Wesley Bernard Dodds (Sandman)

With Lucy W. today we abandon space and come back to Earth, where we meet one of the DC Golden Age superheroes, the Sandman. So far, the character had three live action appearances: in the first one, he was actually a villain in the Batman tv series, portrayed by Michael Rennie, a thief allied to Catwoman who used a special powder to put people to sleep and control them as sleepwalkers. In The Flash 1990s tv series, Sandman is named Nightshade and portrayed by Jason Bernard, but he retains his looks and his sleeping gas gun. A proper version of the character appears in Smallville: this time, the real deal Wesley Dodds is portrayed by Ken Lawson, and we meet him as a retired superhero who has a prophetic dream about the death of his former teammate Star-Spangled Kid, but before he can save him he’s slain by Icicle. In the comics, the character has quite a long history and a glorious past, despite his odd looks and skills. Let’s see together.

Wesley Dodds was born in Manhattan, New York City, around the 1910s. He was the son of the rich industrialist Edward Dodds and his wife Marina, but he lost his mother when he was still a child. When his father came back from World War I, he had his son accompany him in his many travels, especially in Asia. Between China, Japan and India, young Wesley learnt a variety of things, from origami to martial arts, and he came back to the United States only to attend college. Intrigued by literature and philosophy, brilliant Wes wanted to become a professional writer, but his father’s sudden demise forced him to take the reins of the family business, and he became a businessman just like Edward. He also served his duty as a naval pilot during the 1930s, but during this period something more serious started happening to him: he became suddenly haunted by extremely vivid, horrific dreams in which he witnessed several crimes, always with a lot of details. Dodds at first believed it to be just stress, but the cause was much weirder: Dream of the Endless had been imprisoned on Earth, and to balance his forced inactivity fragments of his soul (and powers) had been splintered among several living beings, Wesley Dodds included. It didn’t take much for Wesley to realize that the crimes he saw in his dreams actually took place not much time after, and he took this unexpected gift of prophecy very seriously. He built a laboratory underneath his estate, and he resumed his Oriental teachings by practicing martial arts again, and by using his knowledge of herbalism to synthesize a number of gasses of different uses, from sleeping ones to hypnotic ones. He then collected among his father’s tokens a World War I gas mask, provided himself with a gas gun, and created a masked identity to fight crime. From that moment, he started hunting down the criminals he saw in his dreams, knocking them out and leaving them with a poem enclosed in an origami, as a signature. The Sandman was born.

During one of his early exploits, as someone was controlling the robot Elektro to try and kidnap the British Royal Family, Sandman crossed paths with the Crimson Avenger, the world’s first masked hero: after a brief fight, the two realized the real enemy was the Phantom of the Fair, and joined forces to take him down. The Crimson Avenger gave the Sandman some useful tips, and helped him perfection his design for the gas gun. While the Sandman kept earning a victory after the other, stopping a series of foes like the brutal vigilante Scorpion, the poisoner Doctor Death and the serial killer Tarantula, also Wesley Dodds went on with his life, and he made the acquaintance of Dian Belmont, a wealthy socialite who was the first one to discover his dual identity. Albeit they never got married, Wes and Dian fell in love and stayed together for their entire life. In the following years, as World War II erupted, President Roosevelt called all the Mystery Men to help their country, and Sandman answered the call, becoming a founding member of both the Justice Society of America and the All-Star Squadron, participating to war actions across the ocean and stopping and exposing spies and foreign agents on American soil. The most bizarre adventure he had with the JSA involved a unique terrorist, Ian Karkull, a time-traveler who was targeting the men who would have become Presidents of the United States in the following fifty years. The Justice Society confronted the mad scientist and destroyed him, but upon dying Karkull released a huge amount of chrono-energy that affected all the heroes nearby, mutating their metabolism and having them age much slower than any normal human being. Back home, Wesley continued his activity as a vigilante, and took with him a sidekick, Sandy Hawkins, the orphaned nephew of Dian. With Sandy the Golden Boy by his side, Sandman knew a new, brighter time… until an accident mutated Sandy into an uncontrollable monster and forced Sandman to put him in a coma. Guilt-ridden, Wesley Dodds retired from action, dedicating his time to Dian and to find a cure for Sandy. But the dreams would have soon come back to call for him…

A brooding genius who walks between two worlds, Wesley Dodds is a brilliant philosopher and a poet, a skilled engineer and a resourceful inventor, an accomplished chemist and an infallible detective. As the Sandman, he has the gift and curse of prophetic dreams, erratic and cryptic visions that only his superior intellect can properly interpret; he also ages much slower than normal people, looking in his fifties while touching the nineties; his equipment includes an experimental silicoid gun, that can shoot sand in any known form, including glass and cement, a wirepoon gun, a modified Plymouth, and of course his trademark gas gun, that emits gasses of his own creation with a variety of effects, from simple sleeping gas to a “sleeptalking truth serum”, from one that inspires night terrors to one that puts an adult man into a permanent coma. A disciplined martial artist whose body is just as honed as his mind, Sandman inhabits both our world and Dreamworld, a citizen of two realities who walks daily on a dangerous border.

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Tilda Johnson (Deadly Nightshade)

I spoke too fast apparently, as Man-Ape wasn’t the last character spotted in the Black Panther trailer: we have a confirmation of another one who appeared in there, and that’s also a new revelation. When we first see Erik Killmonger with the tribal mask on, he’s accompanied by some of his followers, the first one by his side being a woman: that’s Tilda Johnson, portrayed by Nabiyah Be. It’s quite unexpected to see her here, since in the comics she surely had a few run-ins with Black Panther in his American years, but she never had anything to do with Killmonger (or with Wakanda in general). Let’s see together.

Tilda Johnson was born in HarlemNew York City, the only child of a poor black family. Born with an innate aptitude for science and a remarkable intellect, Tilda didn’t show any sign of being a natural born genius, preferring to hide her true nature behind the facade of a naive girl; she studied in secret and by herself, obtaining an extensive knowledge of chemistry, genetics, physics and much more. With the brain she had she could do pretty much anything, but being a poor girl in a poor ghetto there was just one thing she wanted to do: to gain money as fast as she could to get out of a life she hated with all herself. Despite being just sixteen years old, she became quite a criminal mastermind in a matter of months, starting her own racket. Her successes attracted the attention of much bigger fish, like Yellow Claw, the Chinese crime lord. Claw was looking for allies at the time, and the young genius could have proven useful to him. The two formed quite a formidable team, and Johnson started being called the Deadly Nightshade, due to the project she was working on with Yellow Claw (sometimes, her scientific genius had her being called Doctor Nightshade). Thanks to Claw’s resources and Nightshade’s brain, they developed a special serum that could transform any human into obedient werewolves, a super-powered army fiercely loyal to its master. Deadly Nightshade started experimenting her serum on jail convicts, so that she could use the inmates as invincible minions for Yellow Claw: the plan succeeded, but S.H.I.E.L.D. noticed the disappearance of the prisoners, and sent Captain America on the criminal duo’s trails. Cap defeated Yellow Claw and his werewolves, but Nightshade managed to escape.

Tilda now had a personal score to settle with Captain America and S.H.I.E.L.D., and she developed another serum to obtain her vengeance: based on pheromones, this new concoction allowed her to mind-control people, and she used it to conquer an entire S.H.I.E.L.D. facility; when Cap came to the rescue, she controlled him as well, forcing the hero to battle his partner, Falcon. It was thanks to the latter that Nightshade was defeated, and this time she was taken into custody by S.H.I.E.L.D. and imprisoned. A common jail couldn’t hold her for long, however, and she soon escaped, coming back to her Harlem and reprising her old objective of becoming the queen of the underworld. She built an army of life-like robots based on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Life Model Decoys, and employed them as muscle to take over the protection rackets in the neighborhood, all the while posing as the mistress of R. U. Rossum, a “crime boss” who was actually one of the robots. Nightshade managed to overthrow Maggia, but her mechanical army was eventually reduced to scraps by Iron Fist and Power Man. She came back months later, this time controlling Hulk to obtain a rare circuit developed by Rand-Meachum Corporation, but Iron Fist and Power Man faced her again, helped by Machine Man. After this umpteenth failure, she once again looked for allies, and she joined Superia‘s feminist terrorist group Femizons, becoming her second in command and developing for her a serum that could transform men into women, even using it on the likes of Captain America and Paladin. She even built a “sterilization bomb” to free women from the burden of motherhood, but the Femizons were eventually defeated. Her past experience with werewolves attracted the interest of Dredmund Cromwell, the Demon Druid, and she replicated for him her werewolf serum, this time successfully transforming Captain America in a feral beast. Every battle, however, turned into a new defeat, and it didn’t take many more experiences like these to make it clear for Tilda that she was wasting her potential in her crime career…

Tilda Johnson is an extremely smart, yet greedy and ambitious woman, a natural genius who believes she has to prove her worth by making as much money as she can in the shortest time possible, thus “redeeming” herself from an early life of poverty. As the Deadly Nightshade (or Doctor Nightshade, or simply Nightshade), she uses her impressive genius to devise weapons, serums and machines for criminal use, such as an army of robots, her werewolf serum, mind-controlling pheromones, and even her own personal battle armor, a strength-enhancing suit with silver spikes protruding from it; she’s also a superb athlete and a skilled hand-to-hand combatant, more than able to take care of herself if the situation doesn’t allow her to hide behind the curtains as usual. Originally an irredeemable crime mastermind, Nightshade is now a changed woman, who thanks to the encounter with people such as Misty KnightNighthawk and Hawkeye is trying to start a new life worthy of her potential… but it’s a long road to redemption, one full of temptations and occasions to come back to the old ways…