Written & Illustrated by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby
(with additional at by Jack Burnley and Mike Royer)
Scanning and Restoration by Digikore & Rick Keene
Published by DC
Not too many properties associated with Jack Kirby whose names immediately make you think of something else. Heck, I think of Kirby when I hear Jimmy Olsen’s name. But, believe it or not, the Sandman wasn’t always synonymous with Neil Gaiman. The original incarnation came out of a pulp tradition, socialite Wesley Dodds wearing a trenchcoat and a gasmask, and blasting villains with a truth- and sleep-inducing gas gun. Within a few years, he’d transitioned to a fairly bland yellow and purple costume, taken on a teenage sidekick, and become a junior-grade Batman. And sales fell. Fortunately for Mr. Dodds, Simon and Kirby jumped ship from Timely and got the gig of revitalizing the flagging character and the sales-slumping magazine in which Sandman appeared, Adventure Comics.
Of course, the mag and the stories took off. DC’s recent hardcover collection of those nearly sixty-year-old stories presents readers a chance to rediscover these works from the formative cartooning years of two masterful creators.
Now the question is, do readers really want to experience these early tales? For comics historians and for Jack Kirby (or Joe Simon) fans, absolutely. For other readers, probably not so much.
On a story level, Simon and Kirby’s Sandman is thin. To be fair, most comics during the mid-1940s were far below thin, and Simon and Kirby’s scripts at least make coherent sense, a minor victory. But Will Eisner was doing more with fewer pages in The Spirit, and plenty of the classic strip artists created more sophisticated scripts in four-panel chunks, so Simon and Kirby can’t get a full pass. Basically every one of the classic stories revolves around gangsters with a robbery plot, frequently with a dream or sleep theme. Sandy, the Golden Boy (man, what a terrible name!), often fulfills the classic sidekick role by being knocked unconscious, distracting Sandman so that he too may be temporarily defeated and locked into some convoluted deathtrap.
Kirby’s art is recognizable if you’re only familiar with his classic Marvel output or his 70s work, yet without many of the stylized excesses that later came to mark his pages. The angular, explosive layouts and the dramatic figures remain as strong as always, and in the early stories, readers can really see how powerful and detailed illustrator Kirby and Simon are truly capable of being.
After their Sandman run, Simon and Kirby went on to pioneer romance comics and create kid gangs and other adventure stories. During the 50s, they parted ways, but reunited briefly in 1974 for an all-new Sandman #1. This one, about a super-powered protector of dreams, lacks story cohesion, but introduces a few concepts and characters that undoubtedly influenced Neil Gaiman’s later incarnation. Kirby’s art is in top 70s form.
The reproduction could be better, frankly. Not knowing what condition of source material DC had, it’s possible DC did the best they could, but several pages look faded and blurred. The picture quality is far below that of the contemporary Spirit Archives or Plastic Man Archives, both from DC’s Collections department. I’ve long been a fan of the pulpy paper stock of the Kirby Omnibuses, though I wouldn’t mind a slightly sturdier version of the flat, pseudo-newsprint.
The Sandman by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby is a valuable peek into the creative development of two of comics’ most important and influential creators. Readers who are familiar with other 40s comic stories will appreciate the dynamics of Kirby’s artwork and the relentless plotting; readers unfamiliar with Golden Age storytelling will find the book a burden of predictable plots, typical hero/sidekick banter, deathtraps, and forgettable sagas of simplistic morality.