Sandman Mystery Theatre
#3: The Vamp

by Matt Wagner,
Steven T. Seagle, Guy Davis
(Vertigo, 2005)

The "mature readers" label on Vertigo's Sandman Mystery Theatre earns its keep in The Vamp.

The perpetrators of a gang rape years ago are paying for their crime and silence now, but no one but Wesley Dodds, the eponymous Sandman, puts the pieces together as members of a New York City social club are found, one by one, brutalized and exsanguinated. But even as the clues are gathered to solve the case, girl about town Dian Belmont takes several sharp turns within her own social circle and begins her own brand of amateur sleuthing. Of course, all her paths seem to lead right back to Dodds, the man she simply cannot get out of her head.

As always, writer Matt Wagner -- now joined by co-author Steven T. Seagle -- works plenty of social issues into the text, all seen through the gauzy social fabric of 1930s America. From racism to feminism (or, rather, the lack thereof), sexual mores and the Harlem jazz subculture, SMT recreates life as it was in the days preceding World War II. In fact, one character even comments on the latest news from Europe, and her companion breezily replies, "Poland? Who has time to read when there's such a terrific sale here at Bloomies."

Originally published in magazine form in 1994, it took Vertigo more than a decade to collect this story into the graphic novel format it richly deserves. I love this series -- even the rough, unpolished look supplied by artist Guy Davis -- and I sincerely wish it'd had a longer run. Enjoy this one while you can!

by Tom Knapp
13 January 2007

Buy it from