80 Years Ago: Santa Fronts for the Mob, and the Original Sandman Comic

A little confession: whenever my wife or anyone mentions the comic book The Sandman, I never think of the Neil Gaiman one from 1989-96 or its screen adaptations first. (Though I did see the new Netflix TV show this year, btw, and very much enjoyed it). Instead of the one from the ’90s, which I wasn’t aware of at the time, I immediately think of the Golden Age DC character from the late ’30s and early ’40s, who turns out to have been its antecedent.

Now I’m obviously not 90 years old. In 1975, DC released a wonderful oversized special holiday edition comic called Christmas with the Superheroes, which featured stories with Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and others, and I, being 10 years old, snatched it up and read and re-read it many a time. More on that cool publication here.

Among the stories in the volume was Santa Fronts for the Mob starring the now forgotten superhero Sandman and his sidekick Sandy. The premise was that a crooked wrestler is hired by gangsters to masquerade as Santa Claus to do whatever crimes for them. (Seems prescient — Tor Johnson would sport a Santy costume in The Lemon Drop Kid nearly a decade later). This Sandman story had originally run in Adventure Comics #82, with a pub date of January ’43, but no doubt it had hit the streets at least a couple of weeks earlier to be out in time for Christmas (hence now 80 years old). I came upon this Sandman again after many decades recently when working on my Captain America post, for this incarnation of Sandman was also written and drawn by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.

Yet (so I just learned), THIS version of Sandman was not the first one either! The character had originally been created in 1939, making near simultaneous duel debuts in a special 1939 Worlds Fair comic, and Adventure Comics #40. That version looked like this:

It was more of a Shadow style detective idea, and the sick premise was that the Sandman incapacitated criminals with poison gas! Haha, some superpower — war crimes! “Drop the heater, Mugsy, or I’ll put out your lights — PERMANENT.” What happens if he has trouble getting his gas mask on?

I’m guessing this wasn’t so attractive a concept in the post World War 2 era, if you follow me. This earlier DC Sandman character was phased out in the mid ’40 then occasionally reappeared in the late ’60s and ’70s, as more of esoteric Marvel-influenced magical type character who got all up in your dreams, which eventually led to….the version of The Sandman that YOU all know.

I hope I didn’t put you to sleep!