportunity to examine those two pre-S&K issues. Simon and Kirby may not have changed the costumes, but I suspect a fuller comparison would reveal other modifications.

At this point Joe and Jack were pretty comfortable with what it took to make an interesting comic. One reason for the ease that Simon and Kirby seem to have in taking over someone else’s title was its similarity to their previous gig, Captain America. Both titles had a hero whose powers, while exceptional, would not be considered unnatural. Both included a young sidekick so that, as Joe would describe it, the hero would have someone to talk to. Finally neither hero would use weapons such as a gun. Sandman and Sandy did carry what looked like a pistol but actually was what they called a wirepoon, used to attach a wire so that the heroes could easily ascend buildings, it was never fired at their foes. It should be noted that S&K would not adhere to these traits throughout their career. Most S&K heroes do not have what one would normally describe as super-powers, but there are certainly enough exceptions. I would say most S&K heroes did not have a sidekick, but again there are enough young partners to made this a weak generalization. As we saw in Manhunter Joe and Jack could come up with sidekick stand-ins if they felt the need. Perhaps the strongest S&K trait was the hero’s lack of firearms. Only two heroes had a firearm, Night Fighter (intended for their own company Mainline) and the Fly (whose costume seems based on Night Fighter and so probably inherited the gun from that source). Since Night Fighter was never published we do not know if it was a true gun, it could have been another wirepoon to help, along with special suction boots, scale buildings. The Fly had no need for a wirepoon (he could fly) and so it was his buzz gun (used to stun his advisories). Of course I am excluding the cross-genre Bulls-Eye, although it may properly be considered part of the hero genre, a western without guns, well that would just be silly.

Captain America was not a perfect prototype for how Simon and Kirby would do Sandman. The most important difference was that since Captain America was a patriotic hero most of his opponents were spies. Without a patriotic costume, Sandman would have to have other foes. That was not a serious problem because crime was the staple of comic book and Joe and Jack would show themselves quite capable of supplying a steady stream of colorful lawbreakers. The thing that gave Simon and Kirby the greatest difficulty was non-iconic nature of Sandman. Ideally comic superheroes are meant to be iconic figures, or avatars, the embodiment of a quality or theme. The original Sandman had a pistol that released a sleeping gas and so Sandman was a very apt name. With the sleeping gas discarded and its pistol replaced with a wirepoon, the name Sandman lost its original significance. Simon and Kirby tried to make up for this lost in a number of ways. One was a bit of a poem that they would often use, usually either at the start or end of a story:

There is no land beyond the law
Where tyrants rule with unshakeable power,
It’s a dreame from which the Evil wake
Too face their fate … their terrifying hour

I wish I knew more about this unusual poem. Was it used previously by Sandman’s earlier creators, or did Simon and Kirby introduce it? More importantly what was the origin of this rhyme? The obsolete spelling of the word dreame suggests it may come from English literature. Then again it may just be the work of a very clever comic book writer. I suspect the former but I have not been able to uncover the source.

Adventure Comics #79
Adventure #79 (October 1942) “Footprints in the Sands of Time” page 2, art by Jack Kirby

Another justification for the name Sandman was the concept that the criminals were so frightened Sandman that he would haunt their dreams. A nightmares of the Sandman had by a crook was depicted in Adventure #79 (see image above). In “A Drama in Dreams” (Adventure #81, December 1942) an actor has taken the place of Sandman’s alter ego, Wesley Dodds. His deception was not perfect until he talks in his sleep:

Wesly: You can’t pin anything on me! Help! The Sandman … Don’t let him get me!

Sandy: Why — only criminals have dreams like that — but not Wes Dodds.

Dreams and sleep play other small parts in Sandman stories. In “The Lady and the Champ” (Adventure #83, February 1943) sleeping with a piece of wedding cake under the pillow apparently results in two strangers dreaming of each other. In “The Man Who Couldn’t Sleep” (Adventure #80, November 1942) a rich man’s insomnia leads him to a life of crime. Other sleep references can be found, such as Sandman commenting on their fighting crime at night while others are asleep. Sandman may not have had any special powers, but that did stop S&K from including the sleep theme into their stories in an attempt to justify their hero’s name.

