The Sandman is one of Spider-Man's long-standing foes. He first appeared in Amazing Spider-Man Volume 1 #4 (September 1963) where he became the first villain in comic history to be defeated by being sucked up into a vacuum cleaner. How appropriate, then, that the Sandman return for Amazing Spider-Man Volume 2, #4 (and that it, ahem, sucked) as big and nasty as ever. Except... what about all those years when the Sandman, unnerved by a fluke merging with the Hydro-Man, decided to go straight, work for Silver Sable, and even become a reserve Avenger?
For years, various writers have worked hard at bringing real characterization to the two-dimensional villain. The Sandman became thoughtful and insightful without losing any of his earthiness or ironic humor. In an instant, that was all wiped out as the Sandman was returned to his boring, evil self. And what was the one-panel explanation for this? Um... when he went straight, he was faking?
But not so fast. Now Peter Parker: Spider-Man #12 comes out with a back-up story that shows the Sandman being kidnapped by the Wizard. The Wizard explains that the merger of Hydro-Man and Sandman actually created a "fractured psyche"... "the ridiculous persona of William Baker", that rather than this being growth on the part of the character, it is a perversion developed by an accident. The Wizard uses his id machine to "restore the true Flint Marko", turning the Sandman evil and implying that the two-dimensional Sandman is the real one and the well-developed character is the fraud.
It's enough to make you scream, isn't it? Particularly the implication that the Sandman-as-Flint-Marko was replaced by the Sandman-as-William-Baker after the mishap with Hydro-Man, as if Baker is a false identity, when we all know that the Sandman, as William Baker, was going to visit his mother on Christmas all the way back in Marvel Team-Up #1!
But, not so fast, again. A look at the credits reveals that this story was not written by Howard Mackie, who is capable of any travesty, but rather by Tom Brevoort, who has consistently proven himself respectful of Marvel history. So, let's look at the story again, and let's notice how the whole thing is told from the viewpoint of the Wizard. Certainly, to the Wizard, any leaning toward the side of good, would be seen as a fractured psyche. Certainly, to the Wizard, the character of William Baker would be seen as a false "ridiculous persona". And certainly the Wizard's claim of repairing the Sandman could be nothing more than a cheap brainwashing scheme. After all, isn't the Sandman now duller and more murderous than he ever was?
As far as I can tell, there was a hue and cry in fandom over the reversion of the Sandman. And perhaps this is the whole reason for this backup tale. After all, what's easier to change back? A comment by the Sandman that implies that he was evil all along or a brainwashing by the Wizard? An implication that Flint Marko is the real Sandman or a hint that the Wizard has forced that result? As we all know, anything the Wizard has done to brainwash the Sandman can be undone, turning the boring Flint Marko into the interesting William Baker again. I like to think that this story is step one in the return of the virtous Sandman. We can only hope.