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Sandman In Animation - A Retrospective

Another one of the early villains from Spider-Man’s unmatched rouges gallery, The Sandman was one of the Stan Lee/Steve Dikto originals, premiering in Amazing Spider-Man #4. He’s fought most of the major superheroes since then but is prominently known as a Spidey villain. He’s been an ever changing character in the comic books – constantly reverting from villain to would be hero, back to villain.

The Sandman has never been a major favourite of mine, personally. I don’t have anything against the character but I’ve never really found that there’s a lot to him – he’s a thug with the ability to turn himself into sand. I can’t recall any outstanding stories from the comics that would change my mind but that could be because I’ve simply not been looking hard enough. My first memories of the character is fighting him in the Spider-Man Vs The Kingpin game for the Mega Drive when I was a young whippersnapper. I also remember absolutely crapping my pants playing the game on Nightmare difficulty and having Venom show up as I raced towards the fire hydrant to defeat my Sandy foe and snap a few pics for old J. Jonah – brilliant game. I’m looking forward to giving both the aforementioned villains a whooping when Spider-Man 3 is released on the PS2.

Sandman made his animation debut in the 67 show in an episode entitled Sands Of Crime. Given how little development the villain in this show received, one shouldn’t expect wonders but there are a good couple of chuckles in the episode, most of them coming from the legendary Fearless Publisher Of The Daily Bugle, J. Jonah Jameson! Once again blaming Spider-Man for a crime he didn’t commit, Spider-Man must stop The Sandman to clear his name and retrieve the stolen diamond. It’s not an outstanding episode by any means but it’s relatively faithful to the comic character – The Sandman is a thug who uses his powers for petty crimes. I remember being quite impressed with how they handled his powers in the show though – the show’s visuals may have been simplistic but they worked well with Sandman.

His model, however, was less than impressive. I’ve always loved Steve Dikto’s design but none of his charm was translated here. The stripy jumper was replaced with a plain top to make it easier to animate and the brown pants were now blue, which really clashed with the shade of green. I realise that Sandman doesn’t really have a lot to work with visuals wise, but the show had good models for The Green Goblin, Mysterio and The Scorpion so it wasn’t as if interesting designs were beyond them. His voice is about par with what one would expect from the show – nothing to take too seriously but not horrendously miscast either. This isn’t a show known for it’s brilliant characterisation or stunning visuals however – the show is best for a good laugh as it simply oozes cheese in its purest form. That, and it also has a wicked score beyond its legendary theme tune.

Sandman’s next appearance would be in the New Fantastic Four series as a member of The Frightful Four, clad in his Jack Kirby costume. Kirby, for those not in the know, actually worked on the storyboards for the show. Much like the 67 Spider-Man show, the villains were never really given much thought and they couldn’t really be portrayed of as a threat. Personality wise, he had little more than a generic "thuggish" personality and voice - he did particularly dislike Trapster. This show is best known for replacing The Human Torch with H.E.R.B.I.E, an irritating talking computer. H.E.R.B.I.E can currently be seen on Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest Heroes as Reed Richards’ interactive but somewhat clueless computer. The new show’s version is actually funny, however. GOOOAAAALLLLLLL!!!

As with most of the Dikto/Romita villains, The Sandman would reappear in the 80’s show. Once again, we’re not shown his origin – he is simply a reoccurring Spider-Man villain, like most in the show. I’ve never really cared for shows that do this – I like to see the villains first meeting with the hero, I think it develops them a lot more. I actually like origin stories too and Sandman isn’t a difficult one to do – he was a thug before he got his powers so there’s no need to give him a motivation for turning him into a supervillain.

The episode itself has Peter dealing with the typical Parker luck – he’s sent to Florida to take photos from a military research facility with an irritating colleague when The Sandman interrupts things, meaning he must change to Spider-Man to go to town on the villain, which results in him being expelled from school unless he can explain himself. No worries – tell the school it was a common mistake – except for the fact that he has to be there before 4 PM and The Sandman is still stealing from the city. The Sandman is now more powerful than ever because he absorbed radioactive sand from Mars, believe it or not. Given how dumb the idea was and how The Sandman didn’t actually need this sand to make him more powerful one wonders why they even bothered. The episode is fun, but not especially deep, much like the show itself. One can only chuckle at Peter being worried that he left his closet door open fully expecting Aunt May to walk into, open it and discover his secret. I admit sometimes my memory goes a bit fuzzy when it comes to this show but most of the episodes I’ve seen have Aunt May being a major pain in Peter’s ass. The show has a nice nod to Amazing Spider-Man #4 in which Peter losses his mask when battling the beach boy, forcing him to flee. In a rather amusing scene which brought back hilarious memories of Amazing Bag Man (look it up) Spidey is forced to wear a paper bag to conceal his identity, much to the amusement of the people of New York.

The show did a fair job with Sandman – the voice was typical of the time but not too lame when compared to the other villains on the show and the design was pretty good – he doesn’t quite have Dikto’s quirkiness about him but no one’s really done wonders with Sandman’s model since it’s creator. I’m frankly surprised that they’ve kept so closely to his look in Spider-Man 3 especially considering they went in their own direction with both The Green Goblin and Dr. Octopus in the previous movies.

The Sandman would return in Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends in what is considered by many to be the show’s crown jewel. Whilst chilling on the beach (or boiling, if you’re Bobby) The Sandman notices Peter Parker changing into Spider-Man and threatens to kill his Aunt May unless he stops being Spider-Man. Given how the villains were rarely treated as a threat in the show, it was a very unusual break from the norm. No doubt Peter would be gripping his pillow tight that night!

Realising he has little choice other than to obey Sandman’s wishes, he abandons the costume and watches in horror as Iceman and Firestar are unable to defeat Sandman. You get the feeling a hell of a lot could be dragged out from this story, but unfortunately, it’s a 1980’s cartoon – they don’t do dark. So, as with many things on Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends, the episodes resolution is rather silly. Firestar manages to trick The Sandman into thinking that Peter Parker and Spider-Man are two separate people when he sees the two of them together when Angelica dupes Flash Thompson into wearing a Spider-Man costume. This only serves to make Sandman look like a complete dumb ass, but to be honest, that’s what villains were back in cartoons those days. Sandman is defeated in an astonishingly similar fashion to his appearance in the 80’s solo show and was never used in Spider-Friends again. Believe it or not, only Videoman would be the show’s returning villain. Hardly seems fair, does it?

As difficult as it may be to believe, that was the last time Sandman was animated. He was forbidden from Spider-Man: The Animated Series as he and Electro were the planned villains for Jim Cameron’s Spider-Man movie. Spider-Man: Unlimited was too busy wasting time making terrible counter earth versions of several of Spidey’s rouges to use a good one like Sandman and he wasn’t used in the criminally short lived Spider-Man: The New Animated Series either. One can only dream of the cool effects they could’ve done with a villain like Sandman on that show…

Which brings us to what everyone’s talking about – Spider-Man 3. Fans were wondering which villain would be picked from the best rouges gallery in comics to battle Spidey on the big screen for the threequel, with Venom and a new Green Goblin being top of the list. Many were surprised when we got both the aforementioned villains and The Sandman. I remember reading a lot of negative feedback online, stating that Sandman was merely a thug and had few interesting characteristics to him, just a cool visual. Avi Arad has mentioned several times that he feels the movies should have a connection to Peter Parker in order to make the character more emotionally invested in his villains, rather than just having him fight villains in ridiculous costumes like in all those mediocre Batman movies in the 90’s. I remember wondering how they were planning on doing this, then I saw the Spider-Man 3 trailer and I’ve been excited to see it ever since. One simple line explains it all

“This man killed my Uncle and he’s still out there!”

Making Sandman the apparent killer of Uncle Ben is a bold move. Whether or not it’s a wise one will be something we’ll have to wait to find out, but given that this movie is all about Peter’s struggle to fight the darkness within himself, it will certainly be an interesting to see his reaction. The Spider-Man movies haven’t faltered yet and I can’t wait to see how this one will conclude. I’m sure the Sandman will eventually return in The Amazing Spider-Man, but for now, I’m just anxious to see him on the big screen.