Just as Sandman and Sandy did not have an real superpowers, neither did their opponents. Most would be have nothing special about them above their criminal behavior. That really was not a problem because Joe and Jack knew how to make a story exciting. Sometimes S&K would suggest their villains had powers which by the end of the story would be shown to be illusionary. In the “The Villain from Valhalla” (Adventure #75, June 1942) we are presented with the god Thor whose leads a Viking raid against New York City. Even the character’s thought balloons lead us to believe he is truly Thor, as a car approaches the treasure laden Thor he thinks:


But in the end he turns out to be nothing more then “a clever and brutal killer” named “Fairy Tales” Fenton. His metallurgy expertise provides his gang with bullet proof clothing. The destructive hammer


Adventure Comics #84
Adventure #84 (March 1943) “Crime Carnival” page 1, art by Jack Kirby

Another faker was the carnival magician in “The Miracle Maker” (Adventure #78, September 1942). His magic tricks were used to hide his criminal acts. Sandman and Sandy are not fooled and catch him at his tricks. Simon and Kirby seem to have a propensity for using carnivals as a source of criminals. Previously at Timely they had done “Case #2: Sando and Omar” (Captain America #1, March 1941) and “Captain America and the Ringmaster Of Death” (Captain America #5, August 1941). “Crime Carnival” became a prime example for Sandman. Why carnivals? I suspect it has to do with the fact that the readers would be familiar with the world of circus performers and freaks. It was populated with people who could have abilities beyond those of normal people, yet be familiar enough that the readers would not wonder how they got those powers. Provided that S&K did not go too far, which they never seemed to do. When Strecho reaches through the bars to grab the money bags from a bank desk, is his arm length truly increasing, or is he just taking advantage of his thin but tall frame? From the angle that Kirby draws it is hard to be sure.

The only villain in the earlier Sandman stories that is shown receiving powers that he did not originally have was in “The Man Who Knew All the Answers” (Adventure #74, May 1942). Here we find a scientist using a device to generate vibrations that develop his unused brain cells.


Afterwards when encountering the janitor he questions him about getting a new job. The janitor is shocked, he has told nobody about it. Deductions like a super-Sherlock or ESP? No explanation is given and for the rest of the story the only power he exhibits is great intelligence.

Adventure Comics #75
Adventure #75 (June 1942) “The villain from Valhalla” page 1, art by Jack Kirby

In my opinion it was with the work that Simon and Kirby did for DC (as well as the Harvey covers) that they forged their unique art style. The key ingredient that had previously been missing was their special bold inking style. There had been occasional hints of it in the Captain America Comics, but S&K would consistently use it from this point on. I suspect that the larger crew at Timely was the reason that it did not evolve at that time. At least initially at DC all of the art was produced by Jack and Joe which facilitated the developing of their inking style. Still this is not the Studio inking style I wrote about in my serial post on Jack Kirby’s Austere Inking. There are things that look like abstract arcs (see the Inking Glossary ) but they black area never seems to form a band with both the upper and lower boundaries tracing an arc, something often seen in the typical Studio style. Crosshatching sometimes is reminiscent of picket fence brushwork as for example on the torso of Thor in the above splash page. But the pickets are thin and slanted at an angle while the rails are actually further crosshatching.

Other changes occurred in the art from what was done on Captain America. The more extreme irregular panel shapes had been abandoned. Round and irregularly shaped panels would still be common, but ones with a multiple zigzagging border would no longer be used. The most important change would be the panel layout. The predominant format on Captain America had the panels laid out in four rows and two columns. The same layout was initially continued when Simon and Kirby worked at DC. But beginning with Adventure #78 (September 1942) three rows and two columns began to be the most common layout. The transition was not sudden or complete, there are a number of stories that have both layouts. But eventually four rows would become rare and most variations would be having some rows with three panels.

Adventure Comics #75
Adventure #75 (June 1942) “The villain from Valhalla” page 8, art by Jack Kirby

I cannot finishes discussing the earlier Sandman comics without writing about one of my favorite splashes, the one from “The Villain from Valhalla”. In a previous encounter with Thor and his Viking horde, Sandman and the police had been soundly defeated with Sandy hospitalized. Now they are determined to even the score. Most Simon and Kirby splashes were limited to the first page, but this fight required the an entire story page. Besides Thor’s hammer we find the villains armed with a spear and a battle ax. Yet the good guys face this solely with their fists, none of the police draw their guns. The composition is Kirby’s comic book equivalent of Jackson Pollack. Most of the page is a tangle of arms and bodies where extra viewing time is required to reveal what is going on. Jack is not even content to leave the skyline with the Chrysler building alone, surmounting it with a rope swinging Viking. Jack’s confidence in the impact of the splash is so great that he is throws in a piece of his personal humor, a policeman’s powerful slug sends a Viking’s helmet on an upward trajectory. Frankly the caption


seems superfluous and Sandman’s battle cry


was all that was needed.

2 thoughts on “The Early Sandman

  1. lc

    it’s always nice to see some Sandman and some Manhunter pages in full glorious and garish colors.
    I’ve got the collection published in France by Les Humanoïdes Associés a while back (some 25 years ago) but it doesn’t look as exciting in b&w.
    isn’t it the right time for DC to wake up and make them available again?

  2. Harry Post author


    It is so past time for DC to reprint Simon and Kirby material that their continued neglect of it seems purposeful.


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