‘Just Imagine…’ is a series of graphic novels that Stan Lee wrote for DC Comics, reinterpreting many of their iconic superheroes as they would have been had he created them. Paired up with a different artist for each issue, the series completely reinvents our favourite DC heroes and heroines, giving them new looks, powers, histories and personalities.
Each graphic novel tackles a different character and is an origin story with a primary adventure to set the stage for that hero/heroine. The recurring elements are its setting, which is usually Los Angeles, its main villain, Reverend Dominic Darrk (of the Church of Eternal Empowerment) and a mysterious green element that empowers many of the series’ heroes and heroines.
“Holy $#!tballs, Batdude!”, you might say excitedly. “Stan Lee rewrote all of the DC characters?”. Woah, woah! Hold onto your superbritches, lil’ one: the series was not well received and has largely been forgotten since. But we here at TCE were very curious, and we know some of you are too, so we decided to explore each one in turn, giving them the spotlight they deserve.
This week on ‘Just Imagine…’:
Sandman, by Stan Lee and Walter Simonson 6.5
I don’t think I am at all familiar with DC’s Sandman character. In fact, until this very moment, I didn’t realize that there were many of them, created by various writers, throughout DC’s history. Naturally, when I think Sandman, I think of Neil Gaiman’s creation (for DC’s Vertigo imprint), which I’ve never felt compelled to explore. The name suggests dreamscapes or death to me. Heck, I had even forgotten that Marvel had a Sandman character made of sand.
So I had few expectations when I tackled Stan Lee’s new ‘Just Imagine…’ creation; I was pretty much a blank slate.
Lee’s ‘Sandman’ takes an astronaut by the name of Larry Wilton (notice the lack of alliteration!) who is being sent out into space to investigate a green haze that NASA thinks may be the source of a mysterious Sleeping Death virus that is putting people into comas. Due to an unexpected and inexplicable interference by Reverend Darrk, Wilson ends up on the brink of death and finds himself sent into a dreamworld that he used to visit as a child.
There he discovers that he is destined to be a mystical being called the Sandman, whose powers are unclear, as they are not even explained to him aside for his intangibility. He basically has to figure it out for himself (he eventually learns how to fly and turn into a sandstorm). Eventually, he is told how to move between the real and dream worlds, so he confronts Reverend Darrk and a thief of souls in the dreamworld that used to haunt his dreams.
We come to realize that Darrk is related to the thief of souls when Sandman defeats the latter (instantly making all the victims of the Sleeping Death well again in the process) and finds the former defeated upon his return to the real world. This was a bit disappointing to me because I thought there was more to Darrk than this. Of course, I don’t really like mystical/magic stuff (hence why I always disliked Dr. Strange), so this story didn’t do much for me.
I was also ambivalent about the character. I hated his look, which some sort of beige-coloured hooded robe, golden gauntlets, golden, knee-high space boots and a black mask to cover his eyes. His personality didn’t shine through much, either; he appeared to be your average American heroic figure. And, as mentioned above, it’s hard to be excited about a character whose powers are a mystery not just to us but to him as well. Yay! Here’s comes Sandman!
He’ll… uh… do something. Not sure, what, though…
The art was okay, but it didn’t do much for me. I liked that the story was structured in a slightly non-linear fashion, but one has to wonder why Lee chose to redo a character as ambiguous as Sandman: he’s hardly one of the DC Comics icons that one might have expected him to do his magic on. Catwoman was a stretch, but Sandman…? What about Martian Manhunter or Green Arrow? Or, heck, Cyborg or Firestorm? At least their names have some sort of resonance.
Well, for what it’s worth, Sandman set up the following issue, the finale: ‘Crisis’.
On the street: This four-page spread, again by Michael Uslan and Stan Lee, and the last of the series, consists of an old man escaping the dreamworld and wandering the streets trying to warn people that Crisis is coming. Naturally, no one listens to him. The ending is very reminiscent of ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers‘.
Next week: Crisis!