William Baker began life with only one parent, as his father, Floyd, was incarcerated. He was raised by his mother, who seemed to be a pleasant woman who cared for her son, but nevertheless had a drinking problem. She often was too drunk to notice if her son was home or not. Mrs. Baker was not a wealthy woman and made a living cleaning houses after Floyd abandoned the family. William was a creative child, excelling in art and sculpting in school.
This made him a target for the school bullies. Baker quickly learned that in order to be safe and be seen as a man, he had to get tough. He soon was "the boss of the kids" in school, earning the fear of the boys and the attention of the girls. Baker became a football star in high school and began throwing games to pay off a friend's gambling debts to the mob. The coach figured it out and Baker assaulted him to keep him quiet.
Baker was taken to jail after committing armed robbery and aggravated assault and battery with the motive of getting enough money to leave town for good. In prison, he earned a reputation as not being afraid to get into fights. He eventually escaped from jail and fled from New York to Georgia, where he stumbled upon a radiation testing site on a beach. A nearby reactor detonated while he was on the beach and the radiation changed William Baker into the Sandman. (Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man Annual #1)
As the Sandman, Baker has the ability to change the density of his body, to shape his body as he pleases and to gain size when near sand. A petty thief at heart, Baker has engaged in crimes from bank robberies to murder plots. Oddly, he does at times, show signs of a conscience. In the past, Baker has worked with the Nazi hunters known as the Wild Pack and is able to put his animosity towards Spider-Man aside in order to work towards common goals.
Psychopathology: Portrait of an Alcoholic
A strong indicator of Baker's future trouble with the law stems from his mother's alcoholism. As an adult, William has been shown to have a drinking problem as well. Take a look at Spider-Man's thoughts on the subject. "Tuesday, I'm cutting classes to fight the Sandman after he gets drunk and tries to pick a fight with a busload of college guys. Try to imagine a beach throwing up, try to imagine an abusive sandstorm with an alcohol problem, and you'll begin to get an inkling of what I do when I'm hiding Peter Parker." (Marvel Knights Spider-Man #7) When Baker gets into a fight over a woman with Hydro-Man, its in a bar. (Amazing Spider-Man #217) When Baker and his friend Vic are seen plotting a new heist, its in a bar. (Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man Annual #1)
Alcoholism has been found to be a genetic disease. In fact, a child with one biological parent with alcoholism is three times more likely to become alcohol dependent than a child without alcoholic parents. Children with alcoholic parents are more likely to have emotional and behavioral problems. (Think of the beating he gave his football coach.) Depression is reported 20% to 40% of the time when a person suffers from alcoholism. Its unclear if Mrs Baker drank while she was pregnant with her son but if she did, it made William more likely to suffer from memory and learning problems. Combined with a lack of positive role models, lack of control of his anger issues, alcoholism and a desire to prove himself as a man, its clear that Baker was going to explode.
A Desire for Wealth and Family
Baker was never the world domination, evil mastermind type. Money is his real motive. In his very first appearance, he faces off against Spider-Man while on his way to rob a bank. (Amazing Spider-Man #4) Sandman uses violence as a means to an end, not as a goal. Consider how he objected to Doctor Octopus's plan to hold the planet for ransom. The plan was to tamper with a satellite so that it would spray a poisonous chemical over the earth and kill everyone, unless the Sinister Six were made rulers. Baker tells Octavius, "I don't know. I wouldn't want to live with that kind of slaughter on my conscience." (Amazing Spider-Man #337)
Sandman has also shown a tendency towards working in groups. From the Sinister Six, to the Wild Pack to the Outlaws (a group of former criminals turned vigilantes), Baker prefers to work in teams rather than alone. Even outside of his criminal life, Baker has shown some signs that he desires a family. When Octavius was planning to rule the world in "The Return of the Sinister Six" (Amazing Spider-Man #334 to Amazing Spider-Man #339), Baker had to be persuaded to join the team, or else the family he was hiding out with would be killed. (The family didn't know he was a fugitive.) Not long ago, he kidnapped a little girl named Keemia, after killing her mother. He told her that she was his long lost daughter and that he would take care of her. He kidnapped the girl after finding out that his powers made it impossible for him to have biological children of his own. (Amazing Spider-Man #616)
All of this may stem from his lack of a family while growing up. Baker has been consistently shown to be at odds with himself: bank robberies and murdering a child's parent one moment, to defending families and the world the next. It could be said that his mother (caring but unreliable) and father (a violent felon) are battling for control of William's soul. The poverty he grew up in may be driving his desire for wealth. He does feel compassion but likely suppresses it during crimes. This all goes back to his childhood desire to prove that he was a man. It also shows a conscious decision to commit violent crime. This is very different from an individual that can't control their impulses.