At Her Mercy! Or; The Dearborn Avenue Mystery in Saturday Night Vol. 19 #31, April 8, 1882, is the first chapter of a well-crafted detective mystery. It happens to include a rather interesting science fiction element that looks like a 19th Century version of The Sandman due to the use of gas and a gas-mask apparatus. Author Weldon J. Cobb wrote science fiction among other genres throughout his career, most famously in the 1901 Golden Hours serial To Mars With Tesla. The story To Mars With Tesla is extraordinary. It's likely one of the most famous dime novel stories ever, and it's one of my favorite things. Tesla vs. Edison, and Edison has a flight suit that looks a bit like Iron Man — an issue for another day.
The Issue is a regular column about vintage comics and other vintage periodicals from throughout world history. The idea behind The Issue is simple: for each post, I'll choose something from my collection and talk about what's going on in it, and discuss the publishers and creators behind it. And essentially, I'm just going to end up stepping through comics history one issue at a time. There is only one rule in The Issue: No recent stuff. Everything will be from before 1940, and most of it will be from before 1920.
If you're familiar with the Golden Age version of the DC Comics character The Sandman, this is essentially a slightly more basic version of that concept: A sleeping gas of some sort is unleashed upon the target, while the wielder of the gas breathes easy behind his gas mask. Here's the passage from the story which describes this Sandman-like character and what he does:
The figure was arrayed in dark clothes, and was hatless; but over the face and head was a covering which startled and bewildered the astounded girl. It glittered in the moonlight like a burnished helmet, and hid all save the outline of the face.
Suddenly it stopped opposite the door of her mother's room. The form paused, peered through the open doorway, and then began a strange pantomime. The masked head and its motions seemed a weird travesty of some superstitious ceremony, a fantastic mummery, a silent incantation over some censer. For in its hand, swinging slightly to and fro by a chain, the figure held a bowl of some dark-colored material, in which flickered and gleamed a light, and from which arose a dim, bluish vapor, plainly visible, an airy veil, between the maiden and the moonlight.
The air bore it toward and into the room and through the open doorway; but, as if its influence were subtle, and disseminated far and wide, even from her remote watching-place Irene felt a strange drowsiness creep over her and hold her spellbound as a pungent odor was swept toward her.
What could it mean? Intensely startled, yet scarcely alarmed, Irene saw the form continue its weird movements. A faint blur before her eyes, she watched the figure as it leaned forward, and the mask—over head and face—was plainly revealed.
It was a mask of glass—a covering as strange as she had ever seen—and at that moment, as in the censer the flame suddenly flickered into brightness, and its beams cast a momentary radiance over the glass face, at that single glance the features of the figure were plainly revealed to her.
Beneath the mask the face was manifest. Impressed upon her mind indelibly, she saw and recognized the countenance.
Darkness, a sudden blur, a dizzy faintness, the mysterious form floating vaguely away into space and then insensibility.
To the influence of the strange vapor and the scene her brain had succumbed at last